H&F Council “working on” plans for sprinklers in tower blocks

On Tuesday I wrote about how none of the tallest 40 council blocks in Hammersmith and Fulham have sprinklers

I am pleased that an update from the Council says:

“We are working on plans to install sprinkler systems in all our tower blocks.”

Of course that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. How is a tower block defined? When will the sprinklers be installed? Can the phrase”working on plans” be taken as a pledge to actually do anything?

But as an initial statement that is encouraging.

Grenfell Fire update

London Councils has issued the following briefing:

The Grenfell Fire Response Team has been set up to support residents affected by the fire. This includes London-wide local and regional government, central government, British Red Cross, Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade.

The Grenfell Fire Response Team is being led by John Barradell, OBE, Chief Executive of Corporation of London, and a Gold Command Centre has been set up to manage the response.

We are working hard to put in place support and services for those affected by the fire. This leaflet has been distributed in the area around Grenfell Tower to signpost information about the support available.

The purpose of this update is to provide you with our latest information on the response. You will now receive regular updates in this way. Please feel free to pass this on to other people who may find it useful.

Housing

We have offered emergency hotel accommodation in the local area to everyone who needs it. To date 140 hotel placements have been made for people living in Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk. There are also 109 additional households now in hotels from the wider affected area.

Work is now taking place to assess the housing needs of all Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk families to identify longer-term accommodation in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and neighbouring boroughs. So far 110 assessments have been completed.

Housing numbers across Grenfell Tower, Grenfell Walk and the Cordon area.

There are 249 households in emergency accommodation.
130 keyworkers are supporting people affected.

Some families from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk have not had their housing needs assessed yet. We have contacted them and are trying urgently to engage them in the assessment process.

19 viewings are taking place for families to view houses we have offered to date.

68 new build flats as part of the Kensington Road development in the borough will be provided to re-house residents from Grenfell Tower. These will be ready by end July 2017.

Financial assistance

As of 12pm on June 21 £675,200 has been distributed to affected families.

This is made up of a £500 cash payments and £5,000 delivered through DWP into bank accounts or similar in a single payment, along with discretionary payments made by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

51 households have been given the £5,000 payments so far.

Further support

There are a range of support services available in the Assistance Centre. This includes housing needs, emergency funds, health, social care services, experienced volunteers from the Red Cross and other organisations, food and above all, a kind and sympathetic team of people ready to provide advice on anything.

Every household whose home has been destroyed as a result of the fire will receive a guaranteed £5,500 initial emergency payment from the £5m discretionary fund. This will be made up of a £500 cash payment and £5,000 delivered through DWP into bank accounts or similar in a single payment.

British Red Cross is coordinating and providing assistance. Red Cross personnel and volunteers have been on site 24 hours a day since early Wednesday.  They are undertaking outreach work to find people who need help and we have also asked them to be at airports to meet grieving relatives as they arrive. They can also help distribute donations that have poured in from the public.

A Red Cross helpline is in action to help give practical or emotional support to anyone who needs it and capacity of this is being expanded to give people a central point of contact.
The number is 0800 458 9472.

Air Quality

Public health advice following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Public Health England (PHE) has been providing specialist advice on health following the Grenfell Tower fire one week ago. This includes health advice on air quality, smoke exposure, asbestos, and the clean-up process.

Dr Deborah Turbitt, health protection director for PHE in London, said:

“We have been assessing air quality over the past week in relation to the Grenfell Tower fire and this shows no detectable deterioration in air quality and our advice is that the wider risk to people’s health as a result of the fire, beyond those directly affected, is minimal.

“People who were close to the scene last week and exposed to smoke from the fire may have experienced irritation to their air passages, skin and eyes, and respiratory symptoms including coughing and wheezing, breathlessness, phlegm production and chest pain. People who have ongoing concerns about their symptoms should call NHS 111 for medical advice.

“We know that bound asbestos, contained in building materials such as plaster or fibre board, was present in Grenfell Tower in ceilings and header panels inside airing cupboards. It is possible that very small amounts of asbestos fibres will have been dispersed within the smoke plume but would have formed only a small fraction of the smoke and particles released in the fire; all smoke is toxic and any asbestos would present a minimal additional risk to health.

“Asbestos related diseases are typically associated with a long term workplace exposure to high levels of airborne asbestos fibres.

“Safety officers working with teams currently on the site have tested the air within Grenfell Tower for dust and asbestos and have not detected any levels of concern. When work commences to clear the site there will be a system of engineering work that will prevent any asbestos being released from the site and a programme of regular environmental air monitoring conducted to ensure that both contractors and local residents are not put at any risk.”

Frequently asked questions

Are people being in emergency housing being put in tower blocks?

No. People are being temporarily housed in hotel accommodation in or close to the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

Are people living in parks?

We are not aware of anybody living in parks and there is no need for people to be living in parks if that is the case we would urge people to come to the Westway Sports Centre so we can help with their housing needs.

Is anyone being threatened to be made intentionally homeless?

No. We are assessing everyone’s housing needs and ensuring they are met. No one is being forced into housing they don’t want. We will continue to work with everyone until we find them an offer of housing that they accept.

Are people moving a long way out of the borough?

This is not true.  We have endeavoured to keep accommodation as local as possible, and we completely accept residents’ wishes to remain close to the community.

Jackie Pemberton: All lives matter – urgent action is needed to prevent another fire tragedy

A guest post from Jackie Pemberton

Like most around the country I have shed tears for those who have died in the Grenfell Tower fire. We feel anger and rage for why it happened and we feel  total respect for our Fire Service heroes and heroines along with more anger that those who survived were left in such utter chaos because of a lack of organisation by those who should have been at the front ensuring that the suffering was not added to.

