£3m wasted on unsafe fire doors
Tenants now face two-year wait for plastic composite replacements
07 February, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson
A TWO-YEAR delay in replacing thousands of unsafe fire doors on social housing blocks in the borough has been branded “unacceptable” – as it’s revealed the council wasted more than £3million on buying and installing plastic composite doors unable to halt a blaze for longer than 15 minutes.
Between 2014 and 2018 Islington Council bought and installed 2,700 Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) doors from the now-dissolved Masterdor company, spending £3,400,000.
The roll-out was halted in 2018 after safety concerns emerged in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Tests were carried out and results released by the government in February last year showed the fire resistance of the doors was only 15 minutes, as opposed to the 30 minutes advertised by the company.
Now, the council has called for a national inquiry after being advised legal action to reclaim the millions lost would probably be unsuccessful.
The council’s cabinet is set to approve a brand new door replacement programme across its council homes, which will mean switching 4,500 doors with a new bill of £6.3m.
Residents who have been waiting for new fire doors have accused the council of dragging its feet, and taking risks.
In 2018, the Tribune reported on the frustrations of Finsbury Estate residents in Clerkenwell, who criticised the halting of the door replacement scheme.
“It’s been a long saga,” said Sarah Nash, of the Finsbury Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association. “The doors are just about to start being replaced.
“You would think that after Grenfell that they would get safe doors on within months, not years. And it’s been a long time since they found out the GRP doors they did eventually use were not safe.
“If there had been a fire in that time, we would have been another Grenfell.”
She added: “It’s unacceptable that it took this long. How long does it take to find a wooden door? It’s not rocket science. They should have been treating it with urgency.”
Islington’s sole Green councillor, Caroline Russell, said the whole episode was a “complete scandal”.
She added: “I think that they were chosen because they were a cheap option, and the council work to a budget.
“But affordable isn’t always the most effective solution, as it has turned out. It’s an almighty mess-up.
“They’ve tried to do the right thing to procure fire doors that are going to protect residents better and then they’ve gone and procured a door that doesn’t comply with what it was supplied as.”
Council papers show the new door replacement programme could take up to two years to complete, with new contractor Mears PLC carrying out the work on council blocks across the borough.
Cllr Russell added: “They’re trying to put things right but they’ve wasted £3.4m.”
Housing chief Diarmaid Ward said residents’ safety was the council’s top priority, and called for a national inquiry.
“It is a national disgrace that a company was able to put safety at risk – and cost taxpayers many millions of pounds – by selling fire doors that did not meet standards that was claimed,” said Cllr Ward.
“We call for a national inquiry into how this was allowed to happen and what needs to be done to stop a similar scandal in future. Islington Council, like many other local authorities and landlords, bought the original doors on the understanding that they met all fire regulations, as was apparently documented at the time.
“When it emerged that they did not, Islington took action to identify doors which have been proven to meet the required standard in the latest government tests and will be installing these wherever appropriate.”