Council planning chiefs are facing a furious backlash from fire safety campaigners after recommending the approval of a new 51-floor skyscrapper with just one exit staircase.
Developers want to build the new 570ft high block of flats on the outskirts of London‘s Canary Wharf.
If approved, the 421-flat tower block will be one of the tallest residential buildings in the UK.
It will also be more than two-and-a-half times the height of Grenfell Tower, where 72 people died in 2017 when a fire spread to exterior cladding and engulfed the building.
But the proposals for the skyscraper show it will have only one exit staircase.
This has sparked criticism from fire safety campaigners, who have drawn comparisons to Grenfell – which also had just one exit staircase.
Critics of the plans also claim that such tall a building would require a second set of stairs under the international building code – which is not adopted in the UK.
Despite the concerns, the proposals had been recommended for approval by council planning chiefs.
The plans were due to be rubber stamped at a committee tonight, with city fire chiefs having not submitted objections.
But it can now be revealed that London Fire Brigade (LFB) has since submitted 11th hour concerns about the application.
Fire chiefs have warned of ‘insufficient justification’ for a single tall staircase and they are are concerned the design submitted ‘does not provide suitable and convenient means of escape and associated evacuation strategy for all building users’.
Developers say they have now pulled the application from tonight’s meeting in order to give them more time to respond to the concerns.
Developers want to build the new 570ft high block of flats on the outskirts of London’s Canary Wharf. Pictured: An artist’s impression of the planned Cuba Street tower block (centre)
Once built, the 421-flat tower block will be one of the tallest residential buildings in the UK. It will be more than two-and-a-half times the height of Grenfell Tower (pictured), where 72 people died in 2017 when a fire spread to exterior cladding and engulfed the building
A graphic showing the size of Grenfell compared to Cuba Street. Under the international building code, which is adopted in the US, buildings over 420ft must have at least two staircases. But the UK does not adopt the code
Once built, the 421-flat tower block at Cuba Street will be one of the tallest residential buildings in the UK. Pictured: An artist’s impression of the new block
The tower will be more than two-and-a-half times the height of Grenfell (pictured), where 72 people died in 2017 when a fire spread to exterior cladding and engulfed the building
The plans for the new skyscraper at Cuba Street, near to Canary Wharf, were due to be discussed by Tower Hamlets Council’s Planning Committee tonight.
But, ahead of the meeting, the London Fire Brigade submitted a letter to the developers Ballymore – the firm behind the controversial Sky Pool at Embassy Garden.
In the letter, seen by MailOnline, it says: ‘LFB have concerns with the design that has been submitted, and in our opinion it does not satisfy the requirements of The London Plan 2021, to ‘provide suitable and convenient means of escape, and associated evacuation strategy for all building users’.’
The statement continues: ‘We do not believe that sufficient justification has been provided for the tall single stair approach, nor do we agree that particular aspects of the design are compatible for such an approach.
‘Furthermore, in our opinion there are insufficient facilities provided to support the safe egress for disabled occupants.’
Along with the raising objections about the single stair case, LFB has also highlighted concerns about the planned evacuation list and the corridor layout, which it says ‘does not provide sufficient protection to users who may rely upon these for safe escape’.
The initial row came over plans to build the tower with a single exit staircase. Such designs have drawn criticism in the past because in the event of an evacuation residents attempting to leave the building have to do so through the same staircase as firefighters – potentially blocking rescue attempts.
They also pose a danger if they become blocked through smoke or flames, leaving those in the building unable to escape.
But single staircase designs are currently allowed under UK building regulations, so long as the fire plan is to tell residents to stay put inside their homes.
Rules instead require buildings above 11 meters must be fitted with sprinklers.
However fire safety experts warn such features can fail. And they have pointed to recent events at nearby New Providence Wharf – where a fire broke out in May last year.
The blaze engulfed three floors of the 19-storey building, also developed by Ballymore, leaving three people injured 44 people needing medical treatment.
During the fire, smoke engulfed the corridors, while the London Fire Brigade found ventilation systems, the firefighter lift and door holders did not perform as expected.
Nadim Ahmad, 43, who lives with his wife and three daughters on the 14th floor, said at the time: ‘It’s a miracle no one died.’
Grenfell survivors also reacted with fury, with survivor and family group Grenfell United saying: ‘When will the Government take this scandal seriously? Enough is enough.’
Meanwhile, Natalie Carter, a resident at New Providence Wharf and who is part of the Tower Hamlets Justice for Leaseholders group told the Guardian: ‘It’s very scary.
