Gazette letters: Nature’s behaviour, fire safety and NHS cuts

A Comma butterfly. Picture: PA/BARRY BATCHELOR

A Comma butterfly. Picture: PA/BARRY BATCHELOR - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

If sometimes I am struck by the way the behaviour of my friends resembles that of animals, this week challenged me to see it from the other side, writes Will McCallum, Newington Green.

Two sights reminded me of the ways in which beasts assume characteristics we normally only associate with humans.Few scenes in nature bring me more pleasure than animals enjoying their food. Looking down from my window last week I saw a magpie hopping between the uppermost branches of a cherry tree. In its beak, firmly placed was a large, red cherry. I could barely stop smiling as I saw the bird try to squeeze cherries into its beak, before having swallowed the first. Gluttony, it seems, belongs to no single species. Sloth neither, apparently. To enjoy the Sunday sun I headed to Dalston Curve Garden – East London’s oasis. As I sat with friends we were bothered over and over again by a visitor – at first welcome, but later mildly irritating: a Comma, one of Britain’s more common butterflies. Instead of floating between brightly coloured surfaces, it chose instead to repeatedly visit the peak of my friend’s cap, resting there lazily for ten minutes at a time.

To see gluttony and sloth so clearly represented in the natural world brings hope that sitting around eating too much in this hot weather might simply be part of the natural order of things.

It is important, in the wake of the Grenfell fire tragedy, that councils do not become fixated simply on cladding on high rises at the expense of other fire safety risks, writes an Islington resident, full name and address supplied.

Namely flammable cavity wall insulation and other insulation which, it has emerged, could also have been responsible for the rapid spread of fire at Grenfell Tower.

Our council block had thousands of tiny polystyrene balls pumped into the walls several years ago – the same that are used in beanbags – which are still escaping from tenants’ flats. If these walls are not sealed and air gets in, I fear that the polystyrene balls may easily spread fire and I hope the council will check this insulation for safety.

I’ve lived at the top of a purpose-built block for over 20 years. There are no communal sprinklers, no communal fire alarm and I’m sure the flats’ “compartmentalisation” has been compromised by various refurbishment works, plus the original ventilation ducts are communal so could spread fire. The internal flat ‘fire’ doors are not and are hollow and there is no emergency lighting.

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However, what I’m also worried about is the focus on high-rises to the detriment of mid-rises: officially 10 storeys and below. If there were a fire on the higher floors here, a visiting fire officer told me our only option was to stay put and wait. But he said fire engine ladders don’t go further than the fifth floor. Cherry pickers, as seen, take far too long to mobilise and does Islington have many of these?

So if you’re in any mid-rise or high-rise and the central stairwell is too full of smoke to get down and you’re above the fifth floor, your only option is to jump or wait – and we’ve seen what happens when you do that.

The council is saying it is still safer to “stay put” in its letter on Friday, June 16 although further advice is confusing. It’s also saying that “all tower blocks in Islington are hardwired with fire detection alarms in all estate dwellings”.

Again, this simply means domestic fire alarms in individual flats. But if you’re at the top of a block, by the time your domestic alarm goes off in a major fire, it will be too late to escape. It’s not the same as a communal alarm that rings loudly through the building. And who is maintaining or checking alarms and fire safety of leaseholders?

Apparently the advice of the fire brigade is not to install communal fire alarms as this would lead to “unmanaged evacuations” that they feel can pose a greater safety risk to residents. However, the “unmanaged evacuation” at Grenfell Tower was what actually saved the lives of those that escaped. The ones waiting to be “safely” evacuated are the ones that tragically perished.

I think communal sprinklers and fire alarms should be mandatory in both mid- and high-rises especially where the compartmentalisation of flats has been compromised by original design faults or refurbishment. And cavity wall insulation of all blocks must be tested and removed or perhaps replaced with mineral wool as a matter of urgency. If this is not possible, other precautions should be put in.

It is easy for authorities to say sprinklers are not always appropriate but as the Fire Brigades Union has reportedly said, no one in this country has ever died in a building with sprinklers.

On June 21 an internal NHS document seen by the Guardian newspaper revealed secret plans by Jeremy Hunt and the Tories to impose unprecedented cuts to health spending in London, writes Tricia Clarke, of Yerbury Road, Tufnell Park.

The “capped expenditure process” will hit the provision of NHS care to the 1.44 million people who live in the boroughs of Islington, Camden, Haringey, Barnet and Enfield.

The Tories plan to starve the NHS of the funds it needs to do its job properly and force hospitals to provide poorer care. The Royal College of Surgeons said the cuts could have a devastating impact on patients.

The NHS approached its 69th birthday yesterday (Weds) and it seems the Tories are determined to make sure that it doesn’t reach its 70th.

The problems with the NHS will be ongoing as long as the Tories remain in power.