Is the O2 Development Safe?

Public Safety and security 

“Feeling safe” was stated as a primary goal in the Safety Zoom Meeting consultation with Landsec before the application was submitted and it’s a key concern in the design of the congested O2 scheme but ‘feeling’ safe does not mean that residents will be safe on the site.

Statements from the Landsec application 2022/0528/P –

  • “Natural surveillance across the landscape is a core feature within the design with building footprints shifted to increase surveillance over the linear park during the masterplan evolution and ground floor uses (including cafes and retail outlets) offering passive surveillance.
  • Additionally positioning of windows and balconies has been considered to improve natural surveillance over children’s play areas.
  • The main movement networks across the proposals have been designed with clear visibility, lighting and good sight lines alongside the creation of active spaces.”

The safety and security sightlines diagram (shown above) is unhelpful as it fails to show the perspective in relation to the ground. In fact, at heights above 5 storeys, sight lines to the ground are limited and surveillance from that level upwards is unreliable as residents in the buildings will not routinely be at their windows nor will the ground be clearly visible.

This is also true in terms of amenity for families. Parents are likely to be unable or unwilling to supervise children in play areas from balconies in flats on higher floors. In fact, there is evidence from the GLA Planning and Regeneration Committee that: ‘…rooftop play in a tall building is problematic because of microclimatic conditions and difficulty with supervision. In the past the Committee has recommended family sized homes to be located no higher than on 5th storey… and that consideration should be given to design of access and surveillance of children’s play space and amenity space for children, specifically to amplify C1.4.2 in relation to tall buildings.

In case of Emergency?

No systematic patrols are indicated and the alarm points are linked not to the police but to a single concierge post on the site, in one building and relying on CCTV. There are hidden, unsupervised corners all over the site which cannot be fully lit and the application Environment statements contain minimum information about this vital safety consideration in a cramped, high rise setting after 11pm at night

Statements from the Landsec application 2022/0528/P – in italics

Environment statement Vol 1

a) 4.11.1 An integrated lighting strategy will ensure that the public realm is safe and accessible after dark. Light levels will be specified in accordance with the relevant standards including BS 5489-1:2013 and ILE Guidance

The latest Crime Statistics for West Hampstead put Violence and Sexual Offences at 20% – second place only to Anti-Social Behaviour. This is an alarming statistic and the Landsec proposal would do well to make more ambitious lighting and security provisions.

 b) “The security of the Proposed Development will benefit from continuous public presence in well-lit, monitored, non-threatening spaces and the provision of a high-quality, well-maintained environment which people respect and in which people behave appropriately.”

Claiming an environment will be ‘well-maintained’, for which no test can be made from this theoretical application, does not alone compel people to ‘behave appropriately’.

c) It is anticipated that the commercial aspects of the Development will close before the Institution of Lighting Engineers (ILE) guidance curfew time of 11pm.

If, after 11pm there is no continuous retail activity and it is unlikely to be reliable ‘continuous public presence’ -how will site-wide monitoring be managed? Will contact with services to access urgent or emergency help be prioritised? Will any staff be trained in First Aid?

Fire Safety

The Fire Statement in the application is generic and lacks detailed reference to height but makes a very significant point:

‘All blocks within the buildings are served by single staircases which will be 1200mm wide and are therefore compliant as per guidance in BS 9991’

Detailed Planning Application : first Construction Phase

N3-E, N4 and N5 (coloured dark and light orange and yellow). The N3-E block consists of 10 storeys. The N4 and N5 buildings are each split into four blocks, A-D. The N4 A, B and C plots comprise a single building that has between 9 and 14 storeys (the connection between N4-A and N4-C has 8 storeys. N4-D has 10 storeys. N5 A, C and D plots comprise a single building that have between 9 and 15 storeys (the connection between N5-A and N5-C has 8 storeys. N5-B has 10 storeys.

Landsec’s application is said to conform to BS9991.  This is technically true but short-sighted. The revised edition of BS 9991 Fire safety in the design, management and use of residential buildings, published in draft format in August 2021 proposes significant change to the design of single stair residential buildings.

The smoke ventilation arrangements in case of fire are also of concern. Current guidance states that ‘Residential buildings with a floor level above 18m – (5-6 storeys) with a single stair should be provided with a pressurization system (in accordance with BSEN12101-6), protecting the staircase, firefighting lift shaft and lobby.

The fire safety strategy in the O2 construction uses smoke shafts rather than a pressurization differential system (PDS), ‘to provide smoke ventilation in escape stairs, common lobbies and corridors in residential buildings – as required by Approved Document B and recommended… if the building is residential, taller than 18m and the new draft of BS 9991 is being followed.’ These changes should force building designers to reconsider their approach. Whilst some developments may proceed with a single stair design, provision of a pressurization system would add an extra level of safety that would maintain a smoke free stair in the event of a fire There is no mention of such a system for any of the single staircase buildings in the Hoare Lea fire statement for Landsec’s scheme of 8-16 story towers.

Stay-put

‘Where a stay-put strategy has been designed into a proposal, the Fire Statement should include additional measures that have been engineered and designed into the proposal in the event that either; the asset fails to successfully deliver on the stay-put strategy, or, residents decide to evacuate the building. For this purpose, in addition to recommendations made within the chosen design code(s), further passive and active measures may be provided…the applicant should provide clear details within the Fire Statement. Where lifts have been proposed in a development, London Plan Policy D5 (B5) requires a minimum of one lift per core to be an evacuation lift. The provision of evacuation lifts may be utilized to propose alternative evacuation methods to mitigate the risks involved with any failure of the stay-put strategy.” from the London Plan  – “High-rise residential development proposal with a ‘stay-put’ design strategy

N.B. Thames Water has reported additional concerns about providing even sufficient water pressure on the site for residents. How would resources in a major fire be managed?  There is little detail in the statement in terms of more complex evacuation demands, a secure water supply or access to flats at higher levels should the proposed smoke ventilation fail.

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