Croydon starts urgent review of tower blocks with cladding

Croydon Council is conducting a hurried review of fire safety issues around its residential properties following the horrific events at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington yesterday. According to council cabinet member Alison Butler, Croydon’s urgent review includes “checks on all of our blocks with external cladding”.

The death toll from the fire which engulfed Grenfell Tower remains at 12, though with emergency services still working at the scene, there are fears that the number of fatalities could be much higher.

Grenfell Tower was still burning through last night, 24 hours after the fire caught hold of the Kensington block

Croydon Council says that it has made an offer to help Kensington and Chelsea by providing emergency accommodation for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire who have been made homeless.

While other local authorities and London boroughs yesterday promptly issued public reassurances, saying that they were checking safety issues around blocks of flats in their area, Croydon Council has so far made no formal, public statement to its residents and tenants regarding properties for which it is responsible. There is no message of reassurance or sympathy on the council’s website. Tony Newman, the council leader, did make a 140-character bit of virtue-signalling, though: “Our thoughts & prays [sic] are with all victims of today’s tragic fire”.

Croydon Council’s chief executive, Jo Negrini, was not at her desk this morning, as she had to prepare for her latest self-promoting speech to property speculators in Berkeley Square.

This morning, Butler, the council’s cabinet member responsible for housing, did issue a statement to her fellow councillors which was short on detail (such as an answer to the obvious question: are there any blocks, council-owned or private, which have the same cladding as Grenfell Tower?), but which did include a bit of a nag at the end about tenants being tidy.

Butler’s email to councillors says:

Immediately the tragic events at Grenfell Tower became known, we looked at our own stock.

We have over 1,000 blocks although over half of these are no more than two storeys. There are 39 between six and 12 – none taller.

All Croydon Council housing blocks meet rigorous safety standards set down by the London Fire Brigade.

As a result of the tragedy at Southwark in 2009 we invested over £10million in upgrading fire safety in our stock.

We are currently making checks on all of our blocks with external cladding and looking at the implications as well as carrying out a full review of fire safety.

We will immediately assess what, if any, additional measures are required.

We have issued a number of statements to the press yesterday around these issues.

We have made an offer to Kensington and Chelsea to assist in any way we can, including an offer of emergency accommodation.

It is necessary to raise the issue of inappropriate storage by our tenants and leaseholders on landings, walkways and corridors – particularly bikes, pushchairs and mobility scooters, which is strictly discouraged by the fire brigade and compromises fire safety – please do your best to discourage this and advise of the safety consequences. Caretakers will be carrying out additional checks and extra staff will be on hand to provide reassurance.

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6 Responses to Croydon starts urgent review of tower blocks with cladding

  1. behemothuk says:

    I understand that external cladding is supposed to be installed with a horizontal fire stop at each floor level, that is a horizontal block in the void behind the cladding to stop the air gap actings as a chimney.

  2. mraemiller says:

    Some interesting comments in the national papers about the last government’s housing minister.

  3. Lewis White says:

    Thanks for the article above, which has helped my understanding of the terrible problem of fire. I must say, It’s a big relief that Croydon has no council blocks over 12 storeys, although it clearly has several under this height. My impression is that several of these have been re-clad in the last decade.

    I wonder what the construction of the private-sector tower blocks is like?

    I hope that all high buildings and their construction and cladding are reviewed promptly. A huge task, but it needs to start right now.

    Perhaps T May (or J Corbyn, if the T May Government fails) should appoint a special minister for fire safety and building construction.

    We owe it to all those who have died or been injured, or lost loved ones, in this tragic disaster to ensure that this thorough review starts immediately, and that the works needed to improve fire safety eg retrofitting of all residential blocks with sprinklers, is not subject to the penny pinching of “austerity”.

  4. joeycan says:

    The Council, quite rightly, are instituting a review of all blocks in the borough to ascertain if material identical to that under suspicion in the Kensington tower block disaster has been used in their cladding. It will be some time before the source of the very quick spread of the inferno is discovered but if the Council finds that the safety device mentioned by behemothuk is absent from its own blocks who is going to pay for its installing?

    Moreover, considering the number of planning proposals for tower blocks which have passed through the Council’s scrutiny and planning committees over the last few years, surely all these have to be re-examined to ensure that the most up to date fire and health safety rules have been adhered to?

    The costs mentioned in both the above paragraphs could be regarded as ‘unplanned’ expenditure which central government should pay?

  5. Lewis White says:

    The cost of retrofitting sprinklers to existing residential blocks is obviously huge, but pales into insignificance against the human and financial loss of this tragedy, and the others like it.

    With regard to checking the technical drawings of developments, I assume that the Council’s Building Control department would have checked them against current fire standards?

    No doubt, someone will need to check the drawings again, and there will have to be on -site checks of the buildings that have been re-clad. I would imagine that each would need to be sampled to see that the as-built construction conforms with the approved design. A mammoth task. Only a sample could be checked.

    Let’s hope that the drawings are still on file– sadly, local authorities have a very poor record when it comes to throwing away historic information such as building and drainage plans, when, for example, they move from an old building to a new one, which is a serious issue. That’s when things get thrown away, by mistake, whether in “hard copy” form of real plans, or microfilm, or electronic digital format. It was bad enough in the days of real, paper plans, but it must be easier now to destroy electronic documents. There can be hundreds of drawings for a single block.

  6. joeycan says:

    I hope, Lewis, that your, more kindly-disposed suggestion that the Council -run checks, should also include how many exceptions and concessions have been made to proposals in order that developers could save money (and enhance profits) by ‘corner-cutting’, mirrors my concerns. The fact that it is a “mammoth” task doesn’t mean that only ‘samples’ should be checked.

    EVERYONE living in tower blocks, many of which were originally ‘low-rise’, but have have had additional floors built up to provide additional capacity, where concerns have been expressed by tenants over the quality of fire resistence and alarm systems, should have those concerns checked and validated.

    The other ‘elephant in the room’ is what, nationally, the developers, architects and planners of private blocks, including high-rise office blocks converted to flats, are going to be legally required to do, and whether they could be sued retrospectively, in the light of the findings from the Grenfell House Inquiry, for their actions.

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