Bafflement at Kensington and Chelsea Council’s reason for delaying fire door replacements

Kensington and Chelsea Council has blamed its failure to replace 4,000 fire doors across its housing stock on a lack of ‘reliable products’ – a claim refuted by the British Woodworking Federation (BWF).

Last May the borough announced plans to spend £3.5m on remediation works after investigations found the doors fell short of requirements set out in building regulations.

However, it now says the work has been delayed and will take another three years to complete.

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “The remediation plan developed by the industry could only ever replace a small proportion of the GRP composite doors that may have to be replaced, and councils are struggling to confirm that the fire doors that have come back on to the market meet their requirements.”

But the BWF says Kensington and Chelsea Council could readily source what it needs through its Fire Door Alliance (FDA) scheme, which certifies three million fire doors certified every year.

Formerly the BWF CERTIFIRE Fire Door and Doorset scheme, which was established in 1997, The BWF Fire Door Alliance scheme is open only to companies who are third-party certified by a UKAS-approved certifying body such as Warrington Fire (WF) Certifire or the BM TRADA Q-Mark scheme.

Far exceeded required performance

While government tests on timber fire door performance are still ongoing, FDA members say that doors have far exceeded required performance in these tests so far, said Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF).

She said it “is absolutely not the case” that compliant, reliable products are not available. “There is no need for a delay of ‘up to three years’ due to a restricted supply of quality fire doors.”

She also scotched the inference that the fire door industry had only stepped up its game in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.

“For over 22 years the BWF’s scheme has ensured the quality, safety and traceability of fire doors through third-party certification.” Helen Hewitt, CEO, BWF

“For over 22 years the BWF’s scheme has ensured the quality, safety and traceability of fire doors through third-party certification. This further counters the council’s claims that manufacturers have only just begun producing doors which meet national regulatory standards. We have been doing it for years and the supply is absolutely there.”

Hewitt added that Lord Porter “argues that councils are ‘struggling to confirm that fire doors that have come back on the market meet their requirements’ yet gives no indication of what the issues are and whether these doors have been certified. Timber fire doors consistently deliver on their performance promises and the MHCLG fire door investigations have so far vindicated this – we look forward to the final results.”

Hewitt found the timing of the revelation troubling.

“We were deeply disappointed to see the unacceptable news that councils are delaying the replacement of thousands of faulty fire doors,” she said. “The story broke on the anniversary of Grenfell and, as such, we decided not to issue a statement on the day, but to remain respectfully quiet to focus on remembering the victims and families affected and reflect on a tragedy that must never be forgotten.”

Hewitt said that FDA members whose timber doors had been through fire-resistant tests reported holding out for as long as “54 minutes – exceeding the 30-minute requirement time by 24 minutes. On average, across the data submitted, fire-resisting time currently stands at 46 minutes. This is in direct contrast to foam-filled, glass reinforced polymer (GRP) faced fire doors fire doors which only withstood fire for 15 minutes during the tests.”

The failure of GRP doors is at the heart of a row over who should pay for remediation works. Lord Porter feels that councils have been misled by fire door manufacturers, telling HuffPost that “significant bills to fix a problem not of their own making” should be urgently resolved.

“Bought in good faith”

“Councils have been failed by the glass reinforced plastic (GRP) composite door and testing industries, which have left them with thousands of doors they bought in good faith that do not meet the building regulation requirements,” he said. “The industry has told us it followed advice from the test houses which has now been found to be incorrect, yet there appears to be no acknowledgement by the test houses of this, no expectation that they have a responsibility to councils and residents affected by this failure and no indication that lessons have been learned.”

But Hewitt said it was important to separate the issue of availability of certified products from that of who is liable for paying for remediation works. “If the delay is down to a dispute over who foots the bill for replacement, as also suggested by Lord Porter, then that is a separate issue which urgently needs addressing. It is not right that people’s lives are at risk because of disputes over money. But to suggest that quality fire doors are not available and ready for installation is simply untrue.”

Councillor Darren Rodwell, executive member for housing and planning of London Councils, which represents local authorities across the capital, told HuffPost that: “We’re still waiting for a national remediation plan with details on how we will be compensated – and this isn’t good enough.” He pointed to a 63% reduction in the councils core funding since 2010, and that it was “unfair to expect local authorities to pick up the bill for manufacturers’ safety failings and for shortcomings in government regulation”.

A HuffPost UK investigation earlier this year revealed that at least 25,000 faulty doors were fitted in public housing.

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