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From external cladding to a lack of extinguishers - we look at how safe Norwich’s tower blocks really are

PUBLISHED: 12:19 19 June 2017 | UPDATED: 08:24 20 June 2017

Westlegate Tower in Norwich city centre. Photo : Steve Adams

Westlegate Tower in Norwich city centre. Photo : Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2016

From the gleaming Westlegate Tower to the imposing Normandie high-rise, Norwich’s handful of apartment blocks vary in size and appearance.

Normandie Tower on Roeun Road, Norwich. Photo: Luke Powell Normandie Tower on Roeun Road, Norwich. Photo: Luke Powell

But it is not just the aesthetics of these buildings which set them apart.

The way they are designed to handle fires - and the safety measures installed to prevent them - also differs.

And in the wake of the devastating Grenfell fire in London, residents of our city’s tower blocks have questioned how safe they are.

In the modern Westlegate Tower, people living in any of the 14 apartments benefit from sprinkler systems and 24/7 remote alarm monitoring.

Mafalda Simao, 25, who lives with her partner Pedro Neto, 28, who live on the 12th floor of Normandie Tower. Photo: Luke Powell Mafalda Simao, 25, who lives with her partner Pedro Neto, 28, who live on the 12th floor of Normandie Tower. Photo: Luke Powell

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But despite extensive fire safety measures, they have raised concerns about the external cladding covering part of the building,

It has prompted Norwich Residential Management, which maintains the tower, to carry out checks on the material used with the company behind the building’s redevelopment.

External cladding is suspected to have helped fuel the fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14.

Markham Tower in Mile Cross, Norwich. Photo: Luke Powell Markham Tower in Mile Cross, Norwich. Photo: Luke Powell

Meanwhile, residents in one of Norwich’s largest high-rise buildings, Normandie Tower, on Rouen Road, have questioned why there are no fire extinguishers in the communal areas.

One couple, who live on the 12th floor, said they did not even have a smoke alarm in their kitchen.

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Mafalda Simao, 25, who lives with her partner Pedro Neto, 28, said: “The Grenfell fire has made us think what if it happens here, and what would we do, because we have never had any fire drills.

“It would also be good to get a fire extinguisher, even if it was in the landing, because we don’t get them in the flats.“

Fifteenth-floor resident Matthew Wildsmith, 28, also shared their concerns, adding: “We’ve not had a proper fire safety drill, like you would have in an office building.”

The Norwich City Council-run tower block is made up of 95 flats, but only has sprinklers in the refuse areas.

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However, a spokesman for the local authority said a caretaker patrols the building daily.

Norfolk fire service also carries out training drills at the tower.

The city council’s tower blocks

There are eight tower blocks in Norwich which are managed by the city council.

Normandie and Winchester, located in the city centre, are the biggest, with 95 flats in each.

The other six – Ashbourne, Burleigh and Compass in Heartsease, and Aylmer, Seaman and Markham in Mile Cross – are made up of 44 flats.

A city council spokesman said all of its buildings are compliant with current fire regulations and have no external cladding.

A spokesman said: “Full fire risk assessments are carried out and approved for each tower block by Norfolk Fire and Rescue. They also conduct their own safety check at each block every three to four months.”

An on-site caretaker also patrols each tower block daily to ensure communal spaces are tidy, that lifts are working and any items left in communal areas are removed immediately. A letter sent to residents has also asked them to familiarise themselves with fire procedures.

Westlegate Tower

Norwich Residential Management, which maintains Westlegate Tower, said it had received calls from some residents concerned about the building’s external cladding.

A spokesman for the company said the material used is a mix of steel and composite material, which is different to the rain guard surrounding Grenfell Tower in London.

However, the spokesman said checks were being carried out with all companies involved with the building’s redevelopment.

Each apartment in Westlegate Tower is designed to form a separate fire compartment, to prevent any spread.

It also has a ventilation system on each floor to allow smoke to be drawn out of communal areas, sprinkler systems and emergency lighting.

There is also a box outside the building, which the fire service has access to, containing building maps, key fobs, remotes and instructions.

What to do in a fire

Norfolk Fire Service has issued the following advice for tower block residents in the event of a fire:

1. If you hear a fire alarm – do not ignore it.

2. Understand your own building procedures. These should be clearly signposted around the building. Know your escape plan and quickest way out and alternative exit routes. Make sure everyone knows about them.

3. Keep exits and lobbies clear of obstructions, rubbish and combustible items.

4. If you cannot leave your flat because the stairs and hallways are filled with smoke, ring 999 and stay inside the safest room. Keep the door closed and use towels at the bottom of the door to block the smoke.

5. If you can safely leave – get out and sound the alarm.

6. Use the stairs, not the lift.

7. In the event of a fire, never assume that someone else has called 999. Make sure your neighbours know about the fire. Bang on their doors on your way out.

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