Council faces the heat in fire escape row

A COUNCIL has been blasted for its actions during a three-year saga to fix a fence that threatened to obstruct a crucial fire escape.

Staff at the Dunmow Arts Centre have been eager to carry out excavation work for months to ensure that the exit route remains clear for the 100-plus people on average who use the building every day.

However, a wooden fence, owned by Uttlesford District Council (UDC) had fallen into disrepair and was only held up by string, weeds and a hedge. It fell once the foliage was cleared.

Centre manager Jacky Rom had notified the council of the work, which she has to undertake to fulfil fire-risk assessments.

“It is crazy and very dangerous,” she said. “I have a legal obligation to make sure the fire escape is clear and we had to do the work. We told the council that the fence would fall down but they dragged their heels and told us it was too expensive to put up a new one.”

Mrs Rom and her neighbours from Dunmow Motor Services called and e-mailed the council including a final e-mail warning of the work, sent to chief executive John Mitchell on June 16 this year.

The council responded by fitting posts but only to half of the fence. When the foliage was cleared by probation workers on June 29 the remaining parts collapsed.

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In a statement, UDC appeared to shift the blame back towards the centre, but agreed to look into the possibility of erecting a new fence.

“Uttlesford District Council was informed in June that its fence, near to where its land meets the Dunmow arts centre’s land, was in need of repair,” said a spokesman. “This fence was not a boundary fence, but was set well inside the council’s property.

“The council responded to this by inserting new fencepost stakes, new posts, and straightening the fence.

However, excavation work carried out on the arts centre’s land, not by the council, adjacent to the fence led to part of it collapsing.

“Having spoken to the landowner, the council is now looking to erect a new fence, this time on the actual boundary. Discussions on this are ongoing.”

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