Residents in a Manchester tower block with Grenfell-style cladding have expressed fears for their safety after a waking watch failed to rouse a number of people during a fire that broke out in the early hours of last Saturday.
People living in Vallea Court in the Green Quarter development were evacuated at around 5am last Saturday when a fire started in the lift shaft on the 10th floor.
While fire alarms sounded on the floor where the fire was, they did not sound elsewhere, and most residents were woken by members of a waking watch who banged on their doors and sounded an air horn.
But some residents said they did not think the measures were sufficient and some reported sleeping through the incident entirely. One resident said they only realised that there had been a fire when a colleague mentioned it to her at work, despite having been asleep in the block when the fire took place.
Joe Sharp, who lives on the eighth floor of the block, said he initially assumed the noise was from revellers returning from a night out.
“I was eventually woken by the sound of people in the corridor,” he said. “[The waking watch] don’t know who is in or not so if you don’t answer the door they are not going to stay there.”
Mr Sharp said that although he could smell smoke from his flat, he could not see any.
A spokesperson for Pemberstone, the building’s owner, said that the alarms had functioned as intended.
“All of the health and safety systems, including the waking watch, worked correctly to ensure residents’ safety. Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is satisfied the incident was dealt with effectively and investigations into the causes are ongoing,” he said.
Both Vallea Court and neighbouring block Cypress Place are clad with category 3 aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower.
Last year Pemberstone, which purchased the freehold of the two Green Quarter blocks in 2015, successfully took leaseholders to tribunal to argue that it should not foot the bill for remediation work. Residents were facing bills of up to £10,000 each to pay for the work to be carried out.
In March, however, a fund was established by a number of “interested companies” including the block’s developer, Lendlease, to cover the costs of re-cladding work as well as the buildings’ 24/7 fire patrol.
It is estimated that work to remove the cladding on the blocks will not be completed until next spring.
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the government has been keen to reassure residents in blocks with potentially dangerous cladding that interim measures would be sufficient to keep them safe while steps were taken to replace building facades.
But Fran Reddington, a resident of the Cypress Place block, said that residents were planning to speak again to the fire service and the building’s owners to see whether the fire alarm system in the two blocks could be updated to a building-wide alarm, meaning that if fire is detected anywhere in the building it would trigger all alarms.
“Initially they [the building owners] had talked about upgrading the alarm system but it had proved too expensive,” she said. “But this has really shaken people.”