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Don’t lock up our fire escapes, plead residents on timber estate

Camden says it is working on London Fire Brigade advice

11 November, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

COUNCIL tenants and leaseholders on a famous Highgate housing estate have urged the Town Hall not to lock up their fire escapes.

Residents fear the council will stop them from using old roof exits – with bridges or walkways between each block in Highgate – once new safety measures are completed.

The council insists no decision has yet been made, but a campaign has been launched by the Holly Lodge Residents Association saying they think the safest option is to allow them to stay unlocked. Unprecedented numbers packed into the Holly Lodge Community Centre last Wednesday night to express their worries.

Roger Elliott, co-secretary of the HLRA, told the New Journal: “We residents, especially those on the top floors, feel a sense of security knowing that if the stairwell were to fill with smoke we could evacuate upwards. This has happened in the past, thankfully not often, but it could happen again as these timber and brick buildings are very vulnerable.”

The Town Hall is installing hard-wired smoke alarms in communal areas and flats, putting in new fire doors and sealing gaps, known as compartmentalisation. The council say the review of escape points is based on London Fire Brigade guidance and that the rooftop exits, walk­ways and gantries don’t meet current safety standards. But Mr Elliott, 71, said because the blocks were built in the 1920s, the flats are not sealed units, which the fire services rely on for a “stay put” policy to work.

David Fermer, who has lived in Langbourne Mansions for 10 years, said he was “horrified”, adding: “Some years ago, there was a small fire in one of the ground floor flats of this building. The smoke came into my flat and, because the stairwell was full of thick, dense smoke, I made the decision to use the fire escape to go, with my dog, onto the roof gantry to the safety of the next door block. “I am passion­ate that this option should not be closed off.”

Camden housing chief Meric Apak said: “We want to share any developed options for the rooftops and the doors leading to them with residents and agree any review in partnership with them and on the advice of the London Fire Brigade.”

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