Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Tuesday, 6 October 2009 14:49 UK

Most dangerous tower blocks named

Map showing high risk tower blocks

By Ed Davey
BBC News, London

London councils have been housing residents in tower blocks that are at high risk from fire, the BBC has learned.

In July six people died in a fire at Lakanal House, Southwark - a block that had been given a medium risk rating.

Experts now consider the building to be unsafe because of the speed at which flames spread during the fire.

But a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed 102 residential blocks in the city are considered even more perilous.

Councils use a scale to determine how great the risk of fire is in a building.

And 10 London councils have confirmed they have one or more tower blocks rated as high risk because of "possible occurrence of an extremely harmful event or likely occurrence of a harmful event".

BBC London asked a surveyor to visit one such block in Hounslow, west London - and he said the danger there was "off the Richter scale".

Cornish House fire hazards
No fire resistance between flats and lifts - during fire residents would be trapped as smoke and fire spread by lift shaft acting as a chimney.
A padlock on one fire escape and no release bar on another. It took the expert several minutes to work out how to open it. Emergency lighting by the escape removed - residents could face opening it in darkness.
Holes bored through ceilings for cables wide enough to allow flame to pass, accelerating fire spread.
A section of floor smashed through following a water leak fire proofed with plastic bag
Fireman's entry switch broken, denying emergency services access to the block.

Arnold Tarling, a chartered surveyor with 22 years' experience in fire risk, visited Cornish House, a tower block that has been inhabited by council tenants for decades.

Mr Tarling said: "It's not just that there were loads of faults - they've been increasing over the years as more shoddy work is carried out.

"I would describe the risk level as off the Richter scale.

"I would not want to live in that building."

Of Hounslow's 37 tower blocks, 21 are rated high risk and none of them has a valid fire risk assessment in place - as with Lakanal House, which had not been adequately checked.

Mr Tarling continued: "It's a culture across the whole country - we have lost a lot of knowledge as to maintaining fire protection in buildings.

"It's only because we have been lucky that there have not been far more fatalities over the years."

He added: "The social housing tower blocks are just the tip of the iceberg - there are all the privately owned towers as well."

Bernadette O'Shea, chief executive of Hounslow Homes, which runs housing for Hounslow Council, said: "We have sent our own technical team out to investigate the concerns highlighted by BBC London and await their report.

"We have commissioned a firm to undertake new, detailed fire-risk assessments, beginning on 6 October.

How safe is your home?

"We would like to reassure our residents that we are doing all we can to minimise the risk of a similar incident [to the Lakanal House fire] happening."

Almost all of London's councils use a British Safety Standard "risk matrix" to decide if buildings should be rated as high risk.

It is a grid that allows councils to weigh up the chances of a fire and its possible severity to make a judgement on risk.

But Barnet Council rates all of its tower blocks as high risk.

Barnet Homes chief executive Tracey Lees said: "In light of the fatal fire in Camberwell earlier this year, we took the view that we should treat all of our tower blocks as high risk.

"We believe this is our duty as a responsible landlord."

Although councils are legally obliged to ensure fire regulations are followed, no organisation has been policing the rules.

Consequently, until now there has not been an overall picture of how safe London's tower blocks really are.

Information gathered under the FOI has enabled the identification of London's 102 high-risk tower blocks, as well as those that do not have a valid fire risk assessment.

London Fire Brigade has not commented on the matter but has asked for the BBC to provide them with the full list.

Council Tower blocks Rated high risk Without valid fire risk assessments
Barking and Dagenham 42 0 0
Barnet 28 28 0
Bexley 40 0 17
Brent 40 3 0
Bromley 0 0 0
Camden 234 0 0
Croydon 40 0 0
Ealing 54 2 0
Enfield 56 0 4
Greenwich 101 6 71
Hackney 258 6 20
Hammersmith and Fulham 67 Does not measure 34
Haringey 48 10 6
Harrow 0 0 0
Havering 14 14 0
Hillingdon 12 Does not measure 0
Hounslow 37 21 37
Islington 117 Does not measure 16
Kensington and Chelsea 33 0 3
Kingston Upon Thames 4 0 0
Lambeth 112 Does not measure 110
Lewisham 74 2 0
Merton 17 0 7
Newham 82 1 2
Redbridge 14 14 0
Richmond Upon Thames 4 0 0
Southwark 299 Incomplete Incomplete
Sutton 5 Does not measure 0
Tower Hamlets 129 Does not measure 0
Waltham Forest 21 Does not measure 10
Wandsworth 194 0 0
Westminster 476 Does not measure 32

Table based on information provided by councils and believed accurate as of 6 October.

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