HOME   ARCHIVE   GALLERY   SHOP   ABOUT US   LINKS      
 

 
SALFORD TOWERBLOCK FIRE RISKS IGNORED BY SALIX HOMES FOR FIVE YEARS
 

Star date: 1st August 2013

A Salford Star Exclusive

`SUBSTANTIAL' FIRE RISKS IN HIGH RISE IGNORED FOR FIVE YEARS BY SALIX HOMES

Salix Homes ignored warnings of `substantial' fire risks from its own surveys for at least five years according to reports seen by the Salford Star.

After alarm was raised by a resident and ex fireman who lives in Whitebeam Court in Pendleton, Greater Manchester Fire Service slapped an `action plan' on Salford Council's `arms length' housing management company. But the resident still believes his towerblock, and maybe many others, are potential death traps.

Full story here…


Whitebeam Court Salford Whitebeam Court Salford Whitebeam Court Salford
Whitebeam Court Salford Whitebeam Court Salford Whitebeam Court Salford
Whitebeam Court Salford Whitebeam Court Salford
click image to enlarge

"Basically what Salford City Council is telling us is that, if you stay put in your flat you stand a good chance of dying, and if you leave you stand a good chance of dying…" Jamie Loftus

When Jamie Loftus, a resident who lives on the top floor of Whitebeam Court in Pendleton, asked under the Freedom of Information Act for his block's fire risk assessments the request was refused by Salix Homes "in the public interest".

On appeal, having written to lots of councillors, Jamie finally got hold of three fire risk assessments for Whitebeam Court dating back five years – and was horrified at what they contained. The place was a potential `towering inferno'

A report by Urban Vision in 2008 recommended 18 fire safety measures deemed "necessary to bring the flats up to an acceptable standard". These included "missing" smoke seals and strips on refuse hoppers to the rubbish chute… "In the event of a fire on the ground floor rubbish area this rubbish chute together with the lack of fire door would pump smoke directly into the escape routes…"

The actual rubbish chutes themselves were separated from people's flats with a sliding door "that is clearly not a fire door", while the actual doors to the individual flats were also inadequate… they "should be half hour rated fire doors and be fitted with automatic self closing devices and fitted with adequate hinges and smoke/intumescent seals, the letter plates in the doors should be fire rated with smoke/intumescent seals".

There were lots of other things too, like the block's recycling bins being too close to the building which, if set on fire, "would possibly escalate and quickly spread into the internal fabric the building". And, if anyone did make it to the ground floor they would find "the means of opening the final exit door is inadequate and would be difficult to find and operate in the event of a fire."

The cost of bringing Whitebeam Court up to acceptable fire safety standards was estimated by Urban Vision at £139,000.

In 2010 another fire risk assessment of Whitebeam Court raised even more concerns, including those above which still hadn't been resolved. The latest survey, from 2012, included nine "substantial" fire risks, this time blocked out in bright red, again highlighting some of the concerns raised five years previously.

The "substantial" risks included..."evidence…that cables and pipe routes through communal areas, above false ceilings and in risers, are not fire stopped and present a significant risk of fire spread".

Incredibly, there were no technical drawings available to confirm that each floor was `compartmented', or fire sealed to stop a blaze or smoke spreading; and there had been no assessment of the flats' interiors to show that each of them was fire and smoke sealed.

This is very important because Salix Homes has a `stay put' policy in the event of a fire, where, unless the fire breaks out in their own dwelling, residents are supposed to remain in their flat which should be fire and smoke proof for at least thirty minutes, allowing the firemen to reach them.

The report also noted that there had been "no known fires in the last five years" - which was news to Jamie Loftus, as it was a fire in the block about three years ago that had alerted him to potential problems at Whitebeam Court. Smoke had indeed penetrated the flats on six floors through a vent in the bathrooms.

"It was 2 o' clock in the afternoon" Jamie recalls "The firemen who attended told me that, had it been 2 o' clock in the morning, it would have been very serious. I took that up with Salix Homes and was told that the smoke vent in the bathroom would shut on the occurrence of smoke and fire. I have pointed out that it's been proved that it will not shut."

Jamie knows his stuff. He was a fireman, then a fire safety officer at BP and AMEC amongst other companies. He believes that he, and other tenants, are living in a potential death trap.

"If that fire which happened on the sixth floor happened today will it fill the rest of the floors with smoke? Yes" he insists "These flats are not compartmentalised. They know that by telling us to stay in these flats, the places have to be sealed for thirty minutes from smoke and fire. They know these flats aren't sealed."

