General News

Green councillors ask questions of Council following Genfell tragedy

Besi Besemar June 16, 2017


Following the fire at the Grenfell Tower Block in London, the Green Group of Councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council, ask 12 questions of the administration.

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty

Convenor of the Green Group of Councillors, Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, said: “Seeing the heart breaking scenes in West London, we are asking 12 questions of the Executive Director Neighbourhoods, Communities and Housing, Larissa Reid and the Chair of the Housing Committee, Councillor Anne Meadows to ensure such horror doesn’t happen here in Brighton and Hove. We are asking questions about inspections, regulation of our own stock, audits and all of the measures taken by the City Council and the Fire and Rescue Service to avoid such horror. The so-called ‘red tape’ that the Conservative government has been adamant about cutting.

“Only this afternoon the government launched an urgent audit to find out details of the tower blocks councils and housing associations own- because clearly they don’t even have this basic information. We back the call from the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) for fire sprinklers to be fitted in all new-build homes, in all tower blocks and all care homes.

“There have been repeat warnings- from tenants and Councillors. Had they been listened to some if not many of the problems could have been prevented. We would never want these scenes repeated here and will keep the pressure up so that every step is taken to ensure residents’ safety is paramount.”

Councillor David Gibson
Councillor David Gibson

Councillor David Gibson, Green Group of Councillors Spokesperson on Housing, added: “My heart goes out the many people and their families who have suffered in the horrendous fire in Kensington. It is awful to think that this may have happened because lessons from previous tragedies have not been heeded. The City Council now must reassure residents by rigorous fire safety checking, by making available comprehensive details of the materials used to clad their blocks publically available and by developing an urgent plan to rectify any deficiencies identified or deficiencies emerging in the light of learning from the Kensington tragedy.

“The government must ensure more rigorous fire safety standards and inspection as a matter of law at the earliest opportunity. Instead of forcing councils to use tenants’ rents to subsidise the housing association Right to Buy, they need to make available the necessary resources as a matter of urgency to ensure councils can make all their tower blocks fire safe.”

Questions to Executive Director Neighbourhoods, Communities and Housing, Larissa Reid and the Chair of the Housing Committee, Councillor Anne Meadows, from the Green Group of Councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council.

Dear Anne and Larissa,

We first of all want to thank you and officers for the work that you have pursued with other agencies including East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and your help with queries from anxious tenants in the last few days from the truly horrible scenes at Grenfell Tower in West London. We also would like to welcome the letter which officers have delivered to all Council tenants.

We understand that the investigation into the causes of the awful incident at Grenfell Tower will take a prolonged period but we wanted to flag a series of urgent questions now:

♦ We appreciate that there is a roll-out of sprinkler systems at potentially two further high rise blocks in the city following on from Somerset Point senior housing scheme last year. What work has been done to ascertain its suitability in other lower rise blocks? Do you support the call from the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) for fire sprinklers to be fitted not only in all tower blocks but also in all new-build homes and care homes?

♦ Apart from sprinkler systems what other fire suppression systems have been considered by BHCC?

♦ If the ‘stay put’ policy is adhered to in high rise blocks, it relies wholly on a fire resistant exterior of the block as well as the presence of fire doors (resistant to fire for up to half an hour). Have all blocks had the ‘stay put’ policy tested with the most up to date building methodologies and methods if necessary?

♦ We are to understand that 20 out of 40 tower blocks are clad. Can we see the Fire Safety Certificates for each block reassured?

♦ In terms of routine fire risk assessments, the Fire Safety Order 2005 relates to fire safety in communal areas. In BHCC-owned blocks the duty is on BHCC to ensure that a risk assessment is carried out to identify hazards and risks, and remove and reduce these as far as possible. What is the timetable for these assessments? How often does each block have an inspection?

♦ The 2010 Building Regulations Approved Document B on fire safety covers means of escape, fire alarms, fire spread, and access and facilities for fire and rescue services. As it is the responsibility of anyone carrying out building work to ensure compliance with the regulations, can you inform us if either you or contractors with yourselves directly or with Mears have had reason to believe work in blocks has not complied with the regulations? When did BHCC last have to issue an enforcement notice for failure to comply with the regulations for work on tower block housing? One of the criticisms emerging from Grenfell Tower is that emergency lighting didn’t come on- when did BHCC blocks last have emergency lighting checked? And how often are these checks undertaken?

♦ More broadly, in the absence of a review of Document B (which transpired after the Lakanal House tragedy in 2009), what is custom and practice for BHCC in this area?

♦ Up until clarity is assured on a regulatory review providing adequate fire provisions in all tower blocks, would you support a call for blocks to be checked weekly?

♦ How often are fire alarms being checked- especially in high rise blocks? Most offices have weekly fire alarm /mitigations systems tested every week- are Brighton and Hove’s tower blocks?

♦ After the 3 incidents in high rise blocks in as many years in Brighton and Hove- which sadly included a fatality- what lessons has Brighton and Hove City Council taken from any reports and discussions with East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and Sussex Police?

♦ In the absence of any standing arrangements through BHCCC are tenants clear that East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service will fit smoke alarms free of charge and assist tenants in creating an escape plan?

♦ Will there be an audit of materials used for extensions and renovations on our own stock? Certain cladding materials used in Grenfell have been banned in the USA and in Europe. For any ongoing and future work on the provision of cladding, will there be a cast iron assurance on the use of fire-resistant materials only? Where Councillors make decisions relating to the refurbishment of stock for example on the Housing and Planning Committees will information regarding provision of fire-resistant materials be supplied?

In terms of the necessary conversation between the City Council and the Department for Communities and Local Government in the days and weeks ahead, will you back our call that:

♦ Government should immediately commission a regulatory review of the UKs 4,000 tower blocks to ensure the safety of residents;

♦ As well as providing adequate fire provisions in all tower blocks, a regulatory review would be proportionate for blocks to be checked weekly

♦ We have health, education and social care regulators. Is the tragedy of Grenfell Tower not now the time for a housing regulator?

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty