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From external cladding to a lack of extinguishers - we look at how safe Norwich’s tower blocks really are

PUBLISHED: 12:19 19 June 2017 | UPDATED: 08:24 20 June 2017

Westlegate Tower in Norwich city centre. Photo : Steve Adams

Westlegate Tower in Norwich city centre. Photo : Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2016

From the gleaming Westlegate Tower to the imposing Normandie high-rise, Norwich’s handful of apartment blocks vary in size and appearance.

Normandie Tower on Roeun Road, Norwich. Photo: Luke Powell Normandie Tower on Roeun Road, Norwich. Photo: Luke Powell

But it is not just the aesthetics of these buildings which set them apart.

The way they are designed to handle fires - and the safety measures installed to prevent them - also differs.

And in the wake of the devastating Grenfell fire in London, residents of our city’s tower blocks have questioned how safe they are.

In the modern Westlegate Tower, people living in any of the 14 apartments benefit from sprinkler systems and 24/7 remote alarm monitoring.

Mafalda Simao, 25, who lives with her partner Pedro Neto, 28, who live on the 12th floor of Normandie Tower. Photo: Luke Powell Mafalda Simao, 25, who lives with her partner Pedro Neto, 28, who live on the 12th floor of Normandie Tower. Photo: Luke Powell

MORE: ‘Burn neoliberalism, not people’ - Norwich MP Clive Lewis stirs debate after Grenfell Tower blaze

But despite extensive fire safety measures, they have raised concerns about the external cladding covering part of the building,

It has prompted Norwich Residential Management, which maintains the tower, to carry out checks on the material used with the company behind the building’s redevelopment.

External cladding is suspected to have helped fuel the fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14.

Markham Tower in Mile Cross, Norwich. Photo: Luke Powell Markham Tower in Mile Cross, Norwich. Photo: Luke Powell

Meanwhile, residents in one of Norwich’s largest high-rise buildings, Normandie Tower, on Rouen Road, have questioned why there are no fire extinguishers in the communal areas.

One couple, who live on the 12th floor, said they did not even have a smoke alarm in their kitchen.

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Mafalda Simao, 25, who lives with her partner Pedro Neto, 28, said: “The Grenfell fire has made us think what if it happens here, and what would we do, because we have never had any fire drills.

“It would also be good to get a fire extinguisher, even if it was in the landing, because we don’t get them in the flats.“

Fifteenth-floor resident Matthew Wildsmith, 28, also shared their concerns, adding: “We’ve not had a proper fire safety drill, like you would have in an office building.”

The Norwich City Council-run tower block is made up of 95 flats, but only has sprinklers in the refuse areas.

MORE: Norfolk’s assistant chief fire officer describes difficulties crews face when tackling tower block fires

However, a spokesman for the local authority said a caretaker patrols the building daily.

Norfolk fire service also carries out training drills at the tower.

The city council’s tower blocks

There are eight tower blocks in Norwich which are managed by the city council.

Normandie and Winchester, located in the city centre, are the biggest, with 95 flats in each.

The other six – Ashbourne, Burleigh and Compass in Heartsease, and Aylmer, Seaman and Markham in Mile Cross – are made up of 44 flats.

A city council spokesman said all of its buildings are compliant with current fire regulations and have no external cladding.

A spokesman said: “Full fire risk assessments are carried out and approved for each tower block by Norfolk Fire and Rescue. They also conduct their own safety check at each block every three to four months.”

An on-site caretaker also patrols each tower block daily to ensure communal spaces are tidy, that lifts are working and any items left in communal areas are removed immediately. A letter sent to residents has also asked them to familiarise themselves with fire procedures.

Westlegate Tower

Norwich Residential Management, which maintains Westlegate Tower, said it had received calls from some residents concerned about the building’s external cladding.

A spokesman for the company said the material used is a mix of steel and composite material, which is different to the rain guard surrounding Grenfell Tower in London.

However, the spokesman said checks were being carried out with all companies involved with the building’s redevelopment.

Each apartment in Westlegate Tower is designed to form a separate fire compartment, to prevent any spread.

It also has a ventilation system on each floor to allow smoke to be drawn out of communal areas, sprinkler systems and emergency lighting.

There is also a box outside the building, which the fire service has access to, containing building maps, key fobs, remotes and instructions.

What to do in a fire

Norfolk Fire Service has issued the following advice for tower block residents in the event of a fire:

1. If you hear a fire alarm – do not ignore it.

2. Understand your own building procedures. These should be clearly signposted around the building. Know your escape plan and quickest way out and alternative exit routes. Make sure everyone knows about them.

3. Keep exits and lobbies clear of obstructions, rubbish and combustible items.

4. If you cannot leave your flat because the stairs and hallways are filled with smoke, ring 999 and stay inside the safest room. Keep the door closed and use towels at the bottom of the door to block the smoke.

5. If you can safely leave – get out and sound the alarm.

6. Use the stairs, not the lift.

7. In the event of a fire, never assume that someone else has called 999. Make sure your neighbours know about the fire. Bang on their doors on your way out.

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8 comments

  • UPDATE - the power of the internet. They have now installed new smoke alarms (less than 24 hours after posting this). This suggests that they should be replaced. It would be very nice if all the flats were re-checked. I will put a notice up with notifying residents and advising them that they should check the replacement dates.

    Report this comment

    Mart

    Tuesday, June 20, 2017

  • Only Me - You have a fair point there...unfortunately!

    Report this comment

    Resident Smith

    Tuesday, June 20, 2017

  • Hi, we recently had a gas inspection at our tower block of Winchester Tower. I questioned the wisdom (and probable cost) of the appointment system, visit and confirmation letters as I have no gas. I was informed it was also to check the smoke alarms so I asked whether they were still OK. The expiry date was 2012 (FIVE years ago) and I was told the council do not replace them until they are ten years out of date. I was horrified and sent an email to the fire department and wrote a proper old fashioned letter to our housing officer and gave this by hand to the office block manager (caretaker) who said he would pass it on straight away. I have not even had an acknowledgement, let alone a reply. This is despite this letter being handed in before the tragedy and receiving a letter from the council after the tragedy telling us how important smoke alarms are.

    Report this comment

    Mart

    Monday, June 19, 2017

  • @resident smith - unfortunately people have short memories, which is what politicians rely on to get them through to the next avoidable disaster.

    Report this comment

    Only Me

    Monday, June 19, 2017

  • Values of any property over 5 stories has just plummeted I bet. Chances are most tower blocks will be demolished over the next 5-7 years because of this.

    Report this comment

    Resident Smith

    Monday, June 19, 2017

  • No single type of fire extinguisher is usable across all fires encountered within a domestic environment & that could be why there are no fire extinguishers. So encouraging people to get the Fire Brigade there is probably seen as the safest option. As fire extinguishers if used incorrectly or on the wrong type of fire can put the user at a greater risk or even cause the fire to spread even quicker.

    Report this comment

    el84

    Monday, June 19, 2017

  • Smoke alarms aren't installed in kitchens because it would go off every time you used the cooker. Fire extinguishers in communal areas could be an obstacle in smokey conditions and would no doubt be a target for vandals.

    Report this comment

    Only Me

    Monday, June 19, 2017

  • Smoke alarms aren't installed in kitchens because it would go off every time you used the cooker. Fire extinguishers in communal areas could be an obstacle in smokey conditions and would no doubt be a target for vandals.

    Report this comment

    Only Me

    Monday, June 19, 2017

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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