Questions mount over ‘incredibly dangerous’ Hatfield tower block

PUBLISHED: 11:46 04 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:46 04 September 2020

The front door of Queensway House. Picture: Charlotte McLaughlin

The front door of Queensway House. Picture: Charlotte McLaughlin

Archant

Ahead of a meeting on a Hatfield tower block’s safety next week, councillors and fire experts have asked questions about the “incredibly dangerous” cladding.

Cllr Helen Quenet. Picture: Kevin LinesCllr Helen Quenet. Picture: Kevin Lines

Both Labour and Liberal Democrat Welwyn Hatfield borough councillors have voiced concern after the WHT reported last week that a “large-scale fire spread” could cause a risk that residents may not be evacuated.

The Welwyn Hatfield Times obtained leaked excerpts of an exempt cabinet report, which recommend that the cladding need to be removed “urgently” even if the building is mooted for demolition and regeneration.

Cllr Max Holloway, who sits on the cabinet housing panel, said: “When councillors first raised concerns about this in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, we were repeatedly assured there was no serious problem. Now it seems that material that we were previously told to be fine is incredibly dangerous.

READ MORE: Residents ‘may not be evacuated’ as cladding could cause ‘large-scale fire spread’ at Hatfield’s Queensway House

“All this less than a decade after the council finished a multi-million pound project to put up this cladding it’s now so serious it needs taking it down even though the buildings scheduled to be demolished.

“Communication with residents is key – especially in this situation – and they have a right to know what’s happening in the building they live in. How long were they going to be kept in the dark on this?

Welwyn Hatfield borough councillor Max Holloway. Picture: Supplied by Cllr HollowayWelwyn Hatfield borough councillor Max Holloway. Picture: Supplied by Cllr Holloway

“How on earth could this have ever been determined to be safe when it was first put up? What sort of testing took place following Grenfell that deemed it safe but now isn’t? It’s not a stretch to say If something is flammable now, it was flammable 10 years ago. There are serious questions that need answering. It’s increasingly difficult to have faith with the Government’s capacity to keep people safe.”

Helen Quenet, the Liberal Democrat lead on housing, who sits on the same panel, added her voice to getting rid of the clading now but also voiced concerns over when WHBC knew the cladding had issues.

“We must conclude therefore, that this new information came out very recently. What is missing is information about when this new information was given. What members need to know are the dates. If this was known about before that July meeting then surely it should have been part of urgent business?

“There is a need to demonstrate that members of the [cabinet housing panel] were not kept in the dark about information which indicated people’s lives could be in more danger than we thought. The last we heard at CHP was that the situation was under control and residents were safe.”

The WHT has also spoken to an independent fire expert this week, Stephen Mackenzie, who applauded the council’s handling of Queensway so far as they have recognised the new challenges post-Grenfell by acting on the fire doors – which WHBC testing found were unsafe – and cladding.

READ MORE: Queensway residents given option to move out after doors fail fire standards

He also pointed to the site being put forward for regeneration, after consulting with residents and compensating tenants and leaseholders, which is further on the journey than many social and private housing.

“But the non-ACM cladding [which is used in Queensway] has failed quite badly and the insulation is clearly dangerous.

“We’re finding across the country that buildings approved as safe are not safe after further testing. The cladding scandal is the biggest non-natural disaster with many trapped in unsafe buildings post-Grenfell.

“[WHBC] need to be transparent and open with residents and the public and help them to understand the issues.”

A WHBC spokeswoman has responded over not raising this sooner with residents, by saying: “As the risk is being carefully managed, with measures in place and agreed by the Fire Service, we have not wanted to cause residents any undue concern.

“We have written to residents on many occasions to update them on fire safety works, including our plans to remove the external cladding from the building – some of which was completed last year.

“Since [sending the cladding away] the building industry has reviewed the materials and design of cladding and we made our decision to remove it based on that information.

“The Fire Service has been consulted throughout and is satisfied that the safety measures we have in place – including the 24/7 waking watch – are sufficient to protect residents whilst we work to remove the remaining cladding and continue to help residents relocate to alternative accommodation in advance of the planned re-development of the block.”

The council is looking to the legalities of releasing part or all of the report for a cabinet meeting on September 8.


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