Answers Demanded Over Level of Fire Risk in Local Tower Blocks

Following BBC investigation which highlighted safety problems in on of Brentford’s 22 storey buildings


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Councillors are demanding answers from Hounslow Council on the level of fire risk in local tower blocks.

Following a TV news story on Monday, which highlighted fire safety problems in Cornish House, one of Brentford’s 22 storey tower blocks, Councillor Ruth Cadbury demanded a full report on the issues raised in the news story.

She also called for an explanation of the BBC’s allegation that valid Fire Risk Assessments have not been carried out for any Council-owned tower block in the borough.

“I am very disturbed that there is still outstanding work to be carried out on fire safety, contrary to the reassurances we were given by Cllr Jon Hardy at July’s Council meeting following the Camberwell Fire. He told that the only outstanding physical problems were some sub-standard fire doors. However, this week’s news story suggests that a number of significant problems remain.”

Her colleague Cllr Matt Harmer, added “Hounslow Council have a duty of care to all tenants and leaseholders living in Council-owned tower blocks. The BBC investigated Brentford Towers, but what about the other tall buildings in the borough. Is Ivybridge safe? When was Heston Farm last inspected? Residents deserve to know the truth. After all, if private landlords are required by the Council to comply with fire safety standards, surely the Council should too. Residents are entitled to a full explanation of the situation, as well as information as to what to do in the case of a fire in their block”

The BBC's investigations into Cornish House's fire hazards revealed:

  • No fire resistance between flats and lifts - during fire residents would be trapped as smoke and fire spread by lift shaft acting as a "chimney".
  • A padlock on one fire escape and no release bar on another. It took the expert several minutes to work out how to open it. Emergency lighting by the escape removed - residents could face opening it in darkness.
  • Holes bored through ceilings for cables wide enough to allow flame to pass, accelerating fire spread.
  • A section of floor smashed through following a water leak fire proofed with plastic bag
  • Fireman's entry switch broken, denying emergency services access to the block.

Lib Dem councillor and prospective MP Andrew Dakers also called upon the Chief Executive of Hounslow Homes to organise a public meeting urgently to set out to residents the results of a newly commissioned fire risk assessment and measures that will be taken to improve safety. Cllr Dakers says he first raised his concerns with Hounslow Homes in July 2009 following the incident in Southwark.

“BBC reports that of 37 tower blocks in Hounslow, none have valid fire risk assessments are shocking. I am deeply concerned that the BBC’s chartered surveyor has said of Cornish House that 'it's not just that there were loads of faults - they've been increasing over the years as more shoddy work is carried out'." he said, "I would describe the risk level as off the Richter scale. I would not want to live in that building."

He added, “I have today called on the Chief Executive of Hounslow Homes to organise a public meeting immediately to set out measures that will be taken to improve safety. Hounslow Homes must now be given the fullest backing by the local council, our local MP and the Treasury to ensure that the necessary money is found for improvement works.

“We must now have independent assessors to advise on whether gas is still appropriate for cooking in the tower blocks or whether we should move to electric. We must see further improvements to signage. We must look at installing alarm systems and introducing fire drills. And we must see action taken on all the other risks identified by the BBC’s surveyor.”

There are 37 tower blocks across the Borough of Hounslow of which the BBC deemed 21 to be rated 'high risk'. All 37 blocks do not have a valid fire risk assessment.

Bernadette O'Shea, chief executive of Hounslow Homes, which runs housing for Hounslow Council, told BBC London, "We have sent our own technical team out to investigate the concerns highlighted by BBC London and await their report.

"We have commissioned a firm to undertake new, detailed fire-risk assessments, beginning on 6th October.

October 6, 2009