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Islington Council ordered to act over ‘fire trap’ Spa Green Estate – after 7 years of warnings from estate manager

PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:33 18 August 2017

Spa Green Estate manager Thomas Cooper has documented fire proofing work around the estate. Picture: Polly Hancock

Spa Green Estate manager Thomas Cooper has documented fire proofing work around the estate. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Thomas Cooper, manager of the Spa Green Estate, says he has been complaining about fire safety breaches for seven years – with no action taken. After London Fire Brigade chiefs promised to issue a warning to the council, he speaks out to the Gazette.

Some of the holes and damage in Spa Green Estate flats which Thomas Cooper claims is indicative of compartmentalisation issues in all three blocks. Pictures: Thomas Cooper Some of the holes and damage in Spa Green Estate flats which Thomas Cooper claims is indicative of compartmentalisation issues in all three blocks. Pictures: Thomas Cooper

A major Finsbury estate is in “shocking breach” of fire safety rules, its manager has claimed.

Thomas Cooper said compartmentalisation – a concept where fire is contained in the flat where it starts, which is the reason people are told to stay in their homes when a blaze breaks out – is non-existant in the Spa Green Estate, off Rosebery Avenue.

He highlighted shoddy work in a “wide range” of the estate’s 129 flats, with poor fire stopping between floors in the blocks. It relates to communal heating pipes that rise though the blocks in each kitchen: the most likely place for a home fire to start.

The work was carried out in 2009/10, reportedly costing just under £1million. Non-smoking tenants first voiced concerns about a lack of fire stopping when cigarette odour from flats below crept into their properties.

Seven years on, Mr Cooper is convinced the estate is still at risk. He demonstrated a pipe linking one kitchen’s ceiling to the one above. A gap had been stuffed with newspaper. In other flats, there are gaping holes.

And he has been backed up by London Fire Brigade. In an email chain seen by the Gazette, fire chiefs said they will issue a “notification of fire safety deficiencies” on the town hall, telling it to instigate a program of review and repair.

Spa Green Estate: 1940s modernist social housing by architect Berthold Lubetkin. Picture: Polly Hancock Spa Green Estate: 1940s modernist social housing by architect Berthold Lubetkin. Picture: Polly Hancock

The estate is made of three blocks: two eight-storey (Wells and Tunbridge House) and one five-storey (Sadler House).

All have up-to-date fire risk assessments, rated “tolerable”: second on a danger scale of five. According to regulations, it means no further controls are required but the situation requires monitoring.

Responding to the fire brigade’s warning notice, a town hall spokesman said: “The council has a good working relationship with the brigade and will always consider any advice they may issue or any improvements they suggest.

“We are aware of the concerns raised by the Spa Green TMO and will provide an update on the actions to be taken shortly.”

But Mr Cooper, referring to a bedroom fire in a second floor Tunbridge House flat on March 17, told the Gazette: “That could have gone up the building if it was in the kitchen.”

He continued: “Most vulnerable people, the ones least able to fight, end up getting the worst work done on their flats. Those who live in social housing often have limited resources. Are they going to take a council on?

A pipe hole in a Wells House flat on the Spa Green Estate. Gaps where the pipes enter the ceiling have not been filled as they should, it has been claimed, posing a fire risk. Picture: Polly Hancock A pipe hole in a Wells House flat on the Spa Green Estate. Gaps where the pipes enter the ceiling have not been filled as they should, it has been claimed, posing a fire risk. Picture: Polly Hancock

“Some of the work is an insult, and some of the work is ‘let’s pretend the job has been done properly’.

“If the council can leave an estate to be treated this shockingly, it will do it anywhere. The safety of the whole estate has been compromised.

“People will notice if their boiler isn’t working. But if they are left vulnerable to poor fire safety, they aren’t necessarily going to notice.

“We are being treated with utter contempt.”

Mr Cooper lives in Cllr Caroline Russell’s Highbury East ward. After relaying his concerns, she visited some of the flats and said: “I am staggered the council has been so relaxed.

“What I saw was holes that have been punched through concrete between the floors. The holes around the pipes had bits of rubble and newspaper. That’s not going to stop a fire. That’s a shocking breach of compartmentalisation.”

Cllr Caroline Russell said there are multiple breaches of compartmentalisation in the Spa Green Estate. Picture: Thomas Cooper Cllr Caroline Russell said there are multiple breaches of compartmentalisation in the Spa Green Estate. Picture: Thomas Cooper

At the last full council meeting, on June 29, Cllr Russell passed a motion to make public all existing fire safety risk assessments of high rise towers in Islington.

The latest assessments for Wells and Tunbridge Houses haven’t been provided – nor were they disclosed after the Gazette made a request to the town hall.

Cllr Russell added: “In the context of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the council really should be taking this seriously and asking how this happened. Meanwhile, residents have been left to worry. It’s just unfair.

“People working in housing, like Thomas, also need help. They need the executive to take this seriously. What I saw in the Spa Green Estate has made me really worried. But I’m also disappointed that people’s concerns are being brushed aside.”

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