Tower block fire safety concerns outlined
ST PETERS Court in Lowestoft, Suffolk received the ‘highest possible fire risk rating’ according to its latest fire risk assessment.
Eastern Daily Press reported on its discovery of the fire risk assessment (FRA) for the 16 storey block, which it obtained via a Freedom of Information request. The FRA for the tower showed it had been given the ‘highest possible fire risk rating’, and expressed ‘several concerns regarding fire risk’. Waveney Council had announced it would retrofit a sprinkler system in the block after the Grenfell Tower fire, with council leader Mark Bee reassuring residents this was not because of ‘specific safety concerns or issues’.
However, the news outlet found that two weeks after his announcement, the building – which houses 360 people and is the only council run tower block in the town – was inspected and rated as having a ‘high’ likelihood of fire, with Mr Bee responding that he ‘stood by his initial statement and reassured people living there all of the concerns were being addressed’. Additionally, safety concerns ‘date back to at least 2015’, with the council insisting it ‘hadn’t ignored problems’.
The 2015 FRA warned the council of a ‘substantial risk’ of fire at the building with the potential to cause ‘moderate harm’, with specific concerns at that point including that fire doors did not meet standards; there were breaches in fire walls; nobody knew what dangerous substances were stored in the building; contractors had stored combustible items in the main electric intake room; there was no reasonable means of escape; and escape routes and assembly points were ‘not clearly identified’.
In the 2017 report, the level of concern went up to ‘extreme harm’, meaning there is a ‘significant potential for serious injury or death’, with some of the same concerns reiterated from the 2015 report. These included that there was still no ‘reasonable means’ of escape; that the electric and water rooms were not ‘fire stopped’; and that ‘old materials’ across the building were ‘starting to deteriorate and crumble’.
Other recommendations were that doors should have ‘special letter boxes fitted’, signage on fire doors was ‘not appropriate’ and a sprinkler system was needed for the whole building. An action plan with 10 points was drawn up including installing sprinklers, better escape route signs and fitting fire doors with fire proof letter boxes, with the council stating it was ‘acting on the points raised’.
Mr Bee said: ‘The detail contained within the report does not come as a surprise, given the age and nature of the building. There are always concerns and issues about safety in any building, no matter how large or small; old or new and the concerns noted were entirely consistent with a building of this age and which is used for this purpose.
‘We do not take these ratings lightly; however, the specific detail contained within both the 2015 and 2017 reports, shows that the issues raised were manageable, actionable and either have been, or are being, resolved. The fire service also undertook their own assessment of the building’s safety measures and at no stage, on the day or subsequently, did they express any broad concerns about tenant safety which would require any enforcement action or suggest any imminent danger.’
The council in turn added that the wording in the FRAs was ‘blunt’, noting that ‘despite the nature of the language used, it is important to reiterate that St Peters Court continues to enjoy an excellent fire safety record’. Residents expressed ‘mixed reactions’ on finding out the results, including anger that ‘their home had performed so poorly’ and others feeling ‘they did not feel at risk’.