His point is that Salix Homes doesn't know whether the flats are smoke and fire proof for thirty minutes because, according to his knowledge, the company's surveyors have never inspected the interiors of the flats

…And the Fire Service has no control over the interiors of the flats, only the communal areas and the actual doors at the entrances to the individual flats - which have been found to be inadequate by Salix Homes' own fire risk assessments.

Meanwhile, if people do evacuate their flats, the fire assessments conclude that escape routes are compromised by inadequate fire doors, cabling holes that aren't `fire stopped' and other oversights.

"My basic question is that they know that these flats aren't fire retardant for half an hour, so why are they telling us to stay in our flats?" asks Jamie "At the same time if my flat is on fire I'm told to leave but the fire report highlights that, if I do leave and use the escape corridors, I will die of smoke inhalation because they are not safe.

"So basically what Salford City Council is telling us is that, if you stay you stand a good chance of dying, and if you leave you stand a good chance of dying" he adds "With Salix Homes it's always `manyana'… `We'll do it up some time in the next three years'. And funnily enough, that's what I was told three years ago."

Indeed, on the last fire risk assessment in 2012, Salix Homes had the safety work down to be done as part of the Pendleton PFI by Together Homes in the `financial year 2013/14'. That PFI deal still hasn't been signed off, which would have put the work back even further.

Now, following concerns raised by Jamie, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) has slapped an `action plan' on Salix Homes to comply with, at least some of the work, immediately.

"We issued an action plan with all the work that needs carrying out and when they have to do it" says Chris Roberts, Fire Protection Manager for Salford and Trafford "That is in effect now to get the compartmentation done. In the comments column [on the fire risk assessment] it was programmed to happen in the financial year 2013/14. Well we're not happy with that, so in the next couple of weeks all those breaches in common areas where cabling went through walls or doors is all going to be fire stopped…We do need to put self closing devices on the doors, which is being addressed. All the breaches will be upgraded."

Chris Roberts admits that the self closing devices on doors was a "priority", that the Greater Manchester Fire Service has stopped Salix delaying the work any longer, and that there were breaches of fire safety all over the block – but he refuses to criticise Salix Homes, and maintains that the towerblock is safe – because it's safe according to the standards set when Whitebeam was built in the 1960s or 70s…

"I'd be careful of using the word `criticism'" he says "because the building is constructed to a standard of the day. That it doesn't fit in with today's standards is almost irrelevant because we can't retrospectively get the changes."

Despite slapping the `action plan' on Salix Homes, Chris Roberts is convinced that residents will be safe in the event of a fire and that, even though the doors to people's flats don't meet standards, they will do…

"I'd like to give some assurance that, yeah they may not come up to today's standards, but they were built to the standard of the day" he explains "We've had a look at the conditions at a meeting with Mr Loftus, and I am confident that if they got a fire in that building and if they stay in their flat - if the fire is outside of it obviously - it will protect them until the fire brigade arrived to sort it out."

While the contentious fire doors may well protect flats from fire coming from the outside of the flat, the assertion of Jamie Loftus that smoke will come billowing in through the vents inside the flats is another matter.

"It gets a bit complicated because behind every person's front door stops becoming a fire service legislation issue and becomes a local authority housing issue under the act" says Chris Roberts "So we can't ask for any work to be done. But because he's brought it to our attention we want to make sure that, should you get a fire down below, that smoke isn't going to get into these vents and travel up to flats on the upper floors.

"In effect, any smoke in that shaft should go straight up and out of the shaft and not go into any flats" he explains "To make sure that is happening Salix is doing a camera survey to make sure there was no blockage and we're waiting for the results and recommendations."

Can he reassure residents that if there was a fire at Whitebeam Court, smoke won't come through the vents and suffocate them?

"I can't say it won't, because we're waiting for the results" he replies.

Does he not think that residents might be alarmed by this, and Salix Homes' blasé attitude to all the fire risks highlighted in its own reports over the last five years?

"Salix have got 1960s standards in the buildings but we put today's standards in their risk assessment and then highlighted a programme" he says "If for whatever reason they haven't completed to that timescale and have moved it on that is a matter for them to explain."

A spokesman for Salix Homes said: "The safety of our customers is the number one priority for Salix Homes and all Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) have been carried out for our high-rise blocks in line with current legislation. A number of the recommendations identified through the FRA audit process have already been prioritised and addressed as part of an ongoing programme of works.

