Fire aftermath: High-rise residents voice anger over safety measures and costs

Tower Blocks in the Isle of Dogs Pic: Harry Scoffin

Residents living in high rise properties in Tower Hamlets are deeply concerned about fire safety measures and confusion over where the costs will fall.

They were speaking at a meeting with Tower Hamlets council just two days after the fire at a the Relay Building in Whitechapel where residents had raised concerns over the building’s safety long before the fire took place. 

Around 60 people were evacuated from the building on Whitechapel High Street on Monday, and 125 firefighters were needed to tackle the blaze. No one was seriously injured and the cause is still being investigated.

Damage caused by the fire in Whitechapel earlier this week, March 7. Pic: PA WIRE

The meeting heard the concerns of residents regarding fire safety in the borough, and they asked council members what work is being done to resolve the issues. A key issue raised during the meeting was the financial implications of installing fire safety measures in leased buildings and the confusion over who is responsible for paying for them. 

Residents said there was no clear information from property companies on who will be expected to pay for such action.

The meeting also heard that Tower Hamlets will continue to increase spending and staff on fire safety. At Whitechapel on Monday, London Fire Brigade deployed a new acquisition for the first time – the tallest fire safety ladder in Europe, which has a maximum height of 64 metres.

Jo Le Page, a resident from the Bow area, said: “There is no commitment, we’re not communicated to[…]the housing authorities are not taking any responsibility”. 

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets. Pic: Tower Hamlets

Another resident, Parris Langridge said he was dissatisfied with the lack of any definite assurance or plans that leaseholders will not be expected to pay for fire safety measures, despite numerous announcements from the government that this would be the case.

Langridge said: “Every time one of these announcements was made, you’d think the end was in sight…and no plan came out of it.” He went on to say: “They need to actually deliver a tangible plan…letting people know what they are in for would be a great step”.

Residents also raised concerns over the lack of proper communication with housing authorities in the borough, and how they feel legitimate questions are being ignored by those they believe should be ensuring the safety of residents.

Johnny Page, a leaseholder of Houblon Apartments, a part of the building that was on fire earlier this week, believes fire safety has been “pushed back in the queue” by the building and land owners. 

Page said: “Our lives are in the hands that you as a local authority have given permission to run the social housing, and they are not capable of doing it”. 

Several other residents expressed nearly identical experiences with various property companies and housing associations across the borough.

Mayor John Biggs, called for a “more intrusive survey” in assessing risk in the borough and has said there is still work to be done to ensure buildings in the borough are adequately protected. The council is “on the side of residents”, expressing that leaseholders should not be the ones responsible for paying for fire safety measures.

The Mayor said leaseholders should not be responsible for ensuring the buildings they live in are safe. He said: “Residents shouldn’t have to foot the bill for the errors of developers” and that “there should be total clarity for who’s responsible for the safety of a building”.

Biggs agreed there are persisting problems with communication between residents and housing authorities in the borough. He said: “the basic thing residents need is an assurance of safety”. 

Bethnal Green East Councillor, Eve McQuillan said the council has a fire safety team actively assessing risk across the borough that will be receiving an increase in funding over the coming years.

However, both the Mayor and McQuillan highlighted local authorities’ difficulty tackling these issues. Biggs said: “One of the big problems….is that it’s a very deregulated marketplace” and it is difficult for local authorities to determine a precise idea of who owns what buildings in their constituencies. Biggs said that although the council is not directly funded to tackle the topics raised during the meeting, the local authority is taking responsibility for “holding people to account”. “We need to get a move on and make people safe”.

McQuillan also acknowledged there were serious problems: “The regulation of housing associations is pretty poor[…]I wish local authorities could do more to hold them to account”. McQuillan went onto say that the council’s powers are “very limited” in acting upon risks when they are identified.

The tallest fire rescue ladder in Europe Pic: London Fire Brigade

Leave a Reply