Fire safety pointed to recent events at nearby New Providence Wharf – where a fire broke out in May last year. The blaze engulfed three floors of the 19-storey New Providence Wharf development near Canary Wharf
Fire fighters inspect the damage at New Providence Wharf on Fairmont Avenue in Poplar in east London
‘If they do need to evacuate for any reason you are talking about doing that on the same staircase the firefighters would be using, it just seems absolutely bonkers.’
Meanwhile, Arnold Tarling, a chartered surveyor and fire safety expert, also speaking to the Guardian, said: ‘It is utter madness that this is still allowed.’
He added that the worst-case scenario of having a single staircase was ‘another Grenfell type fire’.
Russ Timpson, secretary of the Tall Building Fire Safety Network, meanwhile said developers should include a ‘plan A and a plan B’.
He told the Guardian: ‘If stay-put doesn’t work, a simultaneous evacuation is an almost impossible challenge with a single staircase.
‘Around the world firefighters talk about having one escape stair and one attack stair.’
Under the international building code, which is adopted in the US, buildings over 420ft must have at least two staircases.
But the UK does not adopt the code and instead uses its own guidance, which states that ‘appropriate means of escape in case of fire from the building… (must be) capable of being safely and effectively used at all material times’.
A spokesperson for Ballymore told MailOnline: ‘As part of the planning application for our Cuba Street development, Ballymore received comments from the London Fire Brigade today, requesting clarification around aspects of the application.
‘We are more than happy to provide that clarification and will continue to work closely with the LFB and local authority towards presenting the scheme for planning approval in due course.
‘Like all Ballymore developments, the Cuba Street scheme will be built in full accordance with approved and emerging guidance and British Standards.’
A review of the proposals by planning chiefs at Tower Hamlets Council shows that London Fire Brigade made no objection to the plans.
In the document, which will be discussed by councillors tonight, it says: ‘That subject to any direction by the Mayor of London, conditional planning permission is granted subject to the recommended conditions and prior completion of a legal agreement to secure the following planning obligations.’
A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: ‘Our comments on the Cuba Street development have been provided directly to the planning committee with regards to the fire strategy of the building.
‘We do have concerns that the design submitted does not provide suitable and convenient means of escape and associated evacuation strategy for all building users.
‘In buildings with a single escape route, we would expect the developer to have their own fire engineers provide a full review to show the resilience in the event of a fire and this does not appear to have been carried out.
‘While we are not a statutory consultee on such planning applications, we would always look to provide a response around the fire strategy in high-rise buildings, as we have in this case.’
A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: ‘We are bound by UK planning law and standards when considering a planning application in our borough.
‘Applications must be decided on their planning merits, irrespective of who the applicant is.
‘Comments from the London Fire Brigade were received today, which raise a number of issues that will need to be addressed.
‘The applicant has asked for more time to respond and therefore the item will no longer be considered at tonight’s meeting, and will only be brought to committee once these issues are resolved.’
‘Innocent leaseholders should not shoulder the burden … we will make the industry pay’: Michael Gove warns developers making ‘vast profits’ they risk being taxed to fund removal of dangerous cladding in wake of Grenfell fire
The Housing Secretary has confirmed plans for a £4 billion fund to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks in the wake of the deadly 2017 fire in west London.
The cash will help tens of thousands facing huge repair bills through no fault of their own.
On a broadcast round earlier this week, Mr Gove said it was time for those with ‘the big bucks, the big profits’ to act to remedy the fire safety risks.
Later, addressing MPs in the Commons he said firms that did not act would face ‘commercial consequences’ for their inaction while ‘blameless’ leaseholders have been ‘shouldering a desperately unfair burden’.
The Communities Secretary told MPs: Those who knowingly put lives at risk should be held to account for their crimes, and those who are seeking to profit from the crisis by making it worse should be stopped from doing so. Today I am putting them on notice … we are coming for you.’
Leaseholders in buildings between 11m (36ft) and 18m (59ft) tall will no longer have to take out loans to cover the costs of remediation work despite no new money coming from the Treasury.
Campaigners tentatively welcomed the plans as they trickled out over the weekend, but developers said they should not be the only ones responsible for the costs.
Mr Gove met with leaseholders groups today ahead of his statement in the House of Commons.
However, while the action was welcomed there was also criticism that it does not go far enough.
