Council takes contractor to court over fire safety row

Goddarts House, Walthamstow
Goddarts House in Walthamstow is among the council housing blocks where the fire doors at the centre of the dispute were installed

Report by Victoria Munro

Waltham Forest Council is taking a former contractor to court after discovering it was sold hundreds of doors that were not as fire-resistant as advertised.

The council installed 217 new flat entrance doors in five council-owned blocks after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which were meant to be able to withstand flames for at least an hour.

However, tests later showed the doors in Northwood Tower, Boothby Court, Goddarts House, Holmcroft House, and Lime Court were in fact only resistant for at least 30 minutes.

While current law only requires doors to be fire-resistant for 30 minutes, many expect this to change after the Grenfell Inquiry ends. The council has no current plans to replace the doors.

Louise Mitchell, cabinet member for housing, said: “The 217 flat entrance doors in question meet the current building safety regulations of 30 minutes’ fire protection. 

“A commercial claim, which is currently confidential, has been made against the previous contractor who did not supply the product as specified.” 

Nick Tiratsoo, who writes the local investigative blog Waltham Forest Matters, previously accused the council of “misleading” residents over fire safety, and remains concerned there are no plans to replace the doors. He argued the minimum legal requirement should not be a yardstick when dealing with residents who live either in tower blocks or sheltered housing.

Nick also fears that tests conducted on a sample of the doors, which showed they were not as sold but legally compliant, did not prove all the current doors were safe enough. He said: “While the three tested fire emergency doors might be FD30 [able to resist fire for 30 minutes], whether the same could be said of those installed in locations like Northwood and Goddarts remains unknown.”

An email sent to Nick on 14th January by a member of the council’s resident services team, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, said they were confident all the doors “offer the same level of fire protection as the doors tested”.

Speaking at a full council meeting in December, Cllr Mitchell said fire safety “has always been a priority” and encouraged any residents with concerns to alert the council or immediately.

She said: “I want to be absolutely clear, if anyone – any resident or member – has concerns that there is a potential fire risk in their building, they should report this issue to us immediately.

“I’m always happy to look into residents’ concerns and will ensure that we provide a full response.

“As a council we are investing £250million in our housing stock over the next six years and £40m of that is specifically set aside for building safety.

“The government is bringing in stronger measures to ensure new buildings are built safely and existing buildings are brought up to standard. We are going above and beyond these requirements to make all our council homes safe and fit for the future.”

Waltham Forest Council is in the process of improving fire safety in all its buildings, a programme it estimates will cost around £38m, and for which tenants and leaseholders may be charged.