Fears: ex-health and safety officer Garry Saunders

A former council health and safety officer has spoken out as the Town Hall prepares to replace cladding deemed not up to “modern fire safety standards” at four of its blocks.

Letters were sent out by Hackney Council to residents of three properties at Lincoln Court and one at Hugh Gaitskell House earlier this month to inform them of the upcoming work, which is expected to be completed by the autumn.

In the letters, Housing Services chief Michael Scorer said there is “no significant fire risk” at the blocks, but that independent experts Cladtech Associates had recommended further testing on the cladding.

Two council contractors then undertook separate, full inspections, which involved tearing out and examining chunks of cladding and concrete, and confirmed that the “external wall insulation can be updated to meet modern fire safety standards”.

Scorer told residents that the London Fire Brigade had also carried out a full inspection of the blocks.

But a council spokesperson later clarified that this was actually a visual inspection to “provide reassurance that we are doing everything necessary to ensure the homes at Lincoln Court and Hugh Gaitskell are safe”.

The burnt-out shell of Grenfell Tower. Photograph: WikiCommons

Scorer reiterated that none of Hackney’s council blocks use the same cladding as that found on Grenfell Tower, where a fire killed 71 people last June.

But Garry Saunders, who was a health and safety officer for Hackney Council before retiring last year, says the information given to residents about the cladding work is “meaningless”.

Saunders, whose partner lives at one of the blocks in question, also raised concerns over residents’ security during the project, particularly with scaffolding going up.

When asked what measures will be put in place to protect residents while the work is carried out, the council spokesperson said: “As is standard across major projects such as this, we will work with our contractor to ensure all necessary security measures are in place.

“Both Lincoln Court and Hugh Gaitskell House have recently had scaffolding erected for different improvement works which have not caused any security issues.”

Saunders said: “If I leave my front door open I will remain safe and unrobbed up to the point this changes. Again, what will the measures be? Without this the statement is meaningless.

“The Grenfell cladding was fine until it went up. The Titanic was fine up to the ice. Florida schools are secure and safe to the point a nutter goes berserk with a gun – you get the point.”

‘Ignorant’: makeshift bin barrier at Lincoln Court. Photograph: Garry Saunders

Saunders also sent in a photo from Lincoln Court which he says is evidence that contractors are “ignorant” of fire safety measures and that the council is not doing enough to supervise the works.

The image shows two bins which have been moved – by council contractors, according to Saunders – to create a makeshift barrier.

He said: “I understand the barrier is to stop people walking over a newly laid surface. The point is that the Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) is clear that the bins should be away from the buildings as they are combustible. The bins were all moved away last year.

“The evidence here shows the contractor is ignorant or negligent of the fire safety measures in force and that the council is not supervising the works adequately.

“This practical example challenges the assurances from Hackney Council that everything is being done according to good process.

“It is a small example but the small stuff is crucial. If small things are poorly managed, how can we be confident about the big stuff.

“Health and safety issues, including fires, are struck through with major incidents that have a history of small things being left unmanaged.”

The council’s spokesperson said: “The buildings at Lincoln Court and Hugh Gaitskell House do not have an immediate fire safety risk, and this will remain the case throughout the works taking place.

“Our contractors will follow all the necessary procedures to ensure our residents are safe and we will be frequently be on site to monitor this, as well as continuing to liaise with the London Fire Brigade throughout.”

Saunders also revealed that a number of recommendations from the latest FRAs for Lincoln Court are yet to be addressed, including a “massive pile of flammable items in the basement car park” which he raised with the council “years ago”.

When asked for an update on issues raised in the FRAs for Lincoln Court, the Town Hall spokesperson said: “As is the case across our estates, all high priority recommendations at Lincoln Court and Hugh Gaitskell House have either been completed or have action started to deal with the issue, and all low and medium priority recommendations are being worked through.”

They added: “We have been in frequent contact with the London Fire Brigade since the fire at Grenfell Tower to keep them informed of the actions we are taking to ensure residents are safe in their homes and estates.

“This includes the works taking place at Lincoln Court and Hugh Gaitskell House, and we have been assured that we are undertaking the correct approach. The London Fire Brigade have also been happy with the council’s overall approach to fire safety.”

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