‘Lakanal can never happen again’ says housing boss as refurb work starts

Admin (24 September, 2015) Housing

Flats where six people died in horrific fire six years ago set to be re-opened in September after £9.5m works 

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Work has begun on refurbishing the Camberwell tower block, Lakanal House, where six people died in a fire in 2009.

The 50-year-old building, in the Sceaux Gardens estate, has stood empty and boarded up since the blaze tore through it with a suddenness and ferocity that baffled firefighters that hot July day, killing six people.

Following an inquest into how the six died and consultation with residents, the council has begun work to bring the 98 flats back into use in September next year.

The devastating fire was caused by an electrical fault in a television on the ninth floor.

Six people remained in their flats one level above and were dead within 90 minutes. They were Dayana Francisquini, 26, and her daughter Thais, six, and son Felipe, three; Helen Udoaka, 34, and her 20-day-old daughter Michelle; and 31-year-old Catherine Hickman.

Those who died could all have probably saved themselves but were either advised to remain in their flats or did not seem to know about escape routes along communal balconies.

At the inquest, the coroner heard that Southwark Council, which owned the block, failed to carry out a proper fire inspection over three years after it became its legal responsibility.

Southwark has since spent more than £36million making all of their high-rise blocks fire safe and will spend an additional £9.5million on the Lakanal House refurbishment.

“This can never happen again, I’m absolutely certain of that,” said Cllr Richard Livingstone, Southwark’s cabinet member for housing. “We are doing all we can to ensure that.

“We can’t stop the fires from happening, but the measures we have here will ensure people can escape quickly.”

Cllr Richard Livinstone and Cllr Mark Williams with Chair of hte Sceaux Garderns TRA, John McGrath and council officers and construction managers from Keepmoat

Cllr Richard Livinstone and Cllr Mark Williams with Chair of the Sceaux Garderns TRA, John McGrath, and council officers and construction managers from Keepmoat at a part-refurbished property in Lakanal House

Former tenants will be invited to return to live in Lakanal House, but uptake is expected to be low as many were resettled in the new Bermondsey Spa development.

Seven flats on the top floor of Lakanal will be sold to fund the work, including a new five storey building opposite and a community space in the under-croft.

Half of the council flats in the block will be offered to people on the Sceaux Gardens estate and the surrounding area who are currently living in overcrowded accommodation.

Sceaux Gardens Tenants’ and Residents’ Association chair, John McGrath, said tenants were looking forward to the empty block being full of families again.

“There’s 98 families begging to get in here and we want them here for a good community,” he said.

There is currently a small memorial garden dedicated to the Lakanal fire victims in front of the block and John is one of a number of residents who feel this is sufficient, rather than erecting a statue or sculpture.

“It should be something small, you don’t want it rubbed in your face,” he said, adding that the jury was also still out on whether the block should be renamed after refurbishment.

“Most say it shouldn’t change because it’s Lakanal. I’ve been here 30 years and it’s always been Lakanal,” said John, who admits he was taken by the suggestion of the ‘Cantona’ block.

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