CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Chalcots residents pay for independent safety inspection to look inside their homes

Safety review will look at fears over plastic windowsills in flats

03 August, 2017 — By William McLennan

Surveyor Arnold Tarling probing fire safety at Taplow today

THOUSANDS of plastic windowsills may have to be replaced at the Chalcots estate if residents’ fears are proved correct by an independent fire safety inspection which began today (Thursday).

Extensive “fire stopping” work has been carried out to windowsills in communal areas in the Adelaide Road tower blocks after they were identified as a safety risk. But similar windows in people’s homes have been left untouched.
Inspections inside each flat aimed at making sure fire cannot spread throughout the buildings have not been completed, Camden Council has told the New Journal.

Instead, a group of residents have clubbed together to pay a surveyor to assess their flats.

Taplow resident Sasha Martin, one of those who launched the fundraising drive to pay for the independent surveyor, said: “The council said that we had rock wool insulation, so when I saw the communal windows exposed and we had newspaper in there, that worried me.

“What is there to say that we actually have rock wool in our windows in our flats? They have the same panelling as the communal window, the works were done by Rydon.

“The fact that they weren’t even going to have a look at them is worrying.”

Mr Martin said that if the windows do not contain the necessary rock wool insulation and fire-stopping, then they would have to be replaced. There are around 650 flats in the four blocks that were evacuated, with some containing as many as four windows.

Mandy Ryan, who lives on the top floor of Dorney, has been questioning the safety of the windows since they were installed a decade ago.

She said: “They still haven’t checked our windowsills, and whatever is in there I’m sure it’s flammable. Why else have they taken them out [in the landings] and left us with them in our homes?”

The majority of the 3,000 people who spent a month in temporary accommodation and hotels have now returned home after being reassured by the Town Hall that they are safe.

But the panicked nature of the Friday night evacuation on June 23 has left many residents asking just how many dangers they have been living with for years that have not been picked up.

Backed by law firm Hodge Jones and Allen, a group has commissioned a Arnold Tarling, of surveying firm Hindwoods, to visit 10 homes over a two-day inspection.

On a tour of Burnham, the council’s head of maintenance, Pat O’Neill, revealed the dangers presented by the windowsills in communal landings.

When asked by the New Journal why the work had been carried out, he said: “The problem that we had with these [windows], is that there is a vertical shaft between this wall and the outside panel, there is a gap. That’s a vertical shaft down from this floor above to this floor below.”

Rock wool insulation has been installed and fire-proof boards have been used in place of plastic windowsills that surround the automatic opening vents (AOV) in the communal landings, Mr O’Neill said.

He added: “That completely encapsulates that opening to make sure that fire can’t get from flats below, corridors below into this area or interfere with the mechanisms of the opening vent.”

These vents open mechanically in the event of a fire, allowing smoke to clear from emergency exit routes. Asked if the same problems existed in residential windows, Mr O’Neill said that a full inspection inside flats was yet to take place.

“We are going to extend those surveys back into the flats and make sure that the flats themselves are properly compartmented between flats,” he said.

“That can include simple things like the…pipe that takes the waste from the toilet. From what I’ve seen, from the number of ducts that I’ve opened up in empty properties is that it all looks okay to me at the minute. We are obviously going to do further checks to make sure that’s okay.”

The council said that the safety failings that led to the evacuation, which have now been addressed, “primarily related to communal areas”. They said that inspections of flats have begun to assess “ventilation systems and now redundant heating systems” that have been decommissioned.

A spokesman said: “The council has investigated the window areas in residents’ flats in the presence of the London Fire Brigade who did not identify or raise any issues.”

Asked about the independent inspection, the spokesman said: “We are very happy to review any specific concerns residents have regarding fire safety measures in their homes. However, we cannot allow unauthorised and uncontrolled works on our buildings.”

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