Fire assessment rates ‘Substantial’ risk to life at Arlington House due to defects

Arlington House in Margate Photo John Horton

A ‘Substantial’ risk to life has been concluded in a fire risk assessment carried out for Arlington House in Margate.

The assessment, carried out by CS Todd Associates, found numerous defects including to fire resisting doors, deficiencies in the protection to the risers between the flats and to the fire resistance of flat entrance doors.

The report says: “Our assessment is that the risk to life from fire in these premises is ‘Substantial’. We have concluded this by taking into account the likelihood of fire and the consequences for life safety in the event of fire.

“The reason for classifying the building as a ‘Substantial’ risk is that:

  • there appear to be issues with the horizontal compartmentation between the flats, which create the potential for occupants to be affected beyond the flat of fire origin (as set out in a Notice of Deficiencies issued by Kent Fire and Rescue Service and referred to in Section 5 of this report).
  • the seriousness of the issues with compartmentation undermines the current “stay put” evacuation strategy, and there is a need to consider interim measures to reduce the risk to residents.

The other main findings are:

  • Flat entrance doors were the subject of inspections in 2021/22 by Parryfire, and the findings were recorded in reports dated February 2022, July 2022 and February 2023. Defects affecting the integrity of many of the doors were identified in these reports and, at the time of this current fire survey, it was found that only limited progress has been made to rectify these defects.
  • Fire-resisting doors in the common areas were also found to have a large number of defects affecting their integrity.”

In 2019, 15 fire safety failures were listed on an enforcement notice to landlord Freshwater Property Management Limited, which hold the lease for the 18 floor (plus roof level) block through its company Metropolitan Property Realizations Limited.

Arlington House

An enforcement notice was served following an inspection by a fire safety officer. The notice was eventually withdrawn but the case remained open due to there being a number of outstanding works to be completed, particularly focused on doors, the lifts and the fire alarm system.

That year Thanet council also issued a formal letter of concern to Freshwater over serious failings in management at Arlington House.

Notice for works

KFRS issued a new letter of advice with a schedule of outstanding works last December  and have now served a further notice requiring that all matters be addressed.

Among the outstanding works are the need for surveys to individual flat doors and remedial works to bring them up to current fire safety standards and surveys of kitchen and bathroom vents in flats to eliminate the risk of fire and smoke spreading in the event of a fire in the building.

One resident said: “Lessees appear to be powerless to get works completed or completed to a satisfactory standard and the only recourse appears to be to return to the First Tier Property Tribunal to challenge the costs. In the meantime, significant fire safety elements remain non-compliant.”

Fire safety audit

Fire drill at Arlington Photo Paul Messenger

KFRS has now issued a new schedule of works that need to be completed at the block.

Suzanna Chisholm, Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) Head of Building Safety said: “We continue to work with the responsible person for Arlington House to ensure fire safety measures are rectified, mainly in relation to compartmentation (referring to any means to reduce fire spread, such as fire doors and wall cavities).

“We carried out a fire safety audit of the premises (this month) and officers issued a schedule of works, which the responsible person is taking proactive steps to complete.

“Our officers and crews have been working with the residents to offer reassurance, and we have sufficient resources and plans in place to respond to any reports of an emergency at Arlington House.”

‘No management responsibilities’

Thanet council, which owns the land at Arlington House, says it has no management responsibilities for the building.

A council spokesperson said: “ Arlington House is privately owned, by Freshwater Property Management Limited. They are responsible for ensuring that an up-to-date Fire Risk Assessment is in place. They must also ensure that any recommendations are implemented, to reduce the risk of the spread of fire.

“Although Thanet District Council owns the land around Arlington House, it is leased to Bernard Sunley Investments (Margate) Limited until 2160. The council has no management responsibilities for the building.”

The lead responsibility for enforcing the requirements of the Fire Safety Order 2005 for high rise buildings in Kent rests with the Kent Fire and Rescue Service. Thanet District Council leads on enforcing regulations in relation to lower rise and converted residential buildings.

These regulations are due to be further enhanced later this year, with the implementation of the new Building Safety Act 2022. This legislation will introduce new requirements for the owners of high-rise residential buildings. The Health and Safety Executive will take a lead role in enforcing the new requirements.

Freshwater and management firm PS&B have been contacted for comment.

The 15 fire safety failures at Margate’s Arlington House that led to two enforcement notices being served

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  1. TDC do not five a fig about fire safety within their own department, Bob Porter is personally responsible for leaving thousands of tenants at risk and ignoring issues when raised to him by competent people.

    • TDC is denying all responsibility as usual.

      The fact of the matter is that TDC is the freeholder of Arlington House.

      Therefore, TDC wears two hats – one as the property owner and one as the local authority.

      However, TDC continues to fail to act in either responsibility.

  2. Knock the place down, it’s been a problem building since it was built. Or make it into luxury flats and sell for a fortune to the DFLs

    • This is the usual stupid response – ”knock it down”.

      Who is going to pay to buy out all the existing leases ?

      Where are all the current occupiers going to be rehoused ?

      Who has got the money for the demolition ?

      • It’s not a stupid response, plenty of eyesore buildings from Southampton to Glasgow have been knocked down. The profits could be used for better social housing. And every major developer in the country could easily afford the demolition costs. Build back better!

        • Sarah – I ask you the same questions I asked Bill.

          Does TDC have the money and resources (never mind the will) ?

          Does any housing association have the funds to buy out the the existing leases and level the site before rebuilding ?

      • I agree with John.

        Arlington House should be made a safe place to live. It should also be renovated,.and returned to its original state. Although many people think it’s ugly, some of us don’t.

  3. Difficult one for TDC. On one hand they need to be seen to be acting on these failures. On the other hand, they were similarly guilty of endangering tenants’ lives themselves due to a variety of checks not being done to their own houses.

  4. Does this Report mean that KF&R Will be Returning the HIGHT APPLIANCE taken away from Ramsgate as it seems to spend a lot of time in Thanet lately?

  5. I’m praying to the good lord Jesus Christ our holy saviour that this is the beginning of the end for Arlington House!

    • Well I don’t see it as an ugly building at all. But, more to the point, it houses a lot of people. Freshwater and the management firm don’t seem to give a stuff about it or its inhabitants, I suspect they’d rather knock it down and extend Dreamland or whatever.
      Homes are so important plus there are plenty of us who see it as an interesting period piece in desperate need of maintenance.

  6. How many more reports or inspections or unannounced visits can KFRS make before taking any proper action. Don’t they realise that Freshwater and TDC are just taking them for mugs? Of course self-regulation is important but it’s clear that these bodies are not doing enough to keep residents safe. The door saga has been going on for years, the contractors they employ do overcharged, shoddy work. For heavens sake, take some proper action and demand the building is brought up to a safe standard or else place another Enforcement Notice on the block and fine them.

    • The additional problem, of course, is that all the repetitive, shoddy work gets charged to the lessees in their service charges.

      Risk assessors and/or KFRS then come back in and deem the work incomplete or inappropriate, and the whole sorry cycle starts again and the resultant works are again charged to the lessees. (The lessees even get charged for the risk assessment to be carried out. The yearly report says much the same as the year before – either because the work was not done or because it was done poorly !).

      • So lessees pay again and again for inaction? That’s a form of harassment on top of the risks they face. It’s as if Grenfell never happened …

  7. This most recent intervention by KFRS just illustrates the negligence of Freshwater/ MPRL( head lease holder ) and the incompetence of Parsons Son and Basley ( PS&B) the managing agents who continue to fail the residents and the apparent indifference of Thanet District Council ( TDC ).

    It is no surprise that neither Freshwater or Parsons are prepared to justify their continued failings and BoB Porter goes to such lengths to justify their inaction.

