Fury inflamed by poison gas leak on crumbling Herne Hill estate

By Will Brook

Tensions between residents and their landlord worsened yesterday, Tuesday, after a dangerous gas leak caused residents to evacuate their homes.

Firefighters attended Dorchester Court, Herne Hill, and 50 families fled their flats amid fears of a carbon monoxide leak.

A London Fire Brigade spokesman confirmed the leak was from a faulty boiler and that the firefighters’ poison gas readings rose.

Two men and two women were checked by paramedics but no serious injuries were reported and fire crews left after 97 minutes.

Resident Sally Beck said: “Everyone was very concerned that they might be in danger – and that they haven’t received proper information from the managing agent.

“One resident joked ‘they are trying to kill us in our beds,’ and somebody else said ‘yeah, and they can’t even do that properly.’

“I think you can safely say our relationship with the landlord is terrible. We’ve been waiting for major repairs since I moved in, in 1999.”

A complaint was originally made by resident Ayla Savaskan on Sunday (October17), who could smell gas.

An engineer from SGN (formerly Southern Gas Network) ran checks on Sunday but no significant action was taken.

This incident comes after decades-long tensions between Dorchester Court Tenants’ Union and landlord Manaquel Ltd, which is owned by property tycoon Heinrich Feldman, valued at £200million on the Sunday Times Rich List.

Residents previously protested in May over alleged negligence on the maintenance of the property, and pleaded for rent reductions during the coronavirus pandemic.

They have repeatedly demanded vital repairs to the blocks, with regular hot water and heating breakdowns, as well as mould and vermin.

Residents were angered at the initial response to the gas leak by managing agent Property Planners, who allegedly told residents by phone that “everything was fine” – while families fled their homes.

An email sent by Property Planners to residents at 2.09pm on Tuesday, shortly before emergency services arrived said: “We have just been advised by the consultants and the company appointed by them to replace the boilers that there is an issue with the temporary boilers which are currently supplying heat and hot water to the estate.

“This may lead to a partial reduction of service tonight.

“We apologise for any potential inconvenience and are working with the consultants and engineers this afternoon to come to a resolution.”

An email update was sent to residents just before 5pm saying an investigation was underway, and that anyone with symptoms like headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting “should reach out to a paramedic for assistance.”

One resident, Michael Morgan, said: “I was told by one of the attending officers that there was an illegal level of carbon monoxide registered on one of their monitors in the middle of the Court.  My flat had no hot water or heating throughout the afternoon; not surprising if the boilers had been turned off.”

A spokesman for SGN said: “We were called to Dorchester Court following reports of a smell of gas.

“Our engineers quickly attended, in our capacity as the national gas emergency service, to make the situation safe by isolating the gas supply to a temporary boiler unit.

“We then liaised with the property management company to pass on our findings so they can arrange for repairs.”

Property Planners spokesman Daniel Cusack said: “When the Southern Gas Network engineer approached the temporary boiler room his CO alarm was activated.

“We asked him what CO level had been detected but he would not say.

“We advised that we are Gas Certified and his readings were around 30 ppm which is well below the allowable limit.

“The SGN engineers and Boiler Sure Hire engineers could not find anything wrong in the temporary boiler room.

“The Sure Hire Engineer re-calibrated the boiler burners and measured the CO in the vicinity and it was at acceptable levels.”

Residents were evacuated in similar circumstances over a decade ago when a workman smashed a calorifier in the basement and a block filled with chlorine fumes.



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