The 19-storey Queensbridge Road block. Photograph: Google Streetview

The Town Hall has launched an investigation into the death of a resident of a 19-storey tower block after neighbours challenged it over unreliable lifts that they say leave elderly people having to take the stairs.

In a letter to Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville, Sonia Starkey, whose parents live at 355 Queensbridge Road, said the family of a resident was now “united in grief” after a man, who was not named in the correspondence, died in the block after both lifts which serve the 114 flats broke down.

The council says it cannot yet confirm whether the functionality of the lifts, which were both briefly inoperable on the day of the incident, had “any relation” to the man’s death, but according to Starkey, the Tower Tenants Management Organisation, which manages the block, has reported “continuous” problems with the lift system in the past.

Starkey wrote: “[This] death could have been avoided if Hackney Council took more care of its elderly residents, many of whom gave up their multiple bedroom homes for a flat in this block so that the next generation of young residents with families could have suitable housing. 

“The needs of the elderly residents living in this 19-floor block are repeatedly being ignored by Hackney council. 

“I implore [the Mayor of Hackney] to take this seriously. Our elderly residents of Hackney deserve to enjoy their senior years in safety and currently their needs are not being met by the borough of Hackney.” 

Starkey went on to call for a “plan of action” to address the lift issues at the block, which was singled out for its own sprinkler system back in 2018 due to the high number of elderly residents who live there. 

Starkey’s correspondence with the Mayor, which was shared with the Citizen, details a litany of lift problems that she said is having a “serious effect on the mental health and wellbeing” of the residents, including lifts trapping residents inside them, workmen congregating near the system, elevating the risk of Covid-19 and making it more difficult for healthcare professionals to access the block. 

Writing on 15 October, Starkey informed the Mayor that the incident occurred after one lift had been broken down since the 8 October, and that when the second lift failed, it left residents trapped within and others unable to leave or return to their homes, other than by taking the stairs. 

Hackney Council confirmed today that the two lifts that serve the building have had “intermittent faults”, while stressing that its maintenance teams respond to and resolve reports of failures as quickly as possible. 

The Town Hall further confirmed that one of the lifts broke down recently and awaits a replacement part to brought back into use, and that the second lift broke down “temporarily” on 15 October, with crews repairing it “immediately afterwards”. 

Daily manual checks of the lifts are now being undertaken to ensure they stay in working order, according to the council, which had been working to address the long-term reliability of the building’s systems ahead of the 15 October incident through the provision of more regular servicing, as well as an extensive renewal of one of the lift systems, one of which was refurbished in 2017. 

Cllr Clayeon McKenzie, cabinet member for housing services, said: “This is a truly tragic incident, and my thoughts are with the family, friends and neighbours of the resident who has sadly passed away. We are now trying to establish the full facts of the incident to understand how it happened.

“While both lifts in this building were briefly out of service on the day of the incident, we brought one of these back into use shortly after the fault was identified, and the second is now being repaired as a priority. We cannot yet say whether this has any relation to this incident.

“Regardless of the outcome of our investigations, we understand the concerns around the reliability of the lifts in this building and have already been working to address this. We fully refurbished one of the two lifts in 2017, have swiftly responded to all recent faults, and are now looking at how we can improve reliability – such as more regular servicing and more extensive renewal of the lift systems.”

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