    Even Madeline Homer the previous chief officer for TDC was forced to serve a formal letter of concern to Freshwater ( MPRL) at the time the initial fire enforcement notice.was served.
    It is convenient and disingenuous for BoB Porter to claim TDC has no managerial responsibility for Arlington House but it is the “ competent “ landlord and freeholder for the site . A substantial number of tenants renting in the building come under the responsibility of private sector housing a department within TDC , which Porter is well aware .

  8. wow we have some clever people around to work that out after 60 + years or however long long eyesore has stood there ?

  9. TODAY it’s an eyesore. And dangerous.
    But, paint it bright white with a sea-blue “wave” motif right across it and it will look like Miami! Totally in keeping.
    But who would pay for it? And who would pay for the safety improvements?
    I fear the whole “business model” was wrong in the first place. All these different property firms creaming off the residents payments ,not carrying out needed repairs.
    The problem with private firms is that they can sell their responsibility to some other chancers or just declare bankruptcy or announce that it’s somebody else’s responsibility.
    In the end, like the private railway companies going out of business, the national or local state (using tax payers money) has to bail out failing private businesses.
    Like we did in 2008 after the whole world economic system nearly collapsed due to greedy banks and investors making daft ,risky investments.
    Or all the money given by us (via the County Council) to build Thanet Parkway. Or the millions given by the government to get that car-battery factory located in Somerset. WE end up paying to save the rich from their own greed or stupidity. Yet they warn us that we shouldn’t tax them or we will suffer if they leave the country. I wish!!

  10. Yep, the business model is heinous. And general all-round maintenance is required. From an aesthetic point of view (though that’s not the most important factor at all in this particular discussion) just general upkeep would indeed improve the building greatly. I like that it’s the only tower block in the area too, somehow that makes it more interesting, less oppressive visually. BUT … the fact that folks living there face a ‘substantial’ fire risk … that is utterly appalling. Really shocking. Everyone who has just let this happen should be sacked, shamed, publicly humiliated and, if possible, prosecuted. People could die simply because of greed and ineptitude.

  11. I actually disagree about the fire safety risk.
    The building is extremely solidly built, very fire compartmentalised with nothing in the corridors to catch light (not even floors walls or ceilings) and although not perfect, fire doors every thirty feet or so towards two separate brick and concrete stair wells.
    I don’t know how the inspectors got the idea that there is a horizontal compartmentalisation problem between flats. The only reference I’ve seen is to the risers, which are vertical and if people cleared their trunking of 60 years of greasy fluff and the managing agents actually got the fans working would minimise any problem.
    There are minor problems but I don’t believe any building in use is perfect. Its design and construction makes it streets ahead of most buildings in terms of fire safety – it’s day-day maintenance and over-charging by the managing agent that’s the problem.

    • Simon Pengelly, you sound as if you know what you’re talking about. If you are correct then it may well be that the owners want it flattened for redevelopment. As residents are effectively being financially harassed and if the place is indeed being wrongly declared unsafe time & again without any attempt at remedial works then it very much sounds as if a case for demolition is being cobbled together without good reason.
      Would it help if it were to be listed in some way? I think there may be a case for th at and there are some influential people out there who might well support that. And I reckon that even those who just do not like brutalist architecture would be a little happier if it were spruced up.

  12. Dare I mention Madeline Homer and Eddie Kemsley and Guernsey based offshore companies and accounts.
    Does this herald more corruption in the process of bungling the future of Margate including gambling with people’s lives? We’re well known in Thanet for hosting a lot of buy and burn regeneration.

  13. I don’t agree take it down it’s one of its kind and also I have lived in it and agree the fire saftey side must be sorted the fire alarm aspect of it is not up to code and the sprinkler detection is not up to code. Renovate it it’s iconic building and living in it has an odd feeling of happier times from when it was built when the world was a happier
    Place to be where people got on more and cared more about each other.

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