Council invests £1m in high rise fire safety

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The safety of the tenants living in our high-rise blocks of flats has always been our top priority.

So when the Grenfell Tower tragedy happened, Canterbury City Council and East Kent Housing (EKH), who manage the blocks on our behalf, decided to adopt an ultra-cautious approach.

We immediately instigated a thorough fire safety review of all of our high-rise blocks of flats as an extra precaution and were reassured by the fact the specific type of cladding used at Grenfell was not used on any of our blocks.

Our mid-rise flats, hostels and sheltered schemes were also inspected.

That review included Type 3 fire risk assessments where independent experts inspected people’s flats as well as the communal and shared areas.

The regulations only require us to undertake relatively low level Type 1 assessments.

This highlighted a number of issues needing to be tackled and our teams have been working incredibly hard to draw up plans to make this happen.

Independent experts Calfordseaden have been appointed to oversee the work on four blocks and a number of contracts are about to go out to tender at an estimated cost of £1m.

Vice Chairman of Canterbury City Council’s Community Committee, Cllr Joe Howes, said: “Like many across the country, we were shocked by the tragedy at Grenfell Tower and immediately adopted an ultra-cautious approach.

“Officers have been working hard with colleagues at EKH and independent experts to assess the current state of play when it comes to fire safety at our properties.

“Where improvements can be made, they have come up with robust plans to make sure we reach the very highest standards.

“We decided not to wait until the various inquiries into the Grenfell tragedy have reported and opted to get on with it.

“Of course, we stand ready to respond to any fresh lessons that need to be learned.”

Windsor House in Belmont Road, Whitstable, is 12 storeys or 36m high and contains 70 sheltered housing flats for older tenants.

While the regulations as they stand do not require it, because of its height and the vulnerability of its occupants, the council and EKH have decided to install sprinklers.

In the communal areas, we will improve the fire prevention measures and the ability of tenants to escape.

This includes changing the layout of the ground floor, new emergency lighting and new smoke ventilation systems.

There will be some disruption to tenants. EKH will work hard with its contractors to keep this to a minimum.

Parts of the communal areas might temporarily be out of action while work is undertaken and part of the garden might be lost.

1-27 Elizabeth Court in Queen Street, Herne Bay, is seven storeys or 21m high, has 27 flats and is designated as general-use housing.

We are replacing the panels boxing in the former balcony areas and removing the internal wall dividing the living room from the balcony to improve fire safety within the flats.

Again, we will improve the fire prevention measures and the ability of tenants to escape.

We have also decided to install fire doors to all rooms off the hallway inside the flats. This will not be needed for the ground-floor flats.

Storage within the balcony areas of the communal hallways will also be stopped.

Again, tenants will face some disruption but EKH will work hard with its contractors to keep this to a minimum.

Help will be given to tenants to move their furniture and EKH will do any decorating that is necessary including replacing carpets where needed.

28-59 Elizabeth Court, is just over 15m high and has five storeys, and will have new fire doors in the communal areas, some front entrance doors will be renewed and there will be some additional fire safety works.

Margaret Court, King’s Road, Herne Bay, is nine storeys or 27m high, has 36 flats and is home to elderly people.

In addition to new front doors, the council and EKH have decided to install fire doors to all rooms off the hallway inside the flats to improve fire safety. This will not be needed for the ground-floor flats.

And again, we will improve the communal fire prevention measures and the ability of tenants to escape.

Planning permission will be applied for where needed and all of the work will be subject to approval by experts in building control.

EKH Chief Executive Deborah Upton said: “Because of the vulnerability of the residents at Windsor House, we have decided to install sprinklers even though the current rules do not require us to.

“It also makes sense because we can tie it in with the other work that is being scheduled to take place there.

“When it comes to the other blocks, fire suppression systems like sprinklers have not been ruled out but there are lots of questions to be answered before the council can make a fully-informed decision.”

While the review was being undertaken, a number of steps were put in place to protect tenants. They included:

  • Increasing the frequency of communal area inspections along with daily visits designed to reassure tenants
  • The upgrading of existing fire detection systems
  • Resident fire safety awareness workshops
  • Joint inspections with the Kent Fire and Rescue Service
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