Braithwaite House tenants ‘told Islington Council about fire risk years ago – but nothing was done’
PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 June 2017 | UPDATED: 10:19 29 June 2017
Residents of Braithwaite House, where cladding similar to death trap Grenfell Tower was this week being urgently torn down, say they complained in vain about inadequate fire safety three years ago.
Tenants and homeowners at the block off Old Street handed the council a petition in March 2014, wrote to local politicians and even showed some of them round the block, but feel their complaints fell on deaf ears.
Mum-of-two Bonny Shea told the Gazette this week she was so scared for her family’s lives after the cladding was discovered that she moved back in with her mother in Holloway.
She and her neighbours painted a grim picture of safety at the block she had left behind: fire doors and windows that don’t seal shut; no communal alarm system; missing fire safety equipment; and a long-broken fire escape on the top floor.
Christina Martins told the Gazette: “There has been an awakening among people who live in council blocks.
“There are new buildings flying up all over the place, and yet we’re all still stuck inside this block. How many people do you think can afford to move out of this block and into one of the new developments round here?
“We have to put up with poor living conditions because we’re working class.”
Work is now under way to remove the cladding that was found on Thursday night to be similar to the material implicated in the blaze that killed at least 79 in Kensington. The Aluminium Compound Material (ACM) on Grenfell Tower is thought to have hastened or caused the spread of the devastating blaze on June 14. It is not known whether the ACM on Braithwaite House, installed in 1998 to protect the crumbling concrete, is exactly the same or a similar type with a fire-resistant core.
Cllr Diarmaid Ward, Islington’s housing chief, said: “As a landlord, safety is our number one priority and we will do whatever it takes to ensure people are safe in our estates.”
"We have to put up with poor living conditions because we’re working class"
As well as tearing off the panels, he confirmed: “We’re stepping up safety measures in the block immediately, with fire safety patrols taking place day and night until the panels are removed.”
But another tenant, who didn’t wish to be named, told the Gazette: “Removing the cladding is lovely, but the council has a lot more work to do.
“I’ll wait to see the outcome of issues I have been reporting over many years, including the fire exits on the roof, which is unsafe.”
She believes she was kicked off the Tenant Management Organisation’s committee for being too vocal about problems with the block, including issues around fire safety.
“In some ways, it always was going to take a tragedy like Grenfell for the council to sit up and listen,” she said. “But my experience of trying to deal with them in the past doesn’t fill me with confidence they’ll sort out all the issues with the building.”
A petition was put before Islington Council in March 2014 about the fire risk posed by heaters being installed across Braithwaite House. People were concerned work had breached the “shell” of each flat, meaning fire would be more able to spread between homes if it broke out.
There were also concerns those on the top floor of the building, where about 80 people live, had no access to a fire escape. It has now been fixed, but the door that let top floor residents get out was broken for years, they claim.
Cllr Ward added: “We are following all fire brigade advice and recommendations. This includes internal works.
“We are happy to discuss any safety issues with residents – we will do everything we can to support them and keep them informed at this difficult and distressing time.
“We also have fire safety and concierge patrols night and day until the cladding panels containing ACM are removed.”