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Fury at City Hall over new Tower Hamlets housing scheme cutting off emergency vehicle access to tower block

PUBLISHED: 15:20 10 October 2020 | UPDATED: 12:35 12 October 2020

London Assembly planning chairman Andrew Bough and Caledonia House...

London Assembly planning chairman Andrew Bough and Caledonia House... "Building on access route makes you wonder if people feel safe in tower blocks." Picture: Google and (inset) City Hall

Google/City Hall

The London Assembly’s planning chief has slammed Tower Hamlets Council for giving the green light to new housing that would cut off direct emergency vehicle access to an 18-storey tower block already hemmed in by a canal.

Car park next to Limehouse railway arches... where 9-storey tower block of flats is planned on Brunton Wharf estate, preventing emergency access to Caledonia House tower block (in background). Picture: GoogleCar park next to Limehouse railway arches... where 9-storey tower block of flats is planned on Brunton Wharf estate, preventing emergency access to Caledonia House tower block (in background). Picture: Google

The decision “should not have gone ahead” because it didn’t to give the London Fire Brigade time to assess the dangers, the Assembly’s planning chairman Andrew Bough declared.

A scheme to build 32 new homes and expand the Brunton Wharf estate next to the Limehouse Cut into a “car free zone” was agreed by the council’s planning committee on October 8.

It would be built on the car-park access from Yorkshire Road and hem in the Caledonia House tower block with its back to the canal.

“They went ahead knowing they didn’t have information to keep people safe,” Bough told the East London Advertiser. “There is a problem looming over emergency access to a tower block on the estate.

“Quick access is a key factor to make sure people can be rescued from fire, but they have gone ahead without knowing if it is safe—it’s appalling.”

Fire-tenders would have to be parked along an already-congested Yorkshire Road next to Limehouse railway arches 200 yards away and a high-riser water system would have to be used in any emergency, the Advertiser reported on the planning decision.

The scheme can’t go ahead unless the fire and safety authorities agree, councillors were warned. The design would have to change if it didn’t satisfy them which would mean another public consultation if it can’t be resolved, area planning manager Jerry Bell informed them.

The fire brigade had already met tenants and residents over concerns about emergency access to Caledonia House which also involved Andrew Bough. It was still looking into the effects of losing the car-park access route when last Thursday’s decision went ahead.

“The decision to build on the car park was rushed,” Mr Bough later insisted.

“The Fire Inspectors assessment took place the day before the committee which leads one to ask how thorough that inspection was. It makes you wonder if that kind of decision makes people feel safe in these tower blocks. They could have waited a few weeks for the fire brigade’s report.”

He raised concerns with the council’s area planning manager Sally Fraser, who later warned the committee that “access to Caledionia House from Yorkshire Road is being blocked by the new housing scheme”.

The fire brigade had been consulted but had responded late. It needed more time to study the scheme, she told councillors, while the developers were “confident of safety of families in Caledonia House”.

The application for the new housing, which is to be managed by Tower Hamlets Homes, was approved subject to fire brigade agreement, but would have to go back to the committee should the scheme “need to be changed dramatically” over the fire access issue.

The proposal replaces the car park and vehicle access from Yorkshire Road with a double tower block, one nine storeys, the other four. It would house 32 new flats for social renting, half set at “local living rent” level and the rest based on London living wage.


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