Chalcots Tower fire safety measures 'shoddy and incomplete'

By Sangita Myska
Today programme

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Image source, Chris J Ratcliffe
Image caption, The four tower blocks in the Chalcots estate are covered in the same cladding as Grenfell

Almost six weeks ago, in the wake of the devastating Grenfell Tower blaze, fire safety concerns prompted the evacuation of 3,000 people - with little notice - from their homes in four tower blocks on another London estate. Many residents were angry then and they are fearful now - worried that the "urgent" works they were moved out for have been rushed and shoddily done.

More than 700 flats on the Chalcots estate in north-west London were emptied, with families housed first on air beds in a nearby leisure centre and later in hotels. Residents in all but two flats have now moved back in but the situation looks far from resolved.

David lives at the top of a tower on the Swiss Cottage development and has a list of issues with the state of the building.

His block, Taplow, and three others on the estate are clad in the same combustible material used at Grenfell Tower.

At the time of the evacuations Camden Council, which owns the blocks, said improvements were needed to the internal, communal areas of the towers.

The council says the urgent works have now been signed off but David (not his real name) believes the work is incomplete.

Filming on the estate was not allowed but photographs taken by the BBC illustrate some of his concerns.

David's worries start with his front door and the mechanism, called a closer, which is designed to automatically pull the door shut. It is a key factor because people faced with a fire often flee without remembering to close doors behind them.

The one fitted to David's front door has already broken, and if a fire was to happen a door left open would do nothing to stop fire spilling out from inside the flat to the corridor.

David points out a succession of other problems, including a sizeable gap at the bottom of his neighbour's front door.

A secure front door is a key barrier to keeping fires contained for as long as possible - but David demonstrates how quickly he fears flames will be able to get past this particular barrier.

"I can get my entire hand under the front door and if your hand was a fire it'd be out in seconds," he says, kneeling down to demonstrate his point.

Non-slip strips in the fire escape stairwell - in place so that residents can see each step - are worn and barely visible even in daylight.

"Imagine what they'd be like when the lights are off - they are clearly not fit for purpose," David says.

Image caption, Safety strips should be visible across these fire escape steps

Camden Council has reassured residents that fire marshals will be seated on each floor, 24 hours a day, to ensure their safety.

But David claims they have not had the correct training.

"They themselves have told us they have none," David said.

"A lot of them are standard security guys who have come from agencies and have been told to put on an orange apron and double up as a fire marshal.

"None have training whatsoever," he says.

His concerns are echoed by independent surveyor and fire safety expert Arnold Tarling.

"From what I have seen in one flat in Taplow and in the common parts, the building is not safe," he said.

'Fobbed off'

David says he has been unable to get a straight answer from the council.

"I've written to the council on numerous occasions, and my MP and the chief councillor, and I've been fobbed off [by the council] with copied and pasted text they've been publishing on their website.

"They aren't answering my questions directly. I've been asking for reassurances and they've not offered one."

Image source, Empics
Image caption, Exposed electrical cables were covered by cardboard

Ella May is a single mother-of-three who lives on the ground floor of Taplow. She also feels the urgent works have not been properly completed.

She showed the BBC a mass of exposed electrical cables running out of her fuse box into a gaping hole in the ceiling.

She says the cables were covered by a council-contracted electrician using cardboard.

A week ago the council told her re-boxing the cables properly was urgent safety work but now she has been told the work is superficial.

Image caption, Resident Ella May was told the work required to re-box electrical cables was 'superficial'

Camden Council told the BBC it had completed the urgent works identified by the London Fire Brigade (LFB), relating to fire containment issues inside the blocks.

The LFB said it had visited the premises since the work began and was satisfied sufficient progress had been made to allow a phased re-occupation of the building.

There is further work planned by the council to improve fire doors, it added.

Image caption, The view from 'David's' flat in the Chalcots estate

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