Are our tower blocks safe? East London mayors speak out

Grenfell Tower, Kensington. Pic: Natalie Oxford, Wikimedia Commons

People living in tower blocks in Croydon, Lewisham, Hackney and Tower Hamlets were this week waiting for further information from authorities about the safety of their buildings following the catastrophic fire in Kensington.

Tower Hamlets Homes are waiting for the outcome of new fire investigations, and in the meantime are asking residents to follow rules to keep their blocks safe.

Susmita Sen, Chief Executive of Tower Hamlets Homes, encouraged residents to make sure they have working smoke alarms in their homes, to keep balconies free from clutter, and not to obstruct escape routes by leaving rubbish or objects in communal areas.

Residents have also been asked not to smoke in common areas of the block, to fully extinguish cigarettes, and to be familiar with the building and it’s exits.

Tower Hamlets tenants who need to order a smoke alarm can do this from early next week on MyTHH at

Croydon council confirmed that an urgent review around fire safety issues was underway in tower blocks in the borough.

Council cabinet member Alison Butler said this included “checks on all of our blocks with external cladding”.

In a statement to her fellow councillors on June 15, Butler said: “We have over 1,000 blocks – although over half of these are no more than two storeys. There are 39 between six and 12 – none taller.

“All Croydon Council housing blocks meet rigorous safety standards set down by the London Fire Brigade. As a result of the tragedy at Southwark in 2009, we invested over £10m in upgrading fire safety in our stock.”

Residential tower blocks in Croydon have had cladding work carried out by the same company which undertook the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower in Kensington, the BBC reported.

Croydon Council has refused to state yet which residential tower blocks in the borough have been subject to such work, nor whether cladding similar to the aluminium-based building materials used on Grenfell had been used in Croydon.

Risk assessments are also being carried out in Lewisham high-rise flats.

Lewisham’s Mayor, Steve Bullock, told the News Shopper: “We have been in constant contact with the various housing providers in Lewisham in the last couple of days and we will be writing to them all to get their assurance that risk assessments will be carried out as soon as possible.

“We are prepared to offer whatever advice and support might be necessary to ensure this happens. As further lessons and recommendations emerge from this terrible tragedy we will respond accordingly.”

A statement on the social landlords Lewisham Homes website said: “All Lewisham Homes blocks are regularly risk assessed and we work closely with the London Fire Service to ensure they are as safe as possible.

“We have been investing in fire safety measures for a number of years and are continuing to do so. Once we get more information on what caused the fire to spread at Grenfell Tower, we will do further checks and provide further advice.”

Seven were injured in the Mermaid Tower fire Pic: Emily Bridewell

Lewisham Homes were criticised in 2011 when seven people were taken to hospital after a fire broke out in Mermaid tower on Abinger Grove in Deptford.  They had previously been given an enforcement notice after the Fire Brigade found that the state of the building was in breach of fire safety regulations.

Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney, in a joint statement with Cllr Clayeon McKenzie, Cabinet Member for Housing, said: “We want to reassure residents in Hackney that fire safety is of critical importance to us, the council meets regularly with the London Fire Brigade to ensure we’re doing all we can to keep our estates and residents safe.”

Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire, Hackney Council was still unable to confirm which of its residential tower blocks were fitted with sprinkler systems.

Responding directly to the Hackney Citizen via Twitter, Glanville revealed that two of council’s residential tower blocks have been fitted with sprinkler systems.

Residents of Tower Hamlets were assured by the mayor, John Biggs, that there was no cause for safety concerns at the tower blocks within the borough.

In a post on Facebook and Twitter he said: “I can confirm that all of the THH blocks of flats (more than 900 in total) have had a Fire Risk Assessment carried out in the last nine months by qualified fire risk assessors. I’ve set out our actions so far, and I’ll continue to keep you updated.”

Biggs held a meeting of senior officers to discuss the action to take to reassure residents and is also in contact with RP partners about the work they are doing with regards to their properties.

Authorities said over the weekend that at least 58 people perished in the June 14 fire in Kensington, with a further 18 in hospital, nine in critical care.

Experts have speculated that the cladding on Grenfell Tower played a part in the fast-paced spreading of the fire.

In fact, the material used in the cladding that covered the Grenfell Tower was the cheaper, more flammable version of two available options, an investigation of the supply chain has confirmed.

In the UK, there are no regulations requiring the use of fire-retardant material in cladding used on the exterior of tower blocks and schools.

The Fire Protection Association (FPA) has been pushing for years for the government to make it a statutory requirement for local authorities and companies to use only fire-retardant material.

Jim Glocking, technical director of the FPA, said: “I lobbied long and hard for building regulations on the issue to be tightened, but nothing had happened.”

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, was among those demanding an immediate review of the current fire safety measures in place at similar residential blocks across the city.

Khan said: “If some tower blocks are death traps, we need to know which ones they are. And action needs to be taken, to provide housing for those people in their communities in the same area, and if necessary, those tower blocks repaired and refurbished in a safe way, not cutting corners, or those tower blocks pulled down as soon as possible.”

Tens of thousands of buildings across the UK are covered in the same cladding that surrounded Grenfell Tower.

The investigation at Grenfell Tower continues.

Smoke plume from the Grenfell Tower fire, viewed from south-east London. Pic: Prioryman

Leave a Reply