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Experts criticise £2.4m HQ refit

The Government department in charge of the fire service has been condemned by safety experts over a £2.4 million headquarters refit which increased the risk of a serious blaze, it was revealed.

A "crown enforcement notice" was served on then communities and local government (CLG) secretary John Denham in February after an inspection found a series of "significant" failings in the department building.

They included inadequate staff training, "no evidence" of extinguishers being tested, an insufficient fire-risk assessment and "no adequate arrangements" to account for visitors.

But some of the most serious concerns resulted from work on the atrium at CLG's Eland House building in London - which included the installation of £135,000-worth of designer sofas. The refit - which also saw more than £72,000 spent on built-in, two-storey "peace pods" - has already been condemned by incoming coalition ministers as a waste of taxpayers' money.

But Fire Services Minister Bob Neill said the assessment showed it could also pose a serious safety risk to the 2,000 staff working there, accusing Labour of "shocking" failures.

The enforcement notice - issued by CLG's chief fire and rescue adviser Terry Martin - warned the refit had "resulted in the building being unlikely to perform as it was designed in the event of a fire and may lead to uncontrolled fire spread throughout the building".

Mr Martin also said the building was now "unable to support a phased evacuation" and gave Mr Denham until April 16 to remedy the failures.

Mr Neill said the requirements had all now been met and the enforcement notice signed off.

"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," he said. "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."


From Belfast Telegraph