Tue, 27 Jun 2017
RESIDENTS have been re-assured that sufficient fire safety measures are in place in council buildings and Newbury’s mid-rise tower blocks following the Grenfell Tower fire last week.
The blaze, which tore through a 24-storey block of flats in North Kensington, London, in the early hours of Wednesday, June 14 has so far claimed the lives of at least 79 people.
The tragedy prompted calls for a local review of fire safety measures and procedures in buildings such as schools, care homes and developments such as Parkway and The Racecourse.
In response, West Berkshire Council has said it is constantly involved in a rolling programme of reviewing and renewing its fire risk assessments, while developers of Newbury's tallest buildings at the Race Course and Parkway have said they are satisfied with the safety measures in place.
However, West Berkshire councillor Paul Bryant has called for more to be done to improve safety, particularly raising questions over the lack of sprinklers in many buildings.
In a letter to the Newbury Weekly News he said: “Over the years on West Berkshire Council planning committee and as a member of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority, I have campaigned for sprinklers, particularly in care homes, schools and large blocks of flats, with marginal success.
“More often than not developers have said they will ‘think about it’ that is a coded way of saying ‘no’. It costs and developers do not spend needlessly.”
Speaking about his letter yesterday, he added: “I don’t think safety measures are good enough.”
And while Mr Bryant was quick to point out that the situation in West Berkshire differs greatly from Grenfell Tower, he feels the needless loss of life should prompt safety reviews far and wide.
“This is an opportunity to raise the question and look at it,” he added. “It’s easy to be wise after the event.”
Private developers have also offered their reassurance to residents in the town.
A number of mid-rise tower blocks have sprung up in Newbury over the last decade, including the Parkway development and the Newbury Racecourse development, with a number more in the pipeline, such as the Market Street Urban Village and the Sterling Cables development.
Spokesman for David Wilson Homes, Daniel Pavely, said the Racecourse developer had carried out a review following the Grenfell Tower blaze and was comfortable with the fire safety measures in place.
He explained the buildings in the ongoing development, which which will be up to seven storeys high and eventually provide up to 1,500 homes, have been designed to contain a fire within the individual flats, while the exterior of the building has been fitted with horizontal and vertical breaks to prevent the spread of fire.
He added: “We have had an internal review as a team looking at what we can do to make this better. The outcome is there are no additional procedures or measures that we can bring in to improve the safety of these buildings.”
Addressing the lack of sprinkler systems in the buildings, he said: “We haven’t put in sprinklers because in our opinion they can cause more harm than good.
“It’s generally the smoke that causes the danger for residents – if you can contain the fire and ventilate the smoke from the stairwells then there is little need for sprinklers.
“They mainly protect the building.”
West Berkshire Council spokeswoman, Peta Stoddart-Crompton, said the council has an “ongoing rolling programme of reviewing and renewing its fire risk assessments” which covers schools and non-school buildings.
She added: “The council’s health and safety team undertake audits of all properties. This also covers fire risk and ensuring properties are managing this effectively.”
Ms Stoddart-Crompton said the council also has a fire remedial programme of works which, over the last eight years, has seen fire detection systems, emergency lighting systems and building fabric work undertaken on the majority of its properties ranging from schools, care homes, administrative buildings and libraries.
Newbury MP Richard Benyon said lessons learned from an urgent government review would be pushed out to all fire services and local councils across the country.
He added: “I have had complaints in the past, usually from overbearing fire regulations – we do have some of the toughest fire regulations in the world, but clearly they didn’t work in North Kensington.
“I will work with West Berkshire Council to ensure every resident will have the peace of mind they deserve.”