More fire doors will be upgraded post-Grenfell in Welwyn Hatfield
PUBLISHED: 13:07 28 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:07 28 September 2020
A firm commitment has been made by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council to ensure its only tower block continues to be safe, and has said more of its fire doors in the borough will be upgraded.
After the WHT revealed that Queensway House, a 13-storey tower block comprising 66 flats, could cause a “large-scale fire spread” and there is a risk residents may not be evacuated – the council has explained the timeline of its decision further.
A Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council spokesperson said: “The fire service has mechanical equipment that can help evacuate people up to six storeys. Above that they rely on stairwells and lifting equipment manually, so any high-rise building higher than six storeys is more challenging for their firefighters. This is particularly the case at Queensway House where there is only one staircase.
“We considered moving all residents from above the sixth floor by prioritising those households as part of the process of moving people in advance of the demolition. However, there were vulnerable people and families on lower floors which had to be the priority due to their more urgent or complex needs. As such there are still some households living on the upper floors.”
The block, which is due to be demolished, has non-ACM cladding – which is not the type used in Grenfell, but has been found to be unsafe and WHBC is working to remove it.
But the council has struggled, as experienced people and contractors – to offer advice and carry out works – have been in demand after the fire that claimed over 70 lives in London.
“When a local experienced contractor became available, who has already been carrying out work at Queensway House and knows the building well, we acted immediately to seek urgent cabinet approval for the work. The cladding removal is expected to take around six weeks,” the spokesperson added.
Post-Grenfell investigations have also opened up the issue of fire safety doors, which have failed new government tests. The doors at Queensway – which are GRP composite and carried the British Standard certification – only offer protection from fire for 24 minutes, instead of the required 30 minutes.
The spokesperson said: “WHBC has an ongoing programme of fire safety improvement work across the borough, which includes upgrading flat entrance fire doors. The programme to replace the flat entrance fire doors (and other work) is based on the type of building, and high rise buildings such as Queensway House, take priority.
“WHBC does not manage any other residential high rise blocks, however we do manage a two-storey building with Phenolic cladding. Given the height and layout of this building, the fire safety issues and regulations do not apply.
The WHT also clarified, again, why residents were not told in explicit terms about a report which said “should the communal landings be affected by fire and smoke, there is also a heightened risk that residents may not be able to evacuate”.
In response, the council explained: “We explained that we were investigating the cladding and, in consultation with the Fire Service, had decided to remove it. Taken with the safety measures throughout the building in place to manage the risk, we felt this provided residents with the information they needed without causing unnecessary alarm. We have not received any contact from residents since the cabinet report was published to indicate they haven’t felt informed.”
Councillor Nick Pace, executive member for housing and communities, said: “We have a fire safety action plan in place for Queensway House, which is updated weekly and provided to the Fire Service. At no time have we failed to act upon their advice.
“Communication with residents has been a priority throughout, including newsletters, drop-in sessions and regular offers of one-to-one meetings to discuss concerns. Our door, as always, remains open.
“I believe we are much further down the line than many councils and landlords because we have responded well to a complex and rapidly changing situation. But what matters most is that we keep people safe in their homes, and we are firmly committed to ensuring that continues to be the case.”
A WHBC spokesperson added: “Progress on the procurement of the cladding removal was halted due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, which has also impacted on timescales for moving residents out of the building, in preparation for the demolition of the block. There are other pressures on the property market generally, post-lockdown. In a competitive marketplace, it is taking longer to offer leaseholders alternatives.”
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