The independent London newspaper

Town Hall boss promises action after email on Taplow fire safety

10 July, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Taplow tower and the corridor door opening inwards

MY exposé in last week’s column of botched building work and potential hazardous design in the Taplow tower block has been set out in a warning email to the council’s chief executive Mike Cooke.

In my column I had described the conditions I had found in a studio flat on the 19th floor after I had met the man who lived in it, Ivor Grealey, a former building worker.

The email, sent by this newspaper on Monday, showed that replacement window frames provided in the “privately” financed refurbishment scheme carried out more than 10 years ago were highly flammable, that they were of the wrong size and made to “fit” and that they had created a cavity that could act as a “chimney” in the event of a fire.

John Gulliver’s report on Ivor Grealey’s flat in Taplow tower of June 29

We also pointed out a “hidden” flue formerly used for gas heaters replaced in the refurbish­ment by a central heating system. We questioned whether this had been properly inspected.

In addition, my column described how “newspapers” had been used to fill space caused by ill-fitting door frames built to hold a fire door. Salvaged bits of newspapers that had packed the door frames were dated November 2006, the early part of the refurbishment project.

Within hours Mr Cooke sent an email to the New Journal promising an “initial” survey of Mr Grealey’s flat as it was “important to listen to residents’ concerns”, and that he would ask the “senior building manager” Sam O’Neill to contact the resident.

Promptly, the next day Mr O’Neill arranged with Ivor Grealey to visit his flat today (Thursday). Mr Grealey, who is in his late 60s, has been found alternative accommodation in a sheltered block in Maida Vale.

I had originally gone to Mr Grealey’s flat a few hours after council leader Georgia Gould had decided to evacuate thousands of tenants on the Chalcots estate once fire service inspectors had deemed it unsafe.
Several days later, I arranged for an architect to take a look at Mr Grealey’s flat, and it was his initial observations that were sent in the email to the chief executive.

All the signs suggest that Mr Cooke and fellow senior officials, aware of the horrific events at the Grenfell tower, are working hard to discover what went wrong in the refurbishment project and how disastrously were corners cut.

I have no expertise, of course, in fire safety measures but every time I visit the Taplow tower it is difficult not to spot the danger spots. And if I, as a layman, can see them I remain astonished how they escaped notice from council officials – and councillors, of course – who must have visited the block over the years.

Of course, the Grenfell tragedy has opened our eyes to dangers we, perhaps, were not aware of before but inspections of Taplow, which should have been carried out regularly, even of the most cursory kind, should have revealed them to officials who are supposedly qualified to spot them.

After leaving the lift on Mr Grealey’s 19th floor on Friday, for instance, I immediately saw how the door in the corridor leading to the block’s only “escape” staircase was actually opening in the wrong direction – that is inwards when in fact, according to the law, it should open outwards so as not to impede people rushing to use the stair­case in an emergency.

Incidentally, this is a basic law on fire precaution introduced more than a century ago following a disastrous fire in an Italian opera house when hundreds of people perished in a fire many of whom couldn’t escape the inferno because the exit doors opened the wrong way – inwards. Our parliament then introduced new laws on exit doors.

Lessons clearly need to be learned in fire precautions – Mr Cooke’s prompt reply to the warning email sent by this newspaper augurs well. We trust it is part of a new sense of responsibility which, for whatever reason, had been allowed to slip in the past.


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