Tenants of ACM-clad blocks fear being trapped by faulty doors in fire
- Credit: Charles Thomson
Residents on a Rainham housing estate say they fear becoming trapped inside their homes during a fire, as their doors keep jamming closed.
Tenants on the Orchard Village estate have been told that due to potentially flammable cladding, they must now evacuate their homes in the event of a fire.
But residents told the Recorder that the electronic doors to their buildings regularly malfunction, leaving people stuck with no means of escape.
One resident, who did not wish to be named, filmed herself unable to leave her building one night because the main door was jammed and two other exits were locked.
Clarion, which runs the blocks, said it was aware of problems with the doors and was working to get them fixed.
“Keeping our residents safe is our number one priority,” a spokesperson said.
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In March, Clarion told residents in a letter: “We are likely to have to undertake remedial works to the external wall system, including the replacement of ACM cladding.”
ACM – or aluminium composite material – is thought to have exacerbated the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and some makes are highly flammable.
The letter did not say which make or model was used at Orchard Village, but it was sent following advice from fire safety experts.
It told residents that their advice in the event of a fire had been changed from “stay put” to “simultaneous evacuation”.
A new fire alarm system was to be installed at the site, “so that in the event of a fire anywhere in the block, alarms will sound in all apartments and communal areas”.
Havering Conservative councillor Michael Deon Burton, who lives on the estate, said he and other residents had serious concerns about the new advice.
He said electronic doors to the buildings persistently malfunctioned, meaning residents might find themselves unable to evacuate in an emergency.
“I’ve personally experienced the doors jamming on at least three occasions,” he said.
“When they fail, they jam shut – as opposed to jamming open. Residents have approached me in a state when they have been trapped inside.”
Ex-serviceman John Grant, who has lived on the estate since 2004, said he had also found himself stuck inside.
“I worry constantly, because if there’s a fire, I’ve got my wife and two kids with me,” he said.
“Normally, at least once or twice a month, the door will jam up. Nine times out of ten, it will reset itself – but one time out of ten, it doesn’t.
“There have been times when they’ve had to open up the bin sheds so people can get out through there.”
Cllr Deon Burton said he was also concerned that many of the flats are accessed by wooden walkways.
He said gaps in the floorboards meant flammable debris like sweets, dust and hair could be accumulating underneath.
He cited an investigation into a 1987 fire at King's Cross train station, which killed 31 people, which found accumulations of detritus underneath escalators served as a “seed bed” for the blaze.
Cllr Deon Burton said he feared the walkways could go up in flames in a fire - another barrier to evacuation.
He added: “To them (the landlord), it may appear on their balance sheet as just a shoddy property that needs repair. But for the residents, it could turn out to be a matter of life and death.”
Clarion said it was awaiting a report from independent fire safety experts to determine the extent of the remedial works required.
It did not comment on whether the wooden walkways might form part of those works, but said it would keep residents informed on the scope and timetable.
“No social housing resident will be asked to pay towards the remedial work and we will exhaust all other options before asking any leaseholder to make a contribution,” a spokesperson said.
“In addition, we are aware of a fault with the communal car park door and have parts on order to repair it, and we are investigating and resolving other issues affecting doors to some of the buildings within Orchard Village.
“We understand that these issues have been ongoing and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”