Reece Lipman, 32, who lives in a flat in Romford, east London, said: ‘It feels like the Government keep trying to bail water off the Titanic with pots and pans and that’s great, some people will be saved, but the ship is still going down and we haven’t yet addressed that problem.’
The Housing Secretary confirmed plans for a £4 billion fund to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks in the wake of the Grenfell fire
He added: ‘I think it is very positive that we seem to, after four years of changing housing secretaries, that we seem to have a housing secretary who has got the rhetoric right and is now talking with a much firmer tone, which is very encouraging to see, and obviously any money to help with the crisis is going to be incredibly welcome.
‘But I do think it’s really important to state that even after all this time, the Government is still talking about just cladding, and it’s not just a cladding crisis, it hasn’t been just a cladding crisis for many years now.
‘It is a full-blown building safety crisis.’
Labour warned that money earmarked for levelling-up schemes or housing projects could be ‘raided’ if talks fail to ensure developers stump up for fire safety improvements.
Shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy highlighted a letter from Treasury minister Simon Clarke which she said cast doubt that a new tax on those responsible was the backstop.
Ms Nandy told the Commons: ‘(Michael Gove) was told ‘you may use a high-level threat of tax or legal solutions in discussions with developers’ … ‘but whether or not to impose or raise taxes remains a decision for me (the Chief Secretary) and is not a given at this point’.’
She added: ‘It appears what he’s told the public – that tax rises are the backstop – is not what he’s told the Treasury. This letter says ‘you have confirmed separately that DLUHC budgets are a backstop for funding these proposals in full should sufficient funds not be raised from industry’.
‘That is not what the Secretary of State told the House a moment ago. So can he clear this up: has the Chancellor agreed to back a new tax measure if negotiations fail or is he prepared to see his own already allocated budgets, levelling-up funding or monies for social or affordable funding raided?
‘Or is his plan to go back to the Treasury and renegotiate and legislate if he fails in March? If that is the case, it’ll take months and there’s nothing to stop freeholders passing on the costs to leaseholders in the meantime.’
Earlier, Mr Gove told Sky News: ‘We want to say to developers and indeed all those who have a role to play in recognising their responsibility that we want to work with them.
‘But if it’s the case that it’s necessary to do so, then we will use legal means and ultimately, if necessary, the tax system in order to ensure that those who have deep pockets, those who are responsible for the upkeep of these buildings, pay rather than the leaseholders, the individuals, who in the past were being asked to pay with money they didn’t have for a problem that they did not cause.’
In the letter to the residential property development industry today, Mr Gove set a deadline of ‘early March’ to publicly accept his ultimatum and provide a ‘fully-funded plan of action’.
They were also ordered to provide comprehensive information on all buildings taller than 11m that have fire-safety defects and they helped construct in the past 30 years.
A leaked letter from Treasury chief secretary Simon Clarke authorises Mr Gove to use a ‘high-level ‘threat’ of tax or legal solutions’ to get developers to pay up.
The move has been welcomed by campaigners for those facing huge bills for repairs, many of whom are unable to move home because banks won’t offer mortgages against their properties.
Developers will be barred by law from clawing back the money via inflated service charges.
And leaseholders will be granted the right to sue builders over defective flats for up to 30 years – a five-fold rise in the current six-year limit.
However, campaigners have criticised an apparent loophole in the scheme which means it will cover only remedial work relating to cladding, rather than all fire safety work, such as repairing faulty firebreaks or dangerous balconies.
Rachel Loftus, of End Our Cladding Scandal, said: ‘You have to do all of what the experts say is required, but the Government is saying there is funding for only some of them.’
A Whitehall source said Mr Gove was in discussions with banks and insurers about ensuring that post-Grenfell repair bills are ‘proportionate’ and not inflated by demands to fix other building problems that do not directly affect safety.
The new scheme will directly help those living in buildings under 18 metres (59ft) who have missed out on previous grants and been told to take out huge loans to fund repairs.
Those living in properties above 18m are already able to access government grants from a £5 billion Building Safety Fund.
Mr Gove has employed forensic accountants to track down those responsible for fire-risk flats.
A dossier compiled by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities found that companies involved in the Grenfell fire have gone on to make huge profits since the June 2017 disaster which claimed 72 lives.
It found that 12 firms connected to the fire have since made pre-tax profits of £6.7 billion, paid out dividends of £3.1 billion and awarded pay packages and bonuses to directors worth £335 million.
Mr Gove is expected to say that those who knowingly put lives at risk should be ‘held to account’.