Council forced to admit ‘thorough and intrusive’ fire-safety inspections still needed on Ledbury Estate flats

News Desk (13 July, 2017) Housing Emergency services

Residents also complained that some fire wardens, who have been present in the four tower block for two weeks, cannot speak English, and have been seen sleeping on the job

17832The Ledbury Estate, off Old Kent Road

Southwark Council’s housing bosses have been forced to admit that fire-safety problems on the Ledbury Estate are far more complicated than first feared, following an intervention by an independent surveyor.

It has been confirmed that “intrusive and thorough” type-four fire-safety assessments will now be carried out in flats, after damning new evidence of fire-safety flaws came to light.

Some 200 Ledbury residents attended a meeting on Tuesday night at Camelot School, in which the council started by assuring residents there were “no structural safety issues” with the estate’s four thirteen-storey tower blocks, relating to cracks found in walls of dozens of flats.

The update came from findings of structural surveys by building firm Arup, who presented residents with their findings about the gaping cracks, and which in some cases have been present for more than 30 years.

The cracks were previously acknowledged as a fire-safety risk due to them compromising the compartmentation safety-design of the blocks, which on June 30 triggered the council to hire teams of fire safety wardens to carry out 24/7 patrols of the blocks. Arup’s spokesman said on Tuesday that they did not pose a risk to the structural integrity of the buildings, and would be “filled” soon.

Images provided by Ledbury Estate residents, who complained that cracks in their walls were a serious fire risk

But the mood of the meeting turned when an audience member revealed himself to be an independent fire-safety expert, who has found previously-undisclosed, wide-ranging issues with the blocks.

Arnold Tarling (chartered surveyor and Association of Specialist Fire Protection member) found during his own inspections of six flats in two of the blocks that further safety risks include:

  • Flammable polystyrene found between slabs of concrete and flues, “meaning a fire could travel up the building”
  • Flammable materials found in joints between walls in flats, which should have been fire resistant
  • Arnold was able to poke metal rods through gaps around cabling and gas pipes travelling between flats and between common areas
  • Cracks wide enough to fit his hand through, which “no amount of fire-stopping would be able to fill”

Southwark Council’s fire safety manager, David Rowson, addressed Arnold’s findings by saying the council would carry out the type-four fire safety assessment.

The council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing, Stephanie Cryan said the following morning that Southwark’s fire safety teams “are already carrying out” type four assessments. Although this had not been communicated to residents.

Cllr Cryan told the News: “I have to be very clear that there are no surprises in any of the points made by Arnold Tarling, these are all matters we have been dealing with for some time, with advice from the best and most up-to-date sources of information. We will continue to investigate and carry out works if and when they are required – both as temporary safety measures and planned, permanent major works. We will keep our residents informed at every step.”

She also criticised Arnold, who carried out his surveys free of charge, for waiting until Tuesday’s meeting to disclose his findings, despite requests from the council for him to do so earlier.

As well as the debate over the scale of the fire-safety problems within the Ledbury blocks, residents raised their voices and spoke angrily about the fire wardens’ behaviour.

The wardens were explained by Mr Rowson to be “walking, talking fire alarms” tasked with helping residents evacuate from the blocks in the event of the a fire. But several residents made accusations that the fire wardens “could not speak English”. Others were reported to have been seen sleeping outside flats, and two residents claimed to have found that wardens had urinated in the communal areas.

In response to the accusations about the fire wardens, Cllr Cryan told the News: “We are looking into the points raised and will ensure that any issues are addressed properly, as we promised residents at the meeting. The buildings in our borough have full, up to date Fire Risk Assessments, which we continually review.”

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