Millions spent on tower blocks that are over half a century old

Picture: Michael Gillen
Picture: Michael Gillen

Falkirk’s 13 high rise blocks are between 45 and 51 years old.

The first two, Parkfoot and Glenbrae. were built by Wimpey and completed in 1966. Crudens finished Leishman, Belmont, Eastburn, Marshall, Maxwell, Symon and Paterson towers in 1967, Bison built Breton in 1968 and Corentin in 1970 and Glenfuir and Greenbank were completed by Wimpey in 1972.

Popular with pensioners, between them the towers offer 373 two apartment and 745 three apartment homes.

Eastburn, Marshall, Maxwell and Symon are the largest with 88 units each, Leishman has 86 and the rest 85.

Over the years they have all been modernised and upgraded inside with better bathrooms and kitchens and heating systems and between 1991 and 2014 all were refurbished outside with new cladding to protect them from the weather at an estimated cost of £2 million per block.

Assistant chief fire officer David McGown, director of prevention and protection for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We work closely with local authorities and housing associations to ensure the safety of occupants in high rise buildings. We are here to support communities most notably through our free home fire safety visits to provide safety advice and guidance on what to do in the event of an emergency.”

To book a visit householders are urged to call 0800 0731 999, text ‘FIRE’ to 80800 or visit www.firescotland.gov.uk.

Grenfell Tower on the western edge of Inner London is 24 storeys high and completed in 1974.

It was refurbished in 2016 at a cost of £8.7 million. Work included fitting new windows and aluminium composite rainscreen cladding, partly to improve the appearance of the building.

Council reassures tenants

The type of cladding used to protect the outside of every high rise in Falkirk has been checked following the Grenfell Tower disaster in London.

There is speculation the kind of insulation installed at the block in North Kensington may have contributed to the ferocity of the blaze that engulfed it last Wednesday and claimed 79 lives.

But Falkirk Council has confirmed it is satisfied the materials fitted on its 13 multi-storeys is very unlikely to ignite.

Stuart Ritchie, director of housing and corporate services, has sent letters to every tenant and resident to reassure them.

He said: “A technical assessment has been carried out on all high rise properties and these checks indicate the materials and construction methods in place in Falkirk are inherently a very low fire risk.

“Based on the information we have, the panel types used on Grenfell Tower are fundamentally different from the rainscreen system used to clad Falkirk’s high flats. Specifically, the insulation used is non-combustable.

“All our cladding works were designed and constructed to comply with the Building (Scotland) Regulations and have been subject to building warrant approval. The detailed design and specifications are compliant with regulations and technical standards in force at the time of the contract.”

Housing staff have delivered safety leaflets from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to every door.

They point out the materials and fittings in multi-storeys are designed to prevent fire and smoke spread, but urge residents to follow simple rules to stay safe including:

* making sure no refuse bags, combustible materials or furniture are stored in corridors or stairways;

* keeping bin rooms and access doors to the building secure;

* making sure their property has a working smoke alarm which should be tested weekly;

* having a fire escape plan the whole household knows about which includes how to get out quickly at night, where the front door keys are kept and identifying a ‘safe room’ with a window and a phone in case you can’t escape.

A council spokesman said: “Fire extinguishers, fire and smoke alarms, fire doors and emergency lighting have been checked and no issues found. Housing officers will continue to visit high rise tenants to offer guidance and reassurance. The council will never be complacent when it comes to fire safety.”

Councillor Gordon Hughes, the SNP administration’s housing spokesman, said: “We’re obviously shocked at events in London and our thoughts are with those affected by this terrible incident, but we have rigorous safety procedures and checks in place across all our high rise flats and undertake independent fire safety checks annually on all these buildings. We liaise regularly with Scottish Fire and Rescue to ensure our procedures are up to date and any changes required will be implemented as a matter of priority.”