Selhurst residents who saw their homes on fire last week say that they have known since 2020 that the materials used on the building’s exterior were unsafe. Today, the sixth anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, they said: ‘We cannot risk one more life due to unsafe building materials or poor management of blocks’. By STEVEN DOWNES
Residents of a block on Whitehorse Road who last week escaped with their lives when a fire caught hold on the building’s wooden balconies say that they have known since 2020 about the flammable materials used, but that managers Southern Housing have done nothing to ensure their building meets fire safety standards.
The fire at Hallam Court in Selhurst saw 80 people evacuated, and fortunately, no one suffered any serious injury.
The residents – some tenants of Southern, others leaseholders and shared-ownership home-owners – have been left shocked and traumatised by the experience. Some, including those whose flats escaped any serious fire damage, say that they are now too scared to return to their own homes.
The Hallam Court fire was featured in an ITV London News report this week, ahead of today’s sixth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people lost their lives.
The television report underlines how there was no fire alarm at Hallam Court, and the residents were under the same “stay put” guidance which had such catastrophic outcome at Grenfell Tower.
The Hallam Court fire took place on June 7.
Exactly a week earlier, in a letter to Paul Hackett, the CEO of Southern Housing, Hallam Court residents had warned of what might happen.
“For over two years the only answer to our questions on the nature of the defects and the timeline for the work is that you are ‘working with contractors to establish a start date’. In the meantime you have sent contradictory fire safety advice to all residents – both ‘stay put’ and ‘evacuate’ in the event of a fire.”
The residents asked Hackett for, “A clear timeline of when the fire safety improvements will take place, and confirmation that there will be no cost to residents.”
Southern, following the recent merger with Optivo, is one of the country’s largest housing associations, developing homes for social rent and shared ownership. But officials at Southern refused to submit the Hallam Court residents’ letter to the CEO because it fell “outside of the complaints procedure”.
One week on from the fire that devastated so many of their homes, the residents have issued a statement.
“Our hearts are with our friends and neighbours who have lost their homes and belongings.
“We are so grateful that no one was hurt. It was a close call and we are very lucky there was no loss of life.
“We are united in our concern, expressed many times over several years to Southern Housing, about fire safety in our block. We have known since 2020 that the building materials do not meet fire safety standards, yet we have had no date given for when remedial works would start.
“We have been given contradictory advice in event of fire, with most communication saying we have a ‘stay put’ strategy, but one letter telling us to evacuate. Given the tragedy of the Grenfell fire, and subsequent revelations about fire safety concerns in blocks of flats across the country, it is imperative that this instruction is correct and well-communicated.”
The residents’ statement confirms that the June 7 fire had started on a balcony and “ripped up the side of the building and destroyed three homes”.
The residents maintain that had previous complaints in respect of antisocial behaviour been acted upon, “this fire may never have started”.
They continue: “We are heartbroken – we never wanted our greatest fears to be proven right. We are traumatised and trying to put the pieces back together, after watching our homes burn.
“Our children have witnessed a traumatic event, no specialist support has been offered to them…
“We do not believe our homes to be safe.”
The residents urge Southern to take swift remedial action, including:
- To address building defects through rapid structural work;
- To implement an appropriate fire safety plan, including personal evacuation plans for disabled and vulnerable residents;
- To provide specialist trauma support, including specific support focused on our children;
- To make dedicated housing officers available to deal with residents’ long-standing issues and complaints;
- To hold an urgent meeting between senior representatives of Southern Housing and the residents association, inviting all residents, to discuss results of fire safety assessment and future management of the block; and
- To review their system for dealing with concerns and complaints
They finish by saying, “We are grateful for support and solidarity from the many groups around the country caught in cladding and building safety issues. And we extend our love and solidarity to the Grenfell community as they mark six years since the tragedy where so many lives were lost.
“We call on the government to take responsibility for the danger that hundreds of thousands of people around the country are living with, and to implement the Phase One recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the upcoming Phase Two report.
“We need an urgent, national effort to fix the spiralling cladding and building safety crisis. We cannot risk one more life due to unsafe building materials or poor management of blocks.”
Read more: Grenfell six years on: 80% of social blocks still lack sprinklers
Read more: Tower developers used loophole to avoid fitting sprinklers
Read more: None of Croydon’s new school buildings have sprinklers fitted
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