Housing Association flats to be demolished over safety concerns

The residents of a converted tower block in Harlow, Essex, have been “shocked” to learn that their homes will be demolished.

Following ongoing concerns over fire safety defects at the former 1960s office building, the owners of Joseph Rank House, Places for People, reportedly sent out letters to over 130 residences, informing them of their intention to demolish the entire building.

In the letter, the housing association stated that “no longer meets the standards we expect of our properties”.

As reported by Inside Housing, the building, which is close to Princess Alexandra Hospital and is reportedly home to a number of hospital staff, saw a flat fire break out in 2020. At the time, it was found that smoke had spread between the apartments.

Further investigations found that the external walls and internal compartmentation did not comply with current fire safety standards. A number of fire safety improvements were introduced following the fire, including the installation of a new sprinkler and alarm system – prior to this, a “temporary waking watch” had been implemented. In spite of these efforts, Places for People admitted that these improvements were only “mitigating measures” as opposed to “permanent solutions”:

Residents will be aware that we have regularly sought advice from Essex County Fire and Rescue Service on how to reduce the risk of fire.

Although Places for People is confident the measures implemented as a result of this work will act as mitigations and give early warning should a fire occur, they cannot be considered a permanent solution to this property’s specific challenges,” a spokesperson said.

Following extensive consultation with experts and surveyors, we have reached the difficult decision that Joseph Rank House no longer meets the standards we expect of our properties. We have explored all alternative options, but the only viable conclusion is to close with view to demolish the building in due course.

In a statement released on 26 January 2023, Harlow Council confirmed that it had been in talks with Places for People on the best approach to support the residents affected.

"We were made aware of the situation regarding Joseph Rank House last week. This meeting was requested by Places to People so they could let us know of their intentions and that they would be communicating with the residents,” a council spokesperson said.

"We have since been in further discussion with Places for People regarding supporting those affected. They have assured us that they will be doing everything they can to work with all residents individually to support them into new housing. In the first instance, residents should contact Places for People directly to arrange individual discussions.

"We understand that this news is concerning for the residents of Joseph Rank House, and we will continue to work closely with Places for People. We will provide necessary support where appropriate for those who need assistance from us regarding their housing situation and are already in discussion with Places for People on this matter.

"This process is going to take a number of months so there is no immediate change to anybody's housing situation at Joseph Rank House.

"No discussions have taken place on the future of the site. The priority is to support all residents and ensure they are adequately re-homed. Any further regeneration that takes place on the site will be carried out in line with the wider Town Centre Masterplan.

"This decision by Places for People is separate to their work in their capacity as a Harlow and Gilston Garden Town developer."

One concerned resident told Your Harlow:

This has been a total shock. I have been renting here for a number of years and want to stay. They did a lot of improvements to the building a couple of years ago but that was quite cosmetic. There has not been a single clue that this was going to happen.”

Places for People have shared their intention to work with residents on an individual basis to support them in their re-housing. A spokesperson for the housing association added:

We understand that this is not an easy situation for residents in the short term. Right now, our priority is assisting our customers, and we have started speaking to those affected to discuss housing needs on a one-to-one basis, including how we can work with them and our partners to find new homes with as little disruption as possible. We will then provide an update on the delivery of our plan for Joseph Rank House in the coming months.”