Leytonstone News

Tower tenant slams council’s fire safety management of Leytonstone estate

Sonia McKenzie, who lives in the Fredd Wigg and John Walsh towers, said the council had ‘wasted millions’ on fire watch wardens instead of using an automatic detection system, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

The John Walsh (front) and Fred Wigg towers (back), Credit: Google Streetview

A council tenant says she has “no trust” in Waltham Forest over its management of fire safety on her estate.

Sonia McKenzie, who lives in the council-owned Fredd Wigg and John Walsh towers in Leytonstone, attended the town hall yesterday to raise concerns about fire safety and long-running refurbishment works yesterday (23rd February).

Addressing the town hall meeting, chaired by council leader Grace Williams, she said: “Put it this way, I have no trust in you all.”

Sonia, who chairs the tenants and residents association (TRA), accused the council of “misleading” the towers’ 500 residents by claiming a London Fire Brigade (LFB) order requires the council to immediately remove flammable external cladding.

In fact, she pointed out, although an LFB enforcement notice from November last year states that cladding should be considered in the risk assessment, it does not order its removal.

Instead, the notice ordered the council to install an “adequate fire alarm system” in the communal areas, alongside 13 other recommendations.

A fire alarm system would replace waking watch staff who have been on duty at the towers 24-hours a day since 2020.

Sonia said: “Millions has been wasted by the council not installing a fire detection system.”

Her public criticism came less than a month after the council said it would delay plans to ballot residents over complete demolition and rebuilding of the estate.

A key concern for residents is that the council plans to use the remains of its budget to remove cladding rather than kitchen and bathroom renovations, which has long been promised.

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“The council seems to be planning to take away the insulation without having money to replace it,” she added.

“[It] is supposed to be tackling mould and dampness, not making it worse.”

Sonia McKenzie (centre) speaking at the Town Hall on Wednesday (21st February), Credit: LDRS

The refurbishment and fire safety works carried out by Morgan Sindall and Aston Group over the last four years have cost more than £10million but remain unfinished.

Some flats on the estate have exposed pipe work for an unconnected sprinkler system, clattering metal shutters block light and ventilation to communal hallways and networks of cables are exposed in ceilings. 

Sonia criticised the council for “silently killing” key parts of the planned refurbishment by quietly cutting the allocated funding in budget documents published this month.

The TRA chair demanded that the council asks for a “second opinion” on the council’s plans after having “flip flopped” on its plans for the estate.

She also asked for a fire safety expert who could advise residents, installation of fire detection in the communal areas and removal of the metal shutters.

She added: “[We want] an end to council officers being secretive and not telling us what they are doing.”

Responding to Sonia’s concerns, deputy leader Ahsan Khan appeared to suggest that the council would still prefer to rebuild the estate, but lacks the funding to do so.

He said: “I appreciate there is a trust deficit based on what you have set out.

“That is not a position we want to be in we want to work with you collaboratively.”

Although he claimed the council would “not compromise” on safety, he did not commit to installing fire alarms in the hallways.

He suggested that funding did exist for refurbishing flats, but that officers are still “profiling” which estates will see improvements.

He added that following the meeting he would take away an “action” to improve communication with residents.

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