Chalcots Tower fire safety measures ‘shoddy and incomplete’

Chalcot EstateImage copyright
Chris J Ratcliffe

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The four tower blocks in the Chalcots estate are covered in the same cladding as Grenfell

David lives at the top of a tower on the Chalcots estate in north London. He was one of 3,000 residents ordered by Camden Council to leave their blocks on the estate and move into hotels.

His block, Taplow, and three others on the estate in Swiss Cottage, are clad in the same combustible material used at Grenfell Tower.

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The view from ‘David’s’ apartment in the Chalcots estate

At the time Camden Council – which own the Chalcots blocks – told residents that urgent fire safety improvements needed to be made to the internal, communal areas of the tower blocks.

Six weeks on the council says the urgent work has been done and signed off.

But some residents, including David [not his real name], believe the works are either incomplete or shoddy.

David’s concerns start with his front door and the mechanism, called a closer, designed to stop fire spreading from inside a flat to the corridor.

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The closer mechanism on David’s door

Building control from two other London boroughs signed off on these measures but David thinks it was a rushed job.

He points out a succession of other problems, including a huge gap at the bottom of his neighbour’s front door.

“I can get my entire hand under the front door and if your hand was a fire it’d be out in seconds,” he says.

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There is a clear gap between the door and the ground

There should also be non-slip strips across each of the stairs on the fire escape in the building.

These should be in place so that in the event of a fire you can see the stairs. But these strips are so worn you can barely see them even in daylight.

“Imagine what they’d be like when the lights are off – they are clearly not fit for purpose,” David says.

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Safety strips should be across these steps

Camden Council has reassured residents that fire marshals will be seated on each floor, 24 hours a day, to ensure their safety.

But David says these marshals have not had the correct training.

“They themselves have told us they have none, David said.

“A lot of them are standard security guys who have come from agencies and have been told to put on an orange apron and double up as a fire marshal.

“None have training whatsoever,” he says.

Fobbed off

David says he has been unable to get a straight answer from the council.

“I’ve written to the council on numerous occasions, and my MP and the chief counsellor, and I’ve been fobbed off [by the council] with copied and pasted text they’ve been publishing on their website.

“They aren’t answering my questions directly. I’ve been asking for reassurances and they’ve not offered one.”

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Electrical cables have been covered by cardboard

Ella May is a single mother-of-three who lives on the ground floor of Taplow. She also feels the urgent works have not been properly completed.

She showed the BBC a mass of exposed electrical cables running out of her fuse box into a gaping hole in the ceiling.

She says the cables were covered by a council-contracted electrician using cardboard.

A week ago the council told her re-boxing the cables properly was urgent safety work but now she’s been told the work is superficial.

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Ella May was told the work required to re-box electrical cables was ‘superficial’

Camden Council has told the BBC it has completed the urgent works identified by the London Fire Brigade (LFB), relating to fire containment issues inside the blocks.

The LFB said it has visited the premises since the work began and is satisfied sufficient progress has been made to allow a phased re-occupation of the building.

It adds, there is further work planned by the council to improve fire doors.

But David’s safety concerns are echoed by independent surveyor and fire safety expert Arnold Tarling.

“From what I have seen in one flat in Taplow and in the common parts, the building is not safe,” he said.

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