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Sprinklers to be fitted in towers across Westminster

Residents in Little Venice towers left 'baffled' by council's fire safety plans, after cladding fails tests

30 June, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya

Residents in Brinklow House, one of the six towers in Little Venice, have been told they do not need to leave their homes

SPRINKLERS are to be installed in tower blocks across Westminster after cladding failed fire safety tests. Westminster Council says it must make urgent changes to the Little Venice blocks while reassuring residents they are “confident” that the buildings are at “low risk” of fire.

The London Fire Brigade has said there is no need for a mass evacuation as was done in neighbouring Camden over the weekend. In a letter to residents, the council said they planned to remove “some cladding” from the Little Venice blocks to create “fire breaks”. Wooden decking from balconies in the towers will also be removed.

But residents in the homes have told the Westminster Extra they are “baffled” by the council’s position and are demanding answers after a public meeting of about 90 people on Tuesday night descended into chaos.

“The meeting turned into a debacle,” said Lucille Hayes, who lives on the 16th floor of Gaydon House on the Warwick estate. “People were angry and frightened. The meeting got so heated.” Ms Hayes urged the council to hold another meeting and to provide clearer information as, at the moment, she was “not comfortable” with them leaving some of the cladding up.

She said: “I am very uncomfortable with proposals, as I don’t understand them. I am still concerned with the cladding, what’s in it and how flammable it is. Personally I’m not reassured.”

Lisa Hilton, who also lives on the 16th floor of Gaydon, said: “I don’t think the council themselves know where they are at this moment. The meeting was very volatile with far too much yelling and screaming.” She said the council’s plans to leave up some of the cladding was “quite baffling”.

Antoinette Hage who lives on the eighth floor of Brinklow House on the Brindley estate, said: “The London Fire Brigade visited flats and told us very specific things about how the building was designed and why things were how they are, such as the cladding system and the insulation and why it is different. They told me they both attended Grenfell and were very upset at what they saw.”

While she was pleased that sprinklers were being fitted and various tests were being carried out, she added: “You can inundate people with information… but the perception is people will never feel the same way again about living in these buildings.

“The kinds of questions and comments people are raising now, these are things that should be dealt with on a regular basis… the need to address safety issues, not just for fire but for all things. People are only taking the initiative now after something so tragic has happened, which isn’t right. It should be constant.”

In a letter to residents of the six 21-storey blocks – Brinklow House, Oversley House and Polesworth House on the Brindley, and Princethorpe House, Gaydon House and Wilmcote House on the Warwick – the council said: “The London Fire Brigade’s latest inspection, completed on June 27, has come back with some issues for us to look at and we will prioritise these. Therefore, there is no need to decant and people can stay in their homes.”

Yesterday (Thursday) an LFB spokesperson said: “Inspecting officers have visited six towers in the Little Venice estate… and are satisfied that CityWest Homes who are responsible for fire safety in these buildings are putting in place appropriate fire safety measures to mitigate the risks from fire. CityWest Homes are responsible for ensuring the building remains safe and keeping residents informed of any changes to the building and what they need to do in the event of a fire.”

The council added it will install sprinklers in all buildings “over 30 metres in height” as they felt this was “the right thing to do”. They would also be removing wooden decking from the balconies in the towers in Little Venice.

Labour group leader Cllr Adam Hug said: “Ultimately the decision needs to be driven by what residents feel makes them feel most safe and comfortable. There is some disagreement on the way forward.”

Cllr Rachael Robathan, Cabinet Member for Housing said: “Since the awful tragedy at Grenfell Tower, we did not wait to be told what to do and took immediate action in Westminster to review our fire precaution policies and measures in our blocks, so we can reassure residents that they are safe. This is our number priority. We are inspecting all of our towers over seven storeys and are conducting detailed reviews with the London Fire Brigade (LFB), as well as testing cladding on one estate.

“The LFB inspections have identified some minor issues for us and we will complete any work required as a matter of urgency. I understand that this is a time of concern for many people, which is why we want to go further in making people safer. Whilst we are confident that our blocks are safe, we will be retrofitting sprinklers in blocks over thirty metres as an additional safety measure. We will also immediately review our fire management procedures in line with any recommendations made as a result of the Grenfell Tower public inquiry or any changes related to national fire safety advice.”

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