Families warned about fire safety for months before flat set on fire

Families warned about fire safety for months before flat set on fire thumbnail

Published Feb 1, 2024, 8:39pm|Updated Feb 2, 2024, 7:19am

The residents of a flat building in Wembley that went up in flames on Monday evening had raised concerns about fire safety for months, it has been revealed.

Around 125 firefighters took more than six hours to extinguish the blaze at Petworth Court, part of a complex on Elm Road in the north-west London district.

The incident has highlighted the continued lack of progress in fire remediation of flat blocks almost seven years on from the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 72 people lost their lives.

Nobody was injured in Monday’s incident, but a number of flats were completely ruined either by fire or by six hours’ worth of water from the firefighters’ hoses, leaving several families unsure of where to turn.

Barry Gardiner, the MP for the area, told Metro.co.uk: ‘When I spoke with the residents, many were in shock.

‘Some had lost everything. Years of memories gone in minutes.

‘Mothers with babies didn’t know where they were going to sleep that night. Others were worries about their medicine.’

He said Octavia Housing, the managers of the building, had been advised three years ago that the cladding on Petworth Court was unsafe.

Since then, Mr Gardiner said the company had ‘not done anything significant’ to remove it, or to tell the residents of the building when that work would begin – or even who would pay for it.

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Frustrated by a lack of response to his letters, he requested a meeting with Octavia chief executive Sandra Skeete last November where he asked if a solid plan was in place to begin the remediation work and if cladding had started to be removed.

‘The answer to each of these questions was no’, he said.

In response to a further inquiry the following month, he was told the company was ‘unable to circulate further details’ about the progress of the work ‘on the advice of our solicitors’.

London Fire Brigade was first called to Elm Road at 4.40pm on Monday, with residents of Petworth Court and adjoining buildings evacuated as flames leaped from the roof and out a top-floor window.

Octavia Housing said its emergency planning procedures were activated by the fire, and its staff were ‘working with Brent Council’s Emergency Response team and other agencies to support residents’.

The company continued: ‘We have ensured all evacuated residents have access to welfare facilities.

‘Residents who are unable to return to their homes are being supported and emergency temporary accommodation has been found for them, where this is required.’

It added: ‘The safety of our residents is our priority. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the fire at Petworth Court and we’re glad to hear no injuries have been reported.

‘We will support the Fire Service as they investigate the cause of the fire and continue to support residents who have been affected.’

Monday’s blaze has raised further questions about the slow progress of cladding removal around the country – and the flat block residents who could be at risk as a result.

Last September, it was revealed that more than a quarter of the London high-rises with dangerous cladding were yet to have remediation work finished.

There were still 74 towers in the capital that were waiting for removals to be done as of August 2023, more than six years after the Grenfell tragedy demonstrated the urgent need for the work.

Across England, 16% of affected high-rises are not yet fully remediated.

A spokesperson for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the fact that some buildings in the country still had unsafe cladding was ‘shameful’.

They added: ‘The government launched a new scheme to remediate mid-rise buildings, like Petworth Court, only last year and the Mayor is keen that it has a positive impact in London.’

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