Soroba residents are reassured over safety of flats

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The boss of a social housing association in Soroba has said government legislation was followed when work was carried out on buildings in the area.

Speaking in the aftermath of the tower block fire in London, Alastair MacGregor, of Argyll Community Housing Association (ACHA), said the organisation had a proactive estate management presence in the area, and reminded residents of their responsibilities towards fire safety.

But a resident of the flats, Claire Rizos, of Clairty Safety Solutions Ltd, believes an urgent discussion is required over risks in the buildings.

Ms Rizos said: ‘Although our flats in Argyll are nowhere near the height of Grenfell Tower, we need a community discussion about fire safety.

‘There is often not great fire separation between floors. Over the years, fire safety measures which were in place when the flats were built have been damaged by alterations made by individual owners.

‘This is in addition to the broken panes of fire-resistant glazing, stopped-open fire doors, combustible items in the stairways and so on.

‘I’ve noticed that flat doors have frequently been replaced with doors which are not fire-rated.

‘This means that if there is a fire in the flat, the fire will break through and affect the stairway much more quickly, placing other residents and their property at greater risk. This is not generally a problem with housing association-owned homes as they are aware of the fire rating required.

‘The policy of staying put can be the right thing to do in flats, but it relies on the passive fire protection measures holding back the fire and smoke long enough for the fire and rescue service to put it out.’

Former watch commander at Oban fire station Paul Finnigan said: ‘What a horrific incident for firefighters and the emergency services to deal with.

‘My heart goes out to everyone involved from the first crews on the scene, the residents and people who have lost loved ones.

‘Without being too pre-emptive, close scrutiny must be given to the external cladding – not only the selection, but how it was fitted and how it really performs in fire conditions; fire safety management arrangements; the local authority building standards response and was the London Fire Brigade asked to comment and if so what; whether returning to more stringent, prescriptive fire safety regulations would have prevented this.

‘I think that with the correct selection of cladding, internal sprinklers and effective, joined-up fire safety management arrangements, underpinned with integrated fire safety and building control regulations, this incident may have been preventable.

‘It does show the disparity between the rich and poor in that area of London, but it does show the true, altruistic nature of most of us in times of adversity.

‘I would add the following with Soroba in mind: in terms of fire spread, this could have been 100 times worse if it had been windy. Think of how the wind funnels up Glenshallach, through Soroba, if we have a westerly.

‘The “stay put” policy only works if there’s no fire or smoke spread and the passive safety measures work. For the passive fire safety measures to work, they all have to be rigorously inspected and maintained, particularly the build-up of combustible materials and the integrity of any fire compartmentalisation and separation, especially fire doors, fire resistant glazing etc.

‘Early warning of fire, via interconnecting automatic fire alarm systems leading to early intervention and  attendance of the fire service, is crucial.

‘Sprinklers are only required in new residential buildings of over 18 meters final storey height, so would not apply in Soroba and there’s no legal requirement to fit suppression systems retrospectively.

‘It is not my intention to worry or scare the Soroba residents or anyone else living in low-rise flats, but the effective management of fire safety arrangements, informed by a suitable fire safety risk assessment (which is reviewed) is crucial for everybody’s safety and to be compliant with the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005.

‘This has major implications for Argyll and Bute Council, ACHA and other social housing associations with control of flats, whether low-rise or not.’

Mr MacGregor said: ‘Argyll Community Housing Association expresses sympathy and condolences to the families and friends of those affected by the tragedy in North Kensington.

‘ACHA is a minority housing owner in the Soroba estate. The specification that ACHA uses for repairs and improvements such as recladding are compliant with the required building regulations.

‘ACHA has a proactive estate management presence in Soroba, including a community caretaker. Where debris is identified as a safety hazard, it is moved timeously, and we remind our tenants of their obligations.’