"We are currently in the process of delivering our £50 million investment programme that will further improve the fire safety at all of our high-rise blocks. To date improvement work has been completed on five blocks, with improvements to the remaining blocks planned over the next three years. 

"Ahead of the extensive refurbishment works supported through the Government's PFI programme in Pendleton, our team has been making regular visits to Whitebeam Court to remove any potential fire hazards, such as litter and other items stored on landings, and ensure bin chutes are clean from flammable waste. We are also carrying out remedial work where necessary, as on all high rise blocks, ahead of the planned investment works."

"We will continue to work with Greater Manchester Fire Service and our customers to ensure they understand what they should do in the event of a fire."

Jamie Loftus showed the Salford Star around Whitebeam Court last week – a sliding door separating the rubbish chutes from communal areas, which the fire risk assessment stated was "clearly not a fire door", was still almost hanging off its hinges. Meanwhile, the block's bins, which were full and tinder dry, were clearly still stored right next to the building – the bins that, if set on fire, "would possibly escalate and quickly spread into the internal fabric the building".

And it took us ages to find the escape button to open the final exit on the block – the means of opening the door that the report stated "is inadequate and would be difficult to find and operate in the event of a fire."

The concerns of Jamie Loftus are incredibly relevant, following the Coroner's Inquest and Report released earlier this year into the fire at the Lakanal House high rise block in Southwark, London in 2009. The Coroner stated that the `stay put' policy was responsible for the deaths of six people in the block…

"The `stay put' policy is founded on an assumption of adequate imperforate compartmentation" the Metro Safety overview of the Coroner's Inquest noted "Evidence was heard at the inquest which indicated that fire brigades generally assume that compartmentation is intact. However, evidence also indicated that, particularly with older housing stock, compartmentation can be breached by maintenance, refurbishment work or modifications.

"In this regard, the jury criticised Southwark Council after finding that
`numerous opportunities' were missed to carry out fire safety checks inside the building when other intrusive building works were being carried out" it added "The Coroner also commented that `had a fire risk assessment been carried out at Lakanal House, it is possible that these features may have been highlighted for further investigation'."

Unlike Lakanal House, Whitebeam Court has had three fire risk assessments over the last five years, each pointing out breaches of `compartmentation' in the communal areas, amongst other breaches.

That a resident has had to fight to even get hold of these fire risk assessments is absolutely disgraceful. That Salix Homes has ignored most of the recommendations contained in the assessments for five years is even more disgraceful. And questions must be asked about the fire risks in other towerblocks in Salford.

The cost of putting the breaches right at Whitebeam Court was estimated at £139,000. Jamie Loftus wants to know if his life and others lives are not worth that…

Meanwhile, he will continue to harangue Salix Homes, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and Salford councillors until they can prove that his flat is safe. As an ex fire officer he certainly doesn't believe that to be the case right here, right now…

 

NB: According to Active Fire Management, Greater Manchester has the highest number of  deaths from accidental house fires in the country.

Justin wrote
at 12:33:51 PM on Monday, October 21, 2013
When our flats at Arthur Millwood court 2013 were being upgraded to the decent homes standards our balcony doors were sealed shut and all flats with internal balconies had the bedroom window locked. They said that the 2 trickle vents on your bedroom windows frames will provide adequate ventilation. This contradicted the advice on 'what to do in an event of a fire' notices in the block of flats.
 
CBP wrote
at 11:27:37 AM on Saturday, August 31, 2013
It's a big problem. The risks involved of managing a huge chunk of housing stock which has had decades of under investment is big challenge for Salix. Personally I think Salix's Key Performance Indicators do not reflect this risk and therefore the real issue is complacency. Salix need to properly assess fire safety on all their older properties and address those with any question marks with urgent investment. Otherwise it's a disaster waiting to happen, like Lankal House.
 
Bens wrote
at 7:08:33 AM on Thursday, August 01, 2013
Lived in a slaix home for years but they didn't care the property we had was full of asbestos and next door to the neightbours from hell left Salix and left salford and my family are a millon times better for it Salix are a joke and only care about their rent.
 
