Disabled high-rise residents feel let down over evacuation plans – campaigner

A failure to bring in a legal requirement around evacuation plans following the Grenfell Tower fire is said to have left disabled people feeling disheartened, vulnerable and “totally let down”, a campaigner has said.

Recommendations to the Government five years ago following phase one of the inquiry into the fatal 2017 blaze included that the owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings be required by law to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans (Peeps) for residents unable to self-evacuate.

But, following a consultation, the Government said in 2022 that, despite widespread support for Peeps, there remained what it described as significant barriers to implementing them, on the grounds of proportionality, practicality, and safety.

Disability campaigner Adam Gabsi said people feel let down and vulnerable without Peeps (Adam Gabsi/Handout/PA)
Disability campaigner Adam Gabsi said people feel vulnerable without evacuation plans in place (Adam Gabsi/Handout/PA)

Disability campaigner Adam Gabsi said he believed costs to landlords were the issue and called on the next government to implement the recommendations, insisting Peeps should be “standard stuff”.

Mr Gabsi, the Inclusion London co-chair, told the PA news agency: “Personal emergency evacuation plans are integral and should’ve been implemented by now.”

As a wheelchair user living on the sixth floor, he said he had to “shout” to get a Peep, after the lifts in his building were not working for more than 100 days over a two-year period.

“As a wheelchair user I couldn’t escape. The lift is now fire-safe.”

Mr Gabsi said he believed his own evacuation plan had only been put in place due to the fact he had the platform to speak out and had gone to the media.

“You shouldn’t have to be chair of Inclusion London, chair of HAD (Harrow Association of Disabled People) to get a Peep in place,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to shout as loud as I had to shout.”

Disabled people left without Peeps are feeling “incredibly disheartened” and “vulnerable”, he said.

He added: “How can a landlord put a value on my tenancy but no value on my life? It’s something that doesn’t make sense to me. How do I have increased service charge but not increased service? I’m paying a service charge for what?

“I think disabled people, on the whole, feel totally let down.”

Last summer, Claddag, which campaigns on fire safety issues facing disabled residents, lost a High Court fight over the recommendations not being implemented.

The judge said while campaigners must have been “desperately” disappointed that the recommendations had not been taken forward, the decision was “essentially a political decision” and “not unlawful”.

Meanwhile, campaign group End Our Cladding Scandal called on the next government to “get a grip” on the process of making buildings safe including speeding up remediation works and setting “clear deadlines” so “all parties are held to account and face real consequences for delays”.

Government figures at the end of April showed that of the 4,336 residential buildings 11 metres or higher that had been identified in England with unsafe cladding, less than a quarter (991) had completed remediation works while less than half (1,975) had started or completed such works.

The Conservative election manifesto has pledged to “continue our support for leaseholders affected by historic building safety problems by requiring the continuation of developer-funded remediation programmes for mid- and high-rise buildings”.

Labour vowed “decisive action to improve building safety, including through regulation, to ensure we never again see a repeat of the Grenfell fire”.

The Fire Brigades Union said there has been a failure “to implement adequate safety measures” and called on the next government to “end the crime of deregulation, with proper standards and oversight of building materials, design and evacuation plans”.