Are our tower blocks safe? Stevenage’s high rise residents demand reassurance after devastating Grenfell tower blaze

Fire at Grenfell Tower in west London in which at least 79 people are thought to have died. Picture:

Fire at Grenfell Tower in west London in which at least 79 people are thought to have died. Picture: NATALIE OXFORD/PA WIRE - Credit: PA

Neighbours living in Stevenage’s tower blocks have been left shocked by the devastating fire in Grenfell tower last week.

Two firefighters and a resident were killed in the fire at Harrow Court in 2005.

Two firefighters and a resident were killed in the fire at Harrow Court in 2005. - Credit: Archant

79 are presumed dead and scores more were injured after a searing blaze engulfed the tower block in North Kensington in the early hours of the morning on June 14.

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland - Credit: Archant

In an echo of the anger obvious on the streets of West London after the blaze, many residents living in Brent Court and Harrow Court – two of the town’s seven tower blocks owned by Stevenage Borough Council – told the Comet they feel unsettled living at height when the ‘stay put’ policy enforced by fire services so clearly failed in the recent blaze.

A group of residents who did not wish to be named, told the Comet: “They had a ‘stay put’ policy in London and I think it’s wrong.

“You’ve got to stay in your room until you are told by the fire brigade that you’ve got to be evacuated.

“There is a high turnover of people in here and lots of young children and disabled people living at height.

“The authorities really need to look at the criteria of how they house these kinds of people.”

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Another Brent Court resident added: “I don’t think they should be building this high unless they can get people out from the outside on the higher floors.

“It’s wrong that they built 24 floors in London.”

Fire regulations are decided upon by the government but must be enforced by the council as the landlord.

All the flats in the 1960s-built Stevenage tower blocks have fire proof front doors, plus living room and kitchen doors with have a special seal so they shut tighter in hot conditions. There are two internal stairwells in the blocks and lifts which can’t be used in the event of fire.

There are fire alarms and fire doors and regular alarm tests but residents told the Comet they have never experienced a run-through of an evacuation and said they feel uncertain living above the ninth floor, as they have been told that firefighters cannot get people out externally above that height.

There are no sprinkler systems in the blocks, but they must be installed in newly-built towers.

Fire regulations were tightened in Stevenage after a tragic fire at Harrow Court in February 2005 which was found to have been started by a tea light and led to the deaths of two firefighters and one resident.

People caught up in the blaze at the time spoke of the terror of being told to ‘stay put’ in their flats as the blaze tore through the upper floors.

However the blaze did not spread to the whole tower, possibly because it was not fitted with the kind of cladding which is being blamed for the London blaze.

But for some the recent disaster has reawoken memories of the Harrow Court tragedy.

Others though are less concerned. One couple living on the top floor of Brent Court told the Comet they have been living there for 20 years and have never felt unsafe.

Stevenage Borough Council says it is reassuring residents that all of their high-rise flat blocks are fully compliant with fire regulations.

A council spokesman said: “Risk assessments are up-to-date and regular inspections take place. We are contacting our residents and reminding them of emergency procedures, and fire safety advice.”

The town’s MP Stephen McPartland has investigated the safety of the town’s tower blocks following the disaster, working in partnership with Stevenage Borough Council and Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

He said: “Locally, this brings back difficult memories of the 2005 Harrow Court fire. It is understandable that local people are seeking reassurance.

“Stevenage Borough Council has already reached out to residents in all the tower blocks they own in the town and reassured them none have any cladding. I raised a number of questions on behalf of my constituents and was reassured by both Stevenage Borough Council and Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. I also took on board some of the points that were raised by both organisations to feed back into Government and we will work together to ensure the best service for local people. I am also delighted Stevenage fire station will be taking delivery of a 45 metre firefighting platform next month, which will be the highest in the country.”