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Grenfell Tower tragedy sparks £1 million investment in fire safety by Canterbury City Council

By Anna MacSwan

Cautious council chiefs in Canterbury will pump £1 million into improving fire safety at high-rise blocks across the district in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The authority has revealed it will undertake extensive works at four multi-storey buildings, with the tallest set to be installed with sprinklers.

News of the investment follows extensive fire risk assessments, which were ordered after the catastrophic blaze in London claimed 71 lives last June.

Grenfell Tower. (2431218)
Grenfell Tower. (2431218)

The checks discovered that none of the council's buildings had the same type of cladding blamed for the rapid spread of the Grenfell fire.

But “a number of issues” were found by independent experts who inspected the flats and communal areas at Windsor House in Whitstable, and Herne Bay's Margaret Court and Elizabeth Court, which has two blocks.

As a result, Calfordseaden has been appointed to oversee work on the buildings and a number of contracts are about to go out to tender at an estimated cost of £1 million.

The money has been allocated from the capital budget of the council’s housing revenue account.

Cllr Joe Howes, the vice chairman of the council’s Community Committee, said: “Like many across the country, we were shocked by the tragedy at Grenfell Tower and immediately adopted an ultra-cautious approach.

“Officers have been working hard with colleagues at East Kent Housing and independent experts to assess the current state of play when it comes to fire safety at our properties.

“Where improvements can be made, they have come up with robust plans to make sure we reach the very highest standards.

“We decided not to wait until the various inquiries into the Grenfell tragedy have reported and opted to get on with it.

Windsor House in Whitstable. (2431208)
Windsor House in Whitstable. (2431208)

“Of course, we stand ready to respond to any fresh lessons that need to be learned.”

Despite current regulations not requiring it, Windsor House in Belmont Road, which stands 12 storeys high, will have sprinklers installed because of its height and the vulnerability of its residents.

Improvements will be made to communal areas in all four blocks to prevent fires and to make it easier to escape if one should erupt.

Planning permission will be applied for where needed and all of the work will be subject to approval by experts in building control.

East Kent Housing says it will attempt to keep disruption to a minimum, and has promised to help move furniture and redo any decorating if required, including the replacement of carpets.

Its chief executive, Deborah Upton, said: “Because of the vulnerability of the residents at Windsor House, we have decided to install sprinklers even though the current rules do not require us to.

“It also makes sense because we can tie it in with the other work that is being scheduled to take place there.

“When it comes to the other blocks, fire suppression systems like sprinklers have not been ruled out but there are lots of questions to be answered before the council can make a fully-informed decision.”

Fire detection systems have already been improved in the high-rise blocks and inspections of communal areas are held more regularly.

What’s happening, and where?

Windsor House, Belmont Road, Whitstable – 36 metres and 12 storeys high

70 sheltered housing flats for older tenants.

Sprinklers will be installed

Layout of ground floor changed, with new emergency lighting and new smoke ventilation systems.

Part of garden may be lost

1-27 Elizabeth Court, Queen Street, Herne Bay – 21 metres and seven storeys 27 designated as general-use housing.

Replacing panels boxing in the former balcony areas

Removing the internal wall dividing the living room from the balcony to improve fire safety within the flats.

Install fire doors to all rooms off the hallway inside the flats (not on ground floor)

Storage within the balcony areas of the communal hallways will be stopped.

28-59 Elizabeth Court, Queen Street, Herne Bay – 15 metres and five storeys high

32 flats

New fire doors in the communal areas

Some front entrance doors will be renewed

Additional fire safety works.

Margaret Court, King’s Road, Herne Bay – 27 metres and nine storeys high

36 flats and is home to elderly people.

New front doors

Fire doors to all rooms off the hallway inside the flats (not on ground floor).

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