Please enter your comment below:
 
 
 
Deli Lama
Salford Star photo stories
Cornerstone advert
Mary Burns Publishing
 
Contact us
phone: 07957 982960
Facebook       Twitter
 
 
Recent comments
article: SALFORD COUNCIL BLACKLEACH COUNTRY PARK SELL OFF HORROR
I grew up across the road from Blackleach and I loved playing on there when I was a kid. In fact I think my first ever demo was ag... [more]
article: SALFORD COUNCIL BLACKLEACH COUNTRY PARK SELL OFF HORROR
Yet more under-handed asset stripping by the city council in progress then. The mayor of this city and his Labour followers will ... [more]
article: SALFORD COUNCIL BLACKLEACH COUNTRY PARK SELL OFF HORROR
Did anybody seriously expect any other outcome? The devious and secretive self-serving parasites will answer for this .... [more]
article: SALFORD COUNCIL BENDS TO CHILDRENS CENTRE CAMPAIGNS
Well done to all campaigners!! Great result.... [more]
article: OASIS ACADEMY MEDIACITYUK SALFORD SLATED BY OFSTED
The Council commissioned an independent report into future planning for secondary education in Salford in 2010. One conclusion of ... [more]
 
 
 
 
 
Days
Hours
Minutes
Seconds
 
 
 

Donate

Help the Salford Star...

all donations welcome

 
 

More articles...

SALFORD COUNCIL BLACKLEACH COUNTRY PARK SELL OFF HORROR

Star date: 23rd July 2014

SALFORD COUNCIL UNDERHAND SALE OF OPEN SPACE LAND CLAIM WALKDEN RESIDENTS

Walkden residents are up in arms against Salford Council's proposed sell off of land at Hill Top Moss, part of Blackleach Country Park, after they were given just two weeks to object to a statutory notice of intent – when Council agents had been in discussions for two years with developer Redwaters.

Redwaters wants to put up dozens of houses on the green open space land that's classified as a wildlife corridor, and now the residents of Hill Top are accusing Salford Council and Deputy Mayor David Lancaster of underhand practices, while hundreds of people have signed petitions against the sell off.

Full details here…

SALFORD COUNCIL BENDS TO CHILDRENS CENTRE CAMPAIGNS

Star date: 22nd July 2014

SURE START CENTRES SURVIVE AFTER PROTESTS AND THOUSANDS SIGNING PETITIONS

Campaigners fighting for their Children's Centre sites to stay, after the Council proposed to close them, have won a substantial victory following protests and petitions.

The Council wanted to close three centres in Irlam, Walkden and Lower Broughton but it has now agreed to keep two of the centres in operation - Fiddlers Lane in Irlam and River View in Lower Broughton… "The campaign definitely has made a difference!" says Bek, one of the Lower Broughton campaigners.

Full details here…

OASIS ACADEMY MEDIACITYUK SALFORD SLATED BY OFSTED

Star date: 22nd July 2014

CONTROVERSIAL OASIS ACADEMY INADEQUATE AND PUT IN SPECIAL MEASURES

Oasis Academy MediaCityUK has been absolutely slated by Ofsted which ruled it `inadequate' on every scale that it has… `Achievement of Pupils', `Quality of Teaching'; `Behaviour and Safety of Pupils', and `Leadership and Management'.

The controversial Academy, hailed as a `flagship' for Salford,  was at the centre of a riot a few years ago as pupils objected to the mass sacking of teachers half way through exam courses.

Full details here…

SALFORD PEOPLE SPEAK OUT AGAINST MEDIA STIGMA

Star date: 21st July 2014

BENEFIT STREETWISE SALFORD PEOPLE HIT BACK

As the ConDem Government and its media chums try to bracket everyone on benefits or in poverty as `a drain on society', a new group called NICE has got its voice and is hitting back.

Last Friday members of the group held a media briefing and panel discussion where some truths were told by those hardest hit by welfare `reforms' and Salford Council cuts. As ex-offender Tony said, "If no-one says nowt, nothing's going to change."

Full details here…

HAPPY MONDAYS CHICO’S KICKIN CANCER FUNDRAISER

Star date: 20th July 2014

MONDAYS, HOOKY, GRAEME PARK IN FUNDRAISING SPECTACULAR

Chico's Kickin Cancer Fundraising Dinner Ball
Friday 25th July
Palace Hotel

This Friday sees the maddest thing ever, as Happy Mondays, Hooky and co perform at a one-off extra posh black tie dinner at the Palace Hotel in Manchester.

It's a fundraiser for both The Christie Hospital and Chico, the 12 year old son of Happy Mondays' Salfordian bass player Paul Ryder, who's currently in the USA kicking Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer.

Full details here…

 



written and produced by Salfordians for Salfordians
with attitude and love xxx