London fire: Tower blocks and safety

Lakanal House fire Image copyright PA
Image caption Six people - including three children - died when fire broke out at Lakanal House in Southwark in 2009

As we learn that six people have so far died in the Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington, Londoners living in high-rise apartments will be concerned about safety.

Tony Devenish, London Assembly member for Kensington and Chelsea, said he would be "seeking answers".

"I have been stunned by the scale and ferocity of the fire and of the heart-breaking stories emerging from the scene," he said.

"Rightly, questions are already being asked about the safety measures in place to prevent this kind of tragedy. I am keeping up to date with all of the latest developments and in time I will be seeking answers to these questions."

The capital has just over 700 tower blocks of 11 floors or higher.

BBC London looks at the most recent high-profile tower block fires and what lessons have been learned.

Lakanal House

On 3 July 2009, an electrical fault in a television is thought to have started a fire in a flat on the ninth floor of the 14-storey high rise in Camberwell, Southwark.

Six people - three women and three children - who all lived on the 11th floor died.

Southwark Council was taken to court by London Fire Brigade.

The court heard deficiencies included:

  • Absence of strips or seals on doors in the building
  • Suspended ceilings which lacked cavity barriers which could have reduced the risk of fire spreading
  • Inadequate fire-resisting boxing-in (or fire protection) to the timber stairs where they cut across the common corridor

In February 2017, Southwark Council pleaded guilty to four charges relating to safety breaches regarding the Lakanal House blaze.

In March 2017, Ronnie King, honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, said building regulations "haven't taken account of the Lakanal House fire inquest or updated recent accredited research".

He added: "The message to other social landlords and housing providers is unless there is a review of the regulations you could face multi-million pound legal costs and compensation should you experience a Lakanal House tragedy."

Sam Webb, a fire safety expert, said "really serious questions" should be asked in parliament about fire safety and there is a "conflict" between safety measures and materials used to construct more energy efficient buildings.

He said: "The materials are not fire-resistant and in some cases they're flammable."

How many homes are high-rise flats?

Just under one in every 200 homes in England is in a high-rise block, according to the latest English Housing Survey.

The rate is much higher in London, with about 8% of all residents living in high-rise flats.

London has just over 700 tower blocks of 11 floors or more, according to a report by the Greater London Authority.

Of those, about 500 were built between the late 1950s and late 1970s and 159 were completed between 1998 and 2014.

Despite having more people in tower blocks than the rest of England, the GLA says London is very "low-rise" compared with other big world cities.

About 14% of homes are in buildings of five floors or more, compared with 61% in Madrid, 51% in New York and 38% in Tokyo.

High rise flats in England


flats are in high rise blocks

  • 151,000 privately rented

  • 113,000 local authority rented

  • 84,000 owner occupied

  • 76,000 housing association rented

Getty Images

Shepherd's Court

Image copyright JasQ11
Image caption Fifty people were evacuated when 120 firefighters tackled the fire in Shepherd's Bush

In August 2016, a fire broke out in a flat in an 18-storey high rise in Shepherd's Bush when a faulty tumble dryer subject to a safety notice caught alight.

Fifty people were evacuated when 120 firefighters tackled the fire at Shepherd's Court. No one was injured, although some were treated for smoke inhalation.

A quarter of a four-bedroom flat was damaged on the seventh floor, half a flat on the eighth floor, a quarter of a flat on the ninth floor, half of a flat on the 10th floor and a small part of the flat on the 11th floor.

Shadwell fire station manager Paul Hobbs said: "The fire spread from the seventh floor via the outside of the building."

Dave Brown, director of operations at London Fire Brigade, added: "This fire has highlighted just how dangerous faulty white goods can be."

Trellick Tower

Image copyright Reanne Scott
Image caption "Fire safety systems at this block worked well on the day," a report into the Trellick Tower blaze found

Two hundred people were evacuated when fire broke out on the 27th floor of Trellick Tower in Kensal Green due to a discarded cigarette in April 2017.

A woman and two children managed to escape their flat in Golborne Road at about 21:30 BST.

Eight fire crews attended and found the flat completely engulfed.

A report by the director of housing of Kensington and Chelsea Council following the fire concluded: " ....whilst it is always a concern to have had a fire, what is clear in the review of the incident to date is that all the work undertaken .... to ensure adequate fire procedures and fire safety systems at this block worked well on the day. "

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