Haringey council flat fire has ‘echoes of Grenfell’ as residents take action over ‘traumatic ordeal’

The fire at Kenneth Robbins House in Haringey
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A fire in a block of council flats near Tottenham has ‘echoes of Grenfell‘ according to residents, who have expressed fear over their safety. One local social housing group has exposed the failings of Haringey council. However, people living in and around Kenneth Robbins House say that the council is ‘not doing it job’ – and it could end in disaster.

Fire at Kenneth Robbins House

As Haringey Community Press reported, around 60 firefighters in eight engines were at the scene at Kenneth Robbins House. The block forms part of the Northumberland Park council estate in the borough. Fire fighters battled the blaze for around two hours on Friday 17 February. They led one person to safety and treated them for smoke inhalation. Residents were evacuated and the Labour-run council placed four households in emergency accommodation, seemingly only for the night:

So far, investigators have not said what caused the fire. Meanwhile, Haringey council has said it is “supporting” residents. However, as journalist Olivia Opara said on the day of the fire via Twitter:

Echoes of concerns regarding the safety of the building as residents stand out in the cold with worry about their home as some recall the incident of Grenfell Tower years ago.

The Canary has spoken to one local campaign group. It indeed echoed concerns over the council’s management of Kenneth Robbins House, as well as other council housing on the estate too.

Haringey council: a catalogue of failings

Campaign group Haringey Defend Council Housing (HDCH) has been looking into the council’s management of the estate. Its secretary Paul Burnham has raised serious concerns over the state of the properties. He told the Canary:

The most recent fire risk assessment for Kenneth Robbins House shows that there were far too many fire safety actions that the Council should have done, but did not do, in the preceding year. It is a dire catalogue of failures. No wonder residents are concerned.

Burnham said these failures included the council not:

  • specifying the combustibility of the composite spandrel panels on the outside of the block.
  • checking smoke alarm systems in all flats.
  • remediating non-compliant windows above the front doors of flats to meet fire rating.
  • providing new FD60S door sets so that one of the lifts can be used as a fire fighting shaft.
  • fire stopping or replacing Georgian wired glazed panels with 60 minute standard glazing.
  • investigating the fire stopping behind the meter viewing panels next to each flat.
  • investigating behind vents and ducts on two floors to confirm fire stopping and fire damping.

The combustibility of the external materials on the block is understandably a huge worry for residents in the wake of Grenfell. Crucially, HDCH says that all these actions became overdue, based on the council’s own criteria, on 9 May 2022. However, these kind of alleged failings are also borough-wide. HDCH says that:

In February 2022, the 20,000 Haringey Council tenanted and leasehold homes had 13,335 overdue fire safety actions overdue.

The comparable figures are no longer published by Haringey Council.

So, HDCH has been working with local residents’ group Northumberland Park People. The groups organised a meeting on Tuesday 21 March where residents of Kenneth Robbins House and the overall estate could share their personal concerns about poor fire safety, poor living conditions, and the delayed redevelopment the council has supposed to have performed.

People are traumatised

At the meeting, people spoke about about constant water leaks, mould, poor personal safety, and poor fire safety. Jacob Oti is a resident of Kenneth Robbins House. He said in a statement for the Canary:

It was my dad’s flat that caught fire tragically on Friday. I am traumatised by my ordeal and the ordeal of my family. I can see that we are not alone, and it has inspired me to speak up on behalf of other people as well, people who have been forgotten when really they should be the priority.

So what I would like to ask is not only that we come together as a community now, to really fight on behalf of ourselves, but we also take up the fight for everybody else that is not getting the right care that they are meant to be getting. Because at the end of the day we can see that people in positions of power are not doing their jobs here, they are not thinking about us, they are not putting us first, and it if we don’t put ourselves first, then no–one else is going to do it for us.

Residents are understandably furious and scared. They will be meeting again on Wednesday 1 March to discuss what to do next.

Haringey council says…

The Canary asked Haringey council for comment. We specifically put HDCH’s allegations over fire safety failures to it. Councillor Dana Carlin is the cabinet member for housing services, private renters, and planning. She told the Canary:

The safety of our residents will always be our number one priority and I am thankful that all of the fire safety provisions worked inside the flat and prevented it spreading to other areas of the building.

As the London Fire Brigade have stated, the fire was believed to be accidental and caused by the unsafe use of incense sticks. It has no direct link whatsoever to the other issues that we are currently addressing.

We have identified medium priority works which under our internal target would ordinarily be within six months. However, there are times we may take the decision to include any works associated with fire risks in a wider major works programme and this is the case with Kenneth Robbins House.

We will be carrying out consultations with leaseholders and residents and will then be able to confirm a start date for the works to take place.

Echoes of Grenfell

As Opara noted, all of this has echoes of the Grenfell Tower disaster, where failings by multiple organisations led to the deaths of 72 people on 14 June 2017. As the Canary‘s Sophia Akram previously wrote:

around seven months… [before the fire] an action group representing the concerns of the estate warned this very type of incident could happen.

In November 2016, the Grenfell Action Group (GAG) wrote on its blog:

“Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO [Kensington and Chelsea Tenancy Management Organisation] residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterise the malign governance of this non-functioning organisation… It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice!”

Moreover, Northumberland Park as a ward and its demographic makeup cannot be ignored. It is the most deprived area in Haringey, and parts of it are among the most deprived areas in England. The ward has a larger population of Black people than the borough and London averages, and it has more people who are also reliant on benefits, unemployed or classed as the ‘lowest grade workers’. Time will tell whether institutional racism and classism from the council has played its part in the fire safety failures. Carlin’s response to the Canary, blaming the resident for the fire while not addressing the concerns of others, doesn’t exactly do much to instill confidence in this area.

Haringey council must act

Residents of Kenneth Robbins House and the Northumberland Park estate are now warning Haringey council that it is catastrophically failing them. They are drawing attention to serious concerns over fire safety. However, as Burnham summed up to the Canary:

At Kenneth Robbins House the Council did not do what they needed to do. They had six months to do fire-stopping in the cupboards, but they did not do it in a year. They had six months to check the panels on the outside of the building to see if they would catch fire or spread fire, but they did not do it in a year.

Haringey council needs to act immediately to bring fire safety actions up to date. It needs to fully communicate and consult with residents over their concerns. Moreover, it needs to ensure that it goes beyond these actions and delivers meaningful change for everyone living in its properties across the borough. Anything less will be utterly negligent – and potentially deadly.

Featured image via Olivia Opara – screengrab

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