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Chalcots estate independent fire survey questions safety of windows in towers

Surveyor hired by residents says fire "will spread up the building via these windows"

09 August, 2017 — By William McLennan

AN INDEPENDENT fire safety inspection at the Chalcots estate has claimed to have unearthed “defective” plastic windows that could allow flames to spread up the towers.

A chartered surveyor, employed by solicitors representing a group of residents from the evacuated estate, issued a damning assessment and said that the high-rise blocks needed to be “gutted”.

But his approach and findings have been questioned this week, with councillors calling for calm and saying they do not want to “make people worry unnecessarily”.

About 3,000 people returned to their homes in Adelaide Road at the end of last month after being assured by Camden Council and London Fire Brigade that works had been completed.

However, residents who did not feel safe to go back are being represented by solicitors Hodge Jones and Allen, who appointed surveyor Arnold Tarling.

His probe this week focused on the towers’ “compartmentation”, which is intended to divide a building into separate units that can prevent fire spreading to adjoining areas for up to an hour.

The New Journal recorded a video of Mr Tarling as he dismantled a window in Dorney Tower on Friday to assess its ability to stop flames spreading.

Describing what he found, Mr Tarling said that “the form of construction we have here is defective”, adding: “One fire in here will spread all the way through the building [on this level] and it will spread up the building via these windows.”

Fire safety at the blocks has been under intense scrutiny since the evacuation in June when a combination of flammable cladding and internal risks led them to be judged unsafe to live.

Issues with the windows were revealed by the council’s head of maintenance, Pat O’Neill, when asked by the New Journal why plastic sills surrounding windows in communal landings had been replaced, but left untouched inside people’s homes.

He said: “The problem that we had with these [windows] is that there was a vertical shaft between this wall and the outside panel.”

He said the replacement work “completely encapsulates that opening to make sure that fire can’t get from flats below”.

The New Journal this week shared the video of Mr Tarling’s inspection with two other fire safety experts, who were both concerned by the findings, but also questioned the method and called for further examinations to take place.

Arnold Dix, who runs Qatar-based, high-rise fire safety firm Alarp tasked a team of engineers to inspect the video.

A report compiled by the firm for the New Journal stated: “The faults revealed in the video raise serious concerns about fire safety in Dorney Tower which should be immediately addressed.”

It added: “The voids disclosed in the video provide a continuous passage for hot smoke and gas between levels due to a lack of firestopping and, if confirmed, would compromise the designed isolation of one unit from another behind the external face of the building.”

But in contrast to Mr Tarling’s assessment that the buildings must be gutted, Mr Dix said: “It’s all fixable. It’s quite simple engineering.”

Dr Gordon Cooke, a fire safety consultant and engineer based in Hampstead, also watched the footage. He said: “If these defects are proven to be as speculated by Mr Tarling, and widespread, then it is certainly very worrying.”

He said that he would like to see a more thorough examination “to establish what is above and to the sides of the window”.

Councillor Claire-Louise Leyland, leader of Camden’s Conservatives, toured the blocks yesterday (Wednesday) to inspect the quality of works after concerns were raised by residents. She said: “We are determined to hold Camden to account, but we want to do so in a way that is best for all residents. We want to keep people safe, not make people worry unnecessarily.”

Council leader Georgia Gould said: “Now that the urgent communal area works that the [London Fire] Brigade identified have been completed, we are determined to go further to make sure we have the highest standard of safety. We have appointed an appropriately qualified and accredited company, using the standards advised by the London Fire Brigade, to check fire safety within Chalcots flats.

“Those enhanced fire risk assessments are in progress. I want to reassure residents that any issues identified within flats will be acted on quickly and included in the enhanced fire safety programme of works we are doing, which includes the forthcoming fitting of new front doors and replacement of cladding.”

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