Fire safety concerns at Lowestoft tower block revealed in unpublished reports
PUBLISHED: 07:54 29 September 2017 | UPDATED: 12:04 04 October 2017
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A Lowestoft tower block has been given the highest possible fire risk rating, according to previously unseen reports revealing a host of safety concerns.
The latest fire risk assessment for St Peters Court tower block, obtained by this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, shows several concerns regarding fire risk at the building.
In July Waveney Council said it would install a sprinkler system at the 16-storey block following June’s Grenfell tragedy in London in which at least 80 people died. It has put the safety of tower blocks under the microscope.
At the time council leader Mark Bee reassured residents the sprinklers were not being installed because of “specific safety concerns or issues”.
However, we can reveal that just two weeks later, at the end of July, the building, which houses around 360 people, was inspected and rated as having a “high” likelihood of fire, the top level possible.
Today, Mr Bee said he stood by his initial statement and reassured people living there all of the concerns were being addressed.
We can also reveal that safety concerns surrounding the flats date back to at least 2015 and two years later some of these concerns remained, but the council insist they hadn’t ignored problems.
In the 2015 risk assessment report, the council was warned of a “substantial risk” of fire at St Peters Court with the potential to cause “moderate harm”.
The concerns aired in 2015 included:
-Fire doors not meeting standards
-Breaches in fire walls
-No one knowing what dangerous substances were stored in the building
-Contractors storing combustible items in the room with the main electric intake
-No reasonable means of escape from fire
-Escape routes and assembly points not clearly identified
That level was subsequently raised in July this year to “extreme harm”, meaning there was “significant potential for serious injury or death”.
When fire risk assessors returned in 2017, some of the concerns were raised again, including the escape from a possible fire. The report said there was still no “reasonable means” of escape from fire.
The rooms containing electric and water services had not been “fire stopped” and “old materials” in the building “are starting to deteriorate and crumble”, it read.
Doors should also have special letter boxes fitted, signage on fire doors was not appropriate and a sprinkler system was needed for the whole building, the report continued.
The author of the July 2017 report drew up an action plan with 10 points, including installing a sprinkler system, better signs on escape routes, keeping escape routes clear and fitting fire doors with fire-proof letter boxes.
The council said it was acting on the points raised in that assessment and had already acted on issues raised in April 2015 in a 35-page report.
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.”
He added: “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 said the words used in the risk assessments were “blunt”.
“Despite the nature of the language used, it is important to reiterate that St Peters Court continues to enjoy an excellent fire safety record,” a spokesman added.
St Peters is Lowestoft’s only council-run tower block and the only ones in Norfolk are based in Norwich.
•What people at St Peters Court say
Residents at St Peters Court expressed mixed reactions when told about the results of the fire risk assessments.
Some were angry at the discovery their home had performed so poorly while others said they did not feel at risk.
Carl Ellis has recently moved into an 11th floor flat with his fiancée and 11-year-old autistic son.
He said: “I don’t even have a fire door in my kitchen. The council have known for three or four weeks and they still haven’t done anything about it.
“You would think with all that’s happened they would be quick to sort that sort of thing out.
“I just can’t believe they have let me move into the property. I’m 11 floors up – what chance have I got?”
Zoe Makin, who lives on the 11th floor with her two-year old son, Dean, said: “I have always felt safe in the flat but I know if there was a fire we wouldn’t stand a chance.
“I never thought about the risk before the fire in London but we live on the 11th floor – we’d be screwed.”
Miss Makin added: “Obviously I would rather be living in a house than these flats but I do think the council have done everything they possibly could after Grenfell.
“The day after the fire they put letters in everyone’s letter box giving advice on what to do in the case of a fire and things like that.”
Alan Raisbury was sceptical of the results that came from the risk assessment given the messages he had received from the council.
He has lived on the 10th floor for the past 28 years and says he always has felt safe and still feels safe today.
Mr Raisbury said: “The fire brigade and the councillors said everything has been updated and it’s all safe.
“There is no risk here whatsoever. The council is straight with us and if there was a problem they would tell us.”
The 90-year-old, who is restricted to a mobility scooter, said the fire brigade visited him last week, to discuss what to do if a blaze did break out.
•Norwich tower blocks safe - but new assessments needed
Norwich City Council looks after eight tower blocks and after Grenfell the council commissioned a report to review the fire risks at each block. The results of that are awaited.
The last risk assessments, which date back to 2014 and 2013, show only a low or medium risk at all the blocks.
The report said stairwells needed to be kept clear of clutter.
It also found smoke alarms were not fitted in communal areas.
The last time full assessments were carried out was more than three years ago.
Aylmer Tower in Mile Cross, an 11-storey block with 44 flats, has not had a full fire risk assessment since 2013.
The other seven tower blocks were all risk assessed in 2014.
There is no law around how frequent the assessments should be carried out, but all the assessments were reviewed after a year, the council said.
A council spokesman said they were carrying out a fire risk assessment review after the Grenfell tragedy and their would be annual reviews.