The independent London newspaper

Why plan for only one staircase in tower blocks?

21 September, 2017

• AS the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have told us, many of their fellow-residents who perished by smoke asphyxiation and burning to death were simply doing what they had been told: to “stay put”, a supposedly safe strategy that now, thankfully, seems to have been abandoned, at least here in Camden.

When there is a fire, even a contained fire, anywhere in a tower block that only has one escape stair, as happened earlier this month on the Chalcots estate, firefighters are now ordering complete evacuation. No more “stay put”.

The process of getting everyone out of the Chalcots tower was also described as “chaotic”. Imagine what this chaos must have been like at Grenfell Tower, when it was compounded by the fact that the firefighters were struggling to get up that single staircase at the same time. And the staircase was full of smoke.

There are numerous residential towers in Camden, not all of them for social housing but also for luxury housing, that only have one escape stair. In other countries, such as the US, that would be strictly forbidden because it is extremely dangerous.

Towers with only one escape stair are permitted by the current regulations, which were very foolishly loosened some years ago by a government that was keen to reduce “red tape”. Today, post-Grenfell, those regulations are at last under review.

In other countries the requirement is for a minimum of two escape stairs at opposite sides of the building.
But here in Camden there are still projects for residential towers, currently going through the planning system, that only have one escape stair.

Surely Camden’s planning officers would not wish to be recorded as having permitted more of these death-traps to be built. Would it not be wise for them to wait?



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