Community news and investigative journalism for Wapping E1W and Tower Hamlets London

TH tenants want sprinkler systems in their homes and they want them now

Tower Hamlets Tenants Residents Associations are vocal in their demand to have sprinkler systems retrofitted in their blocks without waiting for the results of any enquiries into the Grenfell Tower Fire.

70 blocks with more than six floors and 34 properties that range between 10 and 22 floors are under the control of Tower Hamlets Homes (THH), the Council’s social housing provider.

CQ Development & Victoria Wharf

Love Wapping has identified two buildings in Tower Hamlets where Harley Facades, who installed the cladding at Grenfell Tower, have undertaken building works. These are the C Quarter (CQ) Development, Commercial Road E14 7QL and Victoria Wharf in Palmers Road, Bethnal Green E2 0SF. Both seem to be private dwellings but this has not been confirmed.

C Quarter (CQ) Development, Commercial Road

At a meeting of the Tower Hamlets Federation of Tenants & Residents Associations at Collingwood Hall, Whitechapel on the evening of Monday 19th June that Love Wapping attended the normal AGM was extended to include a session focussed on fire safety issues.

Cllr. Rachel Blake (Labour, Bow East, Cabinet Member for Strategic Development & Waste) and Mayor John Biggs attended as well as two senior officers from Tower Hamlets Homes, Director of Business Transformation Paul Davey and Director of Asset Management John Tunney.

After a minutes silence for the victims of Grenfell Tower Cllr. Blake kicked off the discussion by stating the hard facts of the problems facing local authorities – the £24 million funding cuts Tower Hamlets has suffered and restrictions this imposes on any attempt to provide comprehensive services to people – including safe places to live.

Members of the audience brought up many issues such as more efficient removal of rubbish and better caretaking.

Mayor Biggs tagged issues such as not high enough standards for Fire Risk Assessments and work to revise these, extra duties on leaseholders to install fire doors and the need for every resident to have a working smoke alarm in their property.

John Tunney of THH stated that even before the Grenfell Tower fire THH had been sent a letter from the London Fire Brigade asking for a report on current cladding and said that THH properties all used mineral fibre cladding which has the highest fire rating.

Further checks into cladding was being carried out with priority being given to those buildings of six floors or more.

Highest priority

The responses outlined by both the Council and THH at the meeting was much more comprehensive and detailed than the statements on their websites indicate. (You can read the Council response to the Grenfell Fire here.)

Mayor Biggs talks to Tower Hamlets Federation of Tenants & Residents Associations meeting

It is very clear that both organisations are undertaking all work and checks as a matter of the highest priority and visits to THH properties are already taking place with Housing Officers checking for obstructions and knocking on doors where needed. They are working closely with the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and are arranging a meeting with the LFB Borough Commander.

Attendees brought up the issue of the official LFB advice to stay in your flat if your building should have a fire and there was general agreement that in future people would get out if they could.

Other brought up issues such as estate access for fire engines being blocked, old cookers and washing machines being left on fire escapes and THH inspections not always being carried out properly.

The problem of flats being turned into multi-occupancy residential dwellings with people being charged £1200 a month to share one room with several others.

Ceiling mounted water sprinkler Photo: Brandon Leon

Retro fitting sprinklers

The main talking point was the issue of retro fitting sprinklers in THH properties. There was overwhelming agreement that this should be done and without waiting for the results of any public inquiries into Grenfell House.

The figure of £200,000 for the cost of installing water sprinklers in a tower block such as Grenfell Tower has emerged in various news reports and although this figure is probably an underestimate the Government has pledged to cover all costs to local authorities to improve fire safety including building work.

Harley Facades work in Tower Hamlets

For the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), a not-for-profit company that has been managing social housing in Kensington & Chelsea since 1996, hired the construction firm Rydon who in turn outsourced the cladding work to Harley Facades / Curtain Wall.

According to the website of Harley Facades their previous work includes The C Quarter (CQ) Development in Commercial Road E14 7QL and Victoria Wharf in Palmers Road, Bethnal Green in addition to Grenfell Tower.

Note: LW is not aware of any heightened fire risk in either of these buildings but has passed details to the Council.

The thirteen floor C Quarter Development belongs to A2 Dominion Group which is one of several Housing Associations in Tower Hamlets.

C Quarter seems to be primarily for private rental or sale. We have not been able to determine the owner of Victoria Wharf.

C Quarter (CQ) Development, Commercial Road E14 7QL

Scope of works by Harley Facades: Complete external envelope including; curtain walling, windows, doors, stone rainscreen cladding, timber rainscreen cladding, render, copings, and SFS backing walls. Source: Harley Facades project page.

Grenfell Tower

Victoria Wharf Palmers Road, Bethnal Green E2 0SF

Scope of works by Harley Facades: Complete external envelope including; backing walls, Reynobond rainscreen cladding, curtain walling, windows, doors, insulated render, balcony screens and hand rails, cedar cladding. Source: Harley Facades project page.

It is not known what specific type of cladding was installed on these two developments. Although the Harley Facades scope of work states that ‘Reynobond rain screen cladding’ was installed it is not known if this is either the Reynobond PE cladding installed at Grenfell Tower or Reynobond FR (Fire Resistant) cladding.

When is a building a tower block?

Everyone knows a tower block when they see one but the precise definition varies slightly depending on who you ask.

A general definition from Wikipedia is “A tower block, high-rise, apartment tower, residential tower, apartment block, block of flats, or office tower is a tall building or structure used as a residential and/or office building.”

Emporis Standards uses the term ‘high-rise’ and defines a this as “A multi-story structure between 35–100 meters tall, or a building of unknown height from 12–39 floors.”

Tower Hamlets Homes categorises a tower block as being a building of between 10 and 22 storeys (or floors).

LW Comment

We do not intend to discuss the complete and utter failure of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council both before and after the fire at Grenfell Tower here.

Whatever the resulting investigations reveal it is apparent that the fears of ordinary residents were repeatedly ignored by those whose duty it is to protect them.

One way to try and ensure that the views of tenants, both private and public, are heard by those in authority is to join your Tenants or Residents Association right now and get involved. You can find out more details about  Tenants or Residents Associations on the Tower Hamlets Federation of Tenants & Residents Associations website or the Tower Hamlets Homes website.

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