UPDATED: Residents left without power and heat despite council pledges - and repairs have still not been made, while fire alarm system shows faults. What price residents' safety in tower blocks?

  Posted: 27.12.21 at 13:37 by The Editor

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DESPITE the assertion by Thurrock Council that it was doing its best to look after residents affected by yesterday's fire at the Lionel Oxley House tower block in Grays, families still had to spend the night in their homes without power and heating.

The fire happened yesterday morning (Sunday, 26 December) and knocked out the power supply to around a quarter of the flats in the 15 storey block.

Late last night, after several hours of not responding to media calls and enquiries from ward councillors, the council issued a statement quoting housing portfolio holder Cllr Luke Spillman. He said: "I would like to thank all residents for their patience whilst ECFRS, council officers and our contractors have been on site this afternoon.

“I would also like to thank the council officers who have been working today, along with the help provided to them by UK Power Networks and Mears. As well as Essex Fire and Rescue Service for their hard work and quick response to the alarm this morning to contain the fire quickly and safely.

“UK Power Networks remain on site to resolve the faults caused by the fire and we will continue to support the families whose properties have been affected until they can safely return home."

Cllr Spillman also said: "14 flats have been left without power, all residents have been offered support and five families have been placed into temporary accommodation for the night."

Rubbish from the building is still massed outside.

However, the first part of his assertion appears to be untrue. Several families contacted Thurrock Nub News last night to say they had received no contact from the council and were spending the night unsupported.

Resident Akan Wood told how the power cut had meant his family lost all the food in their freezer and added: "We are still on the eighth floor. We have had no offers of any help and no offers of alternative accommodation.

"We still have no power. We have a special needs 14 year old boy here. We need action. We need heat and hot meals now. We need compensation for our food we lost too."

Another 'trapped' resident Ian Purvis told Nub News: "I’m on the tenth floor with no power or heating along with of my neighbours, the other two have power.

"All my food in the freezer has defrosted, I’ve had to cancel my Christmas with my kids and send them back home to my ex’s as they couldn’t stay here.

This picture taken yesterday by a resident shows a door propped open with a bag of rubbish.

"I had a visit from someone who works in the council and he told me he would phone me yesterday with an update and he never did and still nothing. The communication and poor service from Thurrock Council is a shambles and seriously needs looking into, clearly our lives are not worth anything to the council.

"This could have been avoided, they are quick enough to put up our rent and surcharges to cover maintenance and groundworks but never actually do anything."

Riverside ward councillor Cllr Martin Kerin stepped into action overnight and this morning reported he had managed to put the residents in touch with the council's housing team who had promised support.

He was scathing of the council's lack of coordinated support and the patchwork issue of accommodation, saying: "The cases I am getting on this morning (Monday, 27, December) appear to be get responses.

"However, it shouldn’t have to take me doing this to get responses for my residents. The council should be sending officers door-to-door to check on everyone!"

The smoke-stained chute room on the first floor.

Thurrock Nub News visited the building this morning and were shown around by a resident who told us that when the fire broke out there had been no alarm.

He told us: "The first I knew was when I smelled smoke and went out on the landing and saw smoke coming out of the bins chute area. The doors were actually propped open by bags of rubbish.

"I was in my flat with my family at the time. We were clearly being out in danger but thankfully we were able to leave the building before the fire brigade arrived.

"There are always problems with the alarms. We were left without power and as far as I have seen, no one has been in yet to fix it or mend the alarm."

Nub News editor Neil Speight filmed the alarm panel this morning, which was emitting a loud noise and the fault light was flashing. "Clearly this cannot be acceptable. To leave a building of this size occupied with a faulty fire alarm system is totally unacceptable, it must border on being a criminal offence," he says.

A sole UK Networks worker arrived on site at 11.10am today.

As he completed his visit to the block, around 11.15am, an engineer from UK power networks arrived on the scene.

Mr Speight identified himself to the worker who said that his brief was to ascertain what the problems in the building were. He was on his own but was expecting work teams when he had completed his assessment.

However, he was thwarted in his efforts to start work as the room he needed to get into was, in his words, 'locked and chained'.

He said: "I can't get in to check anything. It was supposed to be open for us. I can't get in until someone from the council comes and opens it up. And I need the charts showing where the supply is."

When Mr Speight suggested the repairs effort was shambolic and uncoordinated he just shrugged his shoulders and said: "I couldn't comment on that."

A statement from UK Power Networks told Nub News today: "UK Power Networks were contacted just after midday on Sunday 26th December to attend the New Road area of Grays following reports of a problem with the electricity supply.

"Our engineers remain on site assisting with the safe repairs of the electricity network. Our customer support vehicle has been on site offering assistance to impacted residents today (Monday 27th December)."

At 7.40 this evening (Monday) some tenants were told that power had been restored to the flats - but this has turned out to be a false dawn for some of the residents, some of whom now face a second night in hotel accommodation, while others are being offered the chance to move out to a Premier Inn!

A council officer has reported, at 9.30pm, that 'electricity is yet to be restored to any of the flats affected by the fire. Tenants have been offered placements in the Premier Inn for tonight'.

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