Grenfell fire: 'Safety comes first' for Plymouth tower block dwellers

Image caption Steve spent the night away from his tower block home

Residents of three Plymouth tower blocks have been speaking to the BBC after learning the cladding on the structures has been given the lowest safety rating.

Steve spent the night elsewhere after learning of the results of the tests on the three Mount Wise blocks, which were carried out following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

On receiving news of the rating, Steve said he wasn't prepared to risk spending the night at his high-rise flat.

He said it was "human instinct" to be concerned.

"It was just the initial thought of finding out about our flats after what happened in London," he said.

"You think, if it happened in London... it doesn't bear thinking about."

Steve, 34, lives in the Tamar tower, one of the three Mount Wise towers named Tavy, Tamar and Lynher, which are coloured blue, red and green respectively.

The blocks, which dominate the Devonport industrial area of the city, are due to have their cladding taken off in a few days, according to the local MP.

They are run by housing provider Plymouth Community Homes (PCH).

Devonport is the most deprived of Plymouth's 39 neighbourhoods and among the poorest 10% nationally.

Its residents have a life expectancy of 10 years less than those people living in the city's most affluent areas.

Steve, who lives on the seventh floor, said he'd never had any problems and that PCH were "spot on".

"Our alarms have always been really good - if anything they're too sensitive - but you'd much rather that than not know about a fire. They go off if you boil the kettle.

"They [PCH] were coming round yesterday - they even changed my letterbox to a different one because of safety.

"It's still in our protocol to stay put [if a fire breaks out], but I'd be trying to get out. When you think of the times I have had my children stay here, it just brings it home."

The towers, which house a total of 270 flats, were designed and built in the early 1960s and reclad in 2000.

John Clark, CEO of Plymouth Community Homes, said the safety tests were carried out as an "immediate response" to the government's instruction following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

He said: "It [the cladding] has been found to be aluminium-coated with a polyethylene core, which has been rated as category 3 under the new controlled test conditions.

"The fire rating scale goes from 0 to 3 (with 0 being the highest safety score and 3 being the lowest)."

There are immediate changes, such as additional fire protection panelling being added to stairwells and checks on fire doors.

And there are longer-term changes to be made, such as the installation of heat detectors and a sprinkler system.

John Charrington, 67, also lives in Tamar. He said: "I'm a bit nervous while the cladding is still on.

"When I saw the pictures from London I thought 'that's the cladding going up'. You could see the way it was whizzing up the building.

"The next day people were chatting about whether it was safe.

"There's been lots of people here checking the buildings and photographing alarms, but I've got no idea how long it's going to take them."

Diane McHenry, who has lived in Tavy for 24 years, said she cried when she saw the Grenfell Tower fire on TV.

"I felt safe anyway - we have good smoke alarms - but it's good that they're taking it off. It's filthy and disgusting and should have come down years ago."

Image caption Poster

Ian Harley, who is chair of Mount Wise Towers Residents Association, said his phone didn't stop ringing for two days after the Grenfell tragedy.

"Obviously people were very concerned," he said. "Having said that, we managed to get hold of PCH and they have been incredibly quick in getting on top of this.

"They carried out three inspections to look at specific issues within a matter of hours.

When asked how concerned residents are, he said "they're not".

"We've already got a smoke alarm system, carbon monoxide alarms in every flat. All the doors have been uprated - the law only requires 30-minute fire doors to isolate each flat and PCH have insisted on 60 minutes, so much, much, much better than anything the law requires.

"They've taken on board what we say. When it comes to tenant safety and security, the cost implications seem to go out the window. The bottom line is, safety comes first."

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