O2 Centre high-rise plans leads to fire safety concerns over single staircases

Landsec says it has a 'no corners cut' policy

Friday, 4th March — By Tom Foot

O2 Centre site_artist's impression

How some of the new blocks on the site could look

FIRE safety rules need to be urgently strengthened to protect residents from the kind of tall buildings being proposed in the 1,800-home O2 Centre redevelopment, a former Camden Council architect and industry expert has said.

The New Journal reported last week how Land Securities has submitted plans to create a “new neighbourhood” on land spanning the Finchley Road shopping centre and car showrooms in Blackburn Road, West Hampstead.

The designs include several blocks higher than 18 metres which are classed as tall buildings, including one that is 15 storeys high. However, all of the blocks will have just one staircase, according to the developer.

While it is legal for new blocks to have single staircases, the London Fire Brigade has repeatedly raised concerns about the single stairway system since the Grenfell disaster in 2017.

Sam Webb MBE, who sits on the All Party Parliamentary Fire and Rescue Group and campaigns for Tower Blocks UK, told the New Journal: “The dangers of a single escape staircase are obvious. The fire brigade have to lay hoses up the stairs from the bridgehead and these prop open the fire door on the floor where the fire is. This allows smoke to enter the stairs. Anyone above the fire trying to escape must come past the hoses on the stairs. These are live and can jump about. They can break legs.”

He added: “There should be a minimum of two escape stairs in a high- rise block.”

Mr Webb is an elected member of the Royal Institute of British Architects Council and used to work for Camden Council as an architect, while living in Parliament Hill.

The UK is one of the only countries in the world that allow single staircases in buildings regardless of height.

The earliest high-rise building built in London with one staircase was Lakanal House, Camberwell, where six people died in a fire in 2009.

Retired architect Tom Muirhead, who lives in West Hampstead, said “in the event of a fire in any one of the towers at the O2 there is no other means of escape”, adding: “Speaking personally, I would be nervous if I had to be inside one of those buildings. I certainly would not want to live in them.”

Landsec says in its masterplan that “occupants of the residences will adopt a ‘stay put’ strategy where only the occupants from the apartment of fire origin evacuate”.

A spokesperson for the company said: “Like the vast majority of residential development in the UK, the buildings proposed for the O2 Centre site have one staircase supplemented by a suite of fire safety measures, this includes high-performing smoke extract systems and sprinkler systems throughout each building along with evacuation lifts.”

They added: “There are no corners cut when it comes to the issue of fire safety and the O2 Centre proposals have already been submitted for the Health and Safety Executive’s Gateway 1 approval and will also be subject to detailed review by Building Control and the London Fire Brigade in due course.”

The public can leave comments on the application, with the council intending to make a decision on the plans in the summer.

Related Articles