CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

The long delay in replacing fire doors is worrying

14 February, 2020

• THE long delay in replacing more than 4,500 front doors that fail to meet fire safety standards in Islington Council tenanted properties is very worrying.

It raises two important questions about fire safety inspection standards in general and the relationship between local and central government when it comes to covering the costs of institutional failures of this kind.

Some 2,700 of Islington’s 4,500 defective front doors were replaced with Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) fire doors between 2014 and 2018, when the serious defects in the GRP doors came to light.

It will now take up to two years before the 1,800 remaining defective doors and the 2,700 GRP doors are all replaced. This leaves 4,500 Islington households with front doors that do not meet fire safety specifications.

The council should be transparent about this and should be communicating with residents about fire safety and the importance of shutting doors behind you, if fleeing a fire, to avoid the spread of smoke.

Having seen the impact of smoke on people’s ability to exit a building in a fire in a three-storey block in my ward in 2018, I believe it is crucial that the council communicates clearly with residents with these doors – so that they know how best to stay safe.

All councillors should be informed about any front doors that don’t meet fire safety standards in estates in their wards.

Since the company that supplied the 2,700 non-compliant GRP doors is no longer in business, the council is unlikely to reclaim any of the more than £3million it spent on them.

In retrospect it seems extraordinary that the company was able to sell tens of thousands of these to councils across the country on the basis that they would prevent fires spreading for 30 minutes.

Tests conducted after the disastrous Grenfell Tower fire show they would do so for only 15 minutes, less than the period specified in fire safety regulations.

It is also hard to dissociate this failure from the same dilution of fire safety standards that may have contributed to the Grenfell Tower fire.

An independent report commissioned by parliament in 2017 warned of the consequences of partially privatising the inspection process.

Since 2013 private-sector “approved inspectors” have had authority to carry out all types of building control work.

“We have frequently heard that this leads to situations where (building control) personnel can fail to ‘win business’ where they will not commit in advance to approval of more risky designs and that those who do win business can become far too embedded in supporting the building design process rather than being an impartial rigorous verifier of building safety,” the report said.

The other troubling aspect is that the burden of the costs is likely to fall on Islington Council and other councils, which have all already seen massive reductions in the central government contribution to their budgets.

I’m glad that Islington Council has found the money to replace the doors in its budget but, since fire safety standards are a responsibility of central government, the government surely has a duty to intervene with funds, as it has promised to do in the case of the cladding that will have to be removed from high-rise buildings for fire safety reasons.

CLLR CAROLINE RUSSELL
Green Party,
Highbury East ward

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