Tower-block resident Steve didn’t sleep at home last night. He was told cladding on the block of flats in Plymouth where he lives had been given the lowest possible safety score, and said it was “human instinct” to be concerned.
Steve lives at Mount Wise Towers – made up of three blocks – Tavy, Tamar and Lynher – which are coloured blue, red and green respectively.
The blocks dominate the Devonport skyline, a historically industrial area of the city which houses the biggest dockyard in Western Europe, are run by housing provider Plymouth Community Homes.
Devonport is among the 10% of the most deprived areas in the country, and is the most deprived of Plymouth’s 39 neighbourhoods.
It has a life expectancy of 10 years below the city’s most affluent areas, just a few miles away.
Steve, 34, who lives in Tamar – or the red tower – said he felt nervous following the fire at Grenfell, in west London, which left at least 79 people dead.
“I slept somewhere else last night,” he said. “It was just the initial thought of finding out about our flats after what happened in London.
“You think, if it happened in London, if it did happen here it doesn’t bear thinking about.”
Steve, who lives on the seventh floor, said he’d never had any problems and that Plymouth Community Homes were “spot on”.
“Our alarms have always been really good – if anything they’re too sensitive – but you’d much rather that than not know about a fire. They go off if you boil the kettle.
“They [PCH] were coming round yesterday – they even changed my letter box to a different one because of safety.
“It’s still in our protocol to stay put, but I’d be trying to get out. When you think of the times I have had my children stay here it just brings it home.”
The towers, which house 270 flats between them, were designed and built in the early 1960s, were re-clad in 2000.
They are being monitored 24/7 in light of new safety concerns after their cladding was given the lowest possible safety score under new test conditions.
John Clark, CEO of Plymouth Community Homes said tests were carried out as an “immediate response” to the Government’s instruction following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
He said: “It [the cladding] has been found to be aluminium coated with a polyethylene core, which has been rated as category 3 under the new controlled test conditions.
“The fire rating scale goes from 0 to 3 (with 0 being the highest safety score and 3 being the lowest).”
There are immediate changes – such as additional fire protection panelling being added to stairwells and checks on fire doors.
And there are longer term changes to be made – such as the installation of heat detectors and a sprinkler system.
John Charrington, 67, also lives in Tamar. He said: “I’m a bit nervous while the cladding is still on.
“When I saw the pictures from London I thought ‘That’s the cladding going up’. You could see the way it was whizzing up the building.
“The next day people were chatting about whether it was safe.
“There’s been lots of people here checking the buildings and photographing alarms, but I’ve got no idea how long it’s going to take them.”
Diane McHenry has lived in Tavy for 24 years, and said she was crying when she saw the Grenfell Tower tragedy on the news.
“I felt safe anyway – we have good smoke alarms – but it’s good that they’re taking it off. It’s filthy and disgusting and should have come down years ago.”
Ian Harley is chair of Mount Wise Towers Residents Association, and said his phone didn’t stop ringing for two days after Grenfell.
“Obviously people were very concerned,” he said. “Having said that, we managed to get hold of PCH and they have been incredibly quick in getting on top of this.
“They carried out three inspections to look at specific issues within a matter of hours.
When asked how concerned residents are, he said “they’re not”.
“We’ve already got a smoke alarm system, carbon monoxide alarms in every flat. All the doors have been up-rated – the law only requires 30 minute fire doors to isolate each flat and PCH have insisted on 60 minutes, so much, much, much better than anything the law requires.
“They’ve taken on board what we say. When it comes to tenant safety and security the cost implications seem to go out the window. The bottom line is, safety comes first.”