Failing fire doors still in use nationwide
ACCORDING TO data obtained from freedom of information requests, at least 25,000 fire doors similar to the five types that failed tests in 2018 are still installed in public housing.
In early 2018, an independent panel stated that ‘no change’ was needed to building fire safety advice after a fire door from Grenfell Tower tests failed police tests. That panel aimed to ‘determine whether any further action was required as a result’, and in a written statement, then Housing Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed further investigations into the doors – manufactured by Manse Masterdor, which is now no longer trading – were not recommended.
Later, new Housing Secretary James Brokenshire updated parliament, confirming experts ‘advise the risk to public safety remains low’, though soon after that an investigation found that London councils continue to ‘scramble to replace’ tens of thousands of faulty fire doors. Police tests on doors used at Grenfell Tower found that they could only resist flames for 15 minutes, and not the 30 minutes expected.
Last August, five suppliers’ doors failed UK performance tests, and have been withdrawn from the market, while the National Housing Federation then warned that social landlords are ‘struggling to get hold of’ new fire doors, and are ‘uncertain’ about the risks posed by those that failed safety tests. In September confusion over government advice regarding fire doors delayed ‘vital work’ to replace unsafe fire doors nationwide.
While the government lifted the moratorium on composite doors after three months of discussion with industry representatives as to their safety last December (), Huffington Post has now reported that ‘at least’ 25,000 such doors are still installed in public housing UK wide. This was established through freedom of information requests sent to 123 local authorities, with the ‘vast majority’ of failed doors in use matching the units used at Grenfell Tower.
The news outlet added that the data ‘reveals a portrait of confusion and chaos at a local level’, because councils have claimed ‘they have yet to act because of a lack of alternatives – and uncertainty over how to tackle the problem’. Some, including Islington, Barking and Dagenham and Manchester, said they are waiting for ‘explicit government guidance’, while Kensington and Chelsea is among a number ‘still using’ Manse Mastador units.
In turn, the 25,000 figure is ‘likely to be significantly higher’ as many councils admitted they ‘do not hold records’ on doors fitted in public housing, while others have ‘handed management’ of their property portfolios to another company, ‘and refused to answer’. Those that did said some doors haven’t been replaced due to uncertainty over composite units, while others said door replacement schemes had been postponed due to the moratorium on composite units.
Councils also expressed frustration over a lack of data sharing, and that they had been ‘sold faulty doors in the first place’ before now having to ‘foot a heft bill’ for replacements. One executive stated that councils ‘have paid for a certain quality and haven’t got it. If a door is failing by one minute – so it has 29 minutes in it – you’d still replace that door, but you’d probably not prioritise it.
‘If it has 5 minutes you’d move it up the work programme. Councils thought they were getting a product that provided 30 minutes protection. So we need that data as landlords’. A ‘considerable cost’ for replacing the doors is expected, with one council representative stating that ‘most are probably hoping they will recoup that cost, with the expectation that if the industry does fall apart the ministry might have to step in’.
Replacement delays have also been blamed on a ‘lack of trust’ among councils in products they were able to buy, with the same source stating that ‘up until this point you couldn’t replace a door with another composite door because there are very few manufacturers that can provide test data, and you couldn’t trust previous batches.
'There was a systemic problem with these kinds of door, and we couldn’t quantify the extent of what that problem was. We’re coming out if that but we’re still in it largely’.