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Over half of council towers pose a fire risk

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More than half of Britain’s thousands of local authority tower blocks pose a similar fire risk to the one in Camberwell, south London, where a blaze killed six people earlier this month, according to a highly-respected local authority housing expert

Architect Sam Webb surveyed hundreds of tower blocks across the country in the early 1990s and presented a damning report to the Home Office, which showed that more than 50 per cent of them did not meet basic fire safety standards.

‘We found a widespread lack of safety, but at the time we were told there wasn’t anything that could be done, because it would “make too many people homeless”,’ Webb told the AJ.

Webb’s believes the much-criticised single central staircase was not the reason for the fire deaths – a claim backed up by other fire safety design experts.

Chris Hughes of fire safety consultancy Bodycote Warrington Fire said: ‘If such a fire broke out into a flat with two staircases, all the staircases in the building would be compromised. I don’t see how having two staircases makes much difference.’

Meanwhile the Department for Communities and Local Government’s head of housing Terrie Alafat, has written to every local authority, calling on them to inspect their housing stock and, in particular to check for wooden staircases within similar blocks spanning the central corridor.

Alafat said: ‘[This] is a feature in the building that could undermine the fire protection of the common escape corridors.

Architect and building regulations expert Austin Williams said: ‘There will inevitably be a flurry of risk assessments. Architects, with specific qualifications in these areas will be well placed to offer their services to carry them out.’

Keith Snook, director of research and technical at the RIBA added: ‘Architects certainly have an important role to play in advising about design; fire is one of the issues that the design and construction community do not compromise on.

‘The RIBA awaits the results of the investigation and will look to working with partners including fire services, and LA Building Control, experts such as the BRE, designers and builders to take whatever action is necessary to avoid such a tragedy occurring again.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Quite apart from the local authority housing stock, there are clearly private sector residential towers - and some of the relatively new breed of student accommodation towers - that have aluminium sandwich panel rainscreen cladding, and these too require thorough checking of the exact specification and construction detail of their cladding.

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