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Fire safety hazard at DCLG of Denham's "death pods"

Government Ministers have revealed that they have taken swift action to tackle an enforcement notice issued against John Denham, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Department for Communities and Local Government issued a legal notice against its own Minister for breaking fire safety rules. The Department is the lead government body for fire safety and the fire services.

In February 2010, the Department issued a ‘Crown Enforcement Notice’ against the John Denham, for breaking fire regulations in his department’s HQ in Eland House, Victoria. This followed a safety inspection in November 2009 by fire staff employed by the Department; steps had not been taken to follow through on that November inspection.

The fire safety inspector warned John Denham that:

  • a refurbishment of the atrium was dangerous and could ‘lead to uncontrolled fire-spread throughout the building’;
  • a ‘fire risk assessment has not been adequately updated’;
  • ‘smoke vents for the clearing of smoke on each floor are not being properly maintained’;
  • ‘there is currently no cleaning regime of the extraction ducting serving the main kitchen within the ground floor restaurant’;
  • fire marshals had not been appointed; and
  • the ‘building is unable to support a phased evacuation’ due to the
    atrium changes.

Two thousand staff are based in Eland House, and were thus at risk. This atrium refurbishment was part of John Denham’s £2.4 million refit of his department which controversially included buying 28 luxury red sofas from Parisian designers, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, at a cost of £134,503, and building two-storey ‘peace pods’ located in the fire-risk atrium at a cost of £72,614.

New Ministers have now implemented all of the recommendations made by the fire inspectors (sprinklers are on course to be installed), and the Crown Enforcement Notice has been signed off by the fire safety specialists.

Bob Neill, Minister for the Fire Services, said:

“It was the height of hypocrisy for the Labour Government in charge of fire regulations to break them in such a shocking and dangerous way.John Denham’s so-called ‘peace pods’ were potential ‘death pods’.

“Since learning of the Crown Enforcement Notice we inherited from Labour Ministers, I have made it my priority to resolve this issue and practice what we preach. The new Government is committed to high standards of fire safety and we’ve now put our own house in order.”


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