‘Like Stalag 13’

No Caption ABCDE
No Caption ABCDE

Old folk living in sheltered housing across Dacorum are joining the backlash against a a health and safety ruling which has forced them to strip communal areas of pretty pictures and other homely touches.

Council chiefs have defended the stand and insist they are not being bureaucratic for the sake of it.

But pensioners are rallying around 89-year-old widower Robert Alexander, of Hollytree Court in St Albans Road, Hemel Hempstead, after he spoke out against the policy.

His views were first published in the Gazette’s sister paper, the HeraldExpress, and on our www.hemeltoday.co.uk website last week – and since then pensioners have been adding their weight to the argument against strict fire rules.

Fellow Hollytree Court tenant Jacqueline Boore, who has been there with husband Jack for 13 years, has likened where she lives to prisoner of war camp Stalag 13.

The 84-year-old said when the couple first moved in it was like a hotel with “soft music playing, two easy chairs, flowers on a coffee table, great pictures on the walls, little nick-nacks, pot plants on window sills – all looked after by the residents.”

But she said things started to go downhill when council chiefs banned them from putting up Christmas decorations in communal areas three years ago.

Mrs Boore said: “Anyone thinking of giving up their house to come into sheltered accommodation, don’t do it. Stay where you are not dictated to, and not treated like children.”

The council’s tenants and leaseholders group manager Andy Vincent said: “We are not being bureaucratic for the sake of it or killjoys – incidents elsewhere in the country have shown that any obstructions in corridors become dangerous when fires start and smoke makes visibility zero.”

He said there have been a number of devastating fires in high rise flats, including, Shirley Towers in Southampton in 2010, which claimed the lives of two firefighters, 2009’s Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, which killed six and the Harrow Court blaze in Stevenage in 2005, which caused the deaths of two firefighters and a woman. One of the firemen was discovered entangled in cables in the lobby outside homes on the 14th floor.

Mr Vincent said: “We work with the fire service and the organisation who undertake our fire risk assessments to identify and reduce fire risks. The Clear Landings Policy was reviewed in 2011 and we have been working to ensure its implementation since. Reminders regarding the policy have been contained within each edition of our tenants newsletter since 2011.

“Some risks in relation to trip hazards and combustible material have recently been identified by our fire risk assessments and therefore we are taking the necessary action to reduce the risks that these items pose.”

The borough council has pointed readers to an online recording of the BBC’s One Show, which features comedian Arthur Smith and highlights the dangers of objects in hallways when trying to escape during a fire. Watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ci-JrhZMddU&feature=youtu.be