What we don’t feel is that lessons should go unheeded and lives lost in vain.  The blame game is in full swing but what we need is action. Action to take control and make the changes that need changing, not now, not later, but immediately. ALL PARTIES and councils across London and elsewhere,  were warned about these very real dangers years ago, advice was given to install sprinklers and alarms in old high rise apartments, but those words of wisdom fell on deaf ears.

Why? I’m sure costs were cited as one reason but all of us know that so much money is wasted by our individual councils on various projects and unnecessary, needless things, whilst more important matters were put aside This is public money, everyone’s money, being spent, maybe it is time the public are asked what they feel this money should be spent on and we are all given a full account of where this money is actually going.  It was quite clear that around the country people have been shocked in finding out that monies are not spent wisely and questions are now being asked.

This should not be brushed under the carpet, all councils and governments should take a collective responsibility to ensure that changes are made and stop blaming each other, all have been remiss in airing their concerns or putting into practice what really needed to be done.  They can start by ensuring that Fire Risk Assessments are up to date and that these are put online for public scrutiny – at least the public can then make their own decisions on whether they feel safe enough to ‘stay put’, get out or protest to their local Councils,  at the lack of safety features where they live.

More transparency all around is needed.  Remember THEY WORK FOR YOU – if this is the case why is so much hidden?  The quicker actions are put into place to ensure that everything possible really is being done to ensure that this type of tragedy does not happen again, the less chance that we will have to be asking the same questions, yet again, in the future.

As a result of this fire and the Shepherds Bush fire, I have started to scrutinize what is happening in blocks in my own area, and feel that questions need to be asked over concerns around our own high rise apartments – it is not only cladding but panels that are questionable as to their safety and reports are taking far too long to be followed through on – perhaps we should all take the time to start raising concerns!

ALL LIVES MATTER, let’s see that they really do and that those who have lost their lives have not lost them in vain

We urgently need sprinklers installed in H&F council housing blocks – currently there are none

The Grenfell Tower tragedy has obviously resulted in an outpouring of grief and compassion from residents in Hammersmith and Fulham to those in our neighbouring borough. It is also prompted fears from many residents in council blocks about their own safety.

The investigation of what happened in the Grenfell Tower will be important and will take time. Yet surely there is already enough evidence to make installing sprinklers an urgent priority?

I have asked for an update on this and a range of related concerns. But I’m afraid the situation is no likely to have changed since two years ago when the Council responded to a Freedom of Information request on the matter. It asked for a list of “residential high-rise tower blocks” owned by the Council. It defined high rise as 18 metres or above. The C0uncil interpreted that as properties over six floors and gave the following list of 40 blocks:

ASHCROFT SQUARE Primark (D) Kings Street W6 0JH-W
BARCLAY CLOSE Fulham Rd SW6 5QQ
BARTON HOUSE Wandsworth Bridge Rd SW6 2PD
BUSH COURT Shepherds Bush Green (17) W12 8PJ
CHURCHWARD HOUSE Ivatt Place W14 9LW
DESBOROUGH HOUSE North End Road W14 9UH
DRAKE COURT Scotts Road W12 8HG
FAIRBURN HOUSE Ivatt Place W14 9LZ
HARTOPP POINT Pellant Rd SW6 7NG
HENRIETTA HOUSE Queen Caroline St W6 9BT
HERBERT MORRISON HOUSE Lillie Road SW6 7SZ
JEPSON HOUSE Pearscroft Road SW6 2BG
JIM GRIFFITHS HOUSE Lillie Road SW6 7RZ
JOANNA HOUSE Queen Caroline Street W6 9EE
LAMPETER SQUARE Lampeter Sq. W6 8PS
LANCASTER COURT Darlan Road SW6 5TH
LANNOY POINT Pellant Rd SW6 7NQ
LICKEY HOUSE North End Road W14 9UQ
LINACRE COURT Great Church Lane W6 8DE
MICHAEL STEWART HOUSE Lillie Road SW6 7SS
MUSCAL HOUSE Field Road W6 8HS
NORLAND HOUSE Queensdale Crescent W11 4TL
POYNTER HOUSE Queensdale Crescent W11 4TA/D
ROSEFORD COURT Shepherds Bush Green (34) W12 8RA
SHACKLETON COURT Scotts Rd W12 8HQ
SHARNBROOK HOUSE Marchbank Road W14 9PL
SHEPHERDS COURT 21 Shepherds Bush Green W12 8PN/W
STAFFORD CRIPPS HOUSE Lillie Road SW6 7RX
STANDISH HOUSE St Peters Grove W6 9AY
STEBBING HOUSE 5 Queensdale cresc W11 4TE
SULGRAVE GARDENS Sulgrave Gardens W6 7RA
SULIVAN COURT Peterborough Road SW6 3DL
THACKERAY COURT Blythe Road W14 0PW
THE GRANGE Goldhawk Road W12 9PD
THE GRANGE Lisgar Terrace W14 8SL
TOM WILLIAMS HOUSE Lillie Road SW6 7SA/B
VERULAM HOUSE Hammersmith Grove W6 0NW
WALHAM GREEN COURT Cedarne Rd SW6 2DG
WALHAM GREEN COURT Fulham Rd SW6 2DH
WOODFORD COURT Shepherds Bush Green W12 8Q/YZ

None of them have sprinklers. (Apart from Roseford Court and Woodford Court having them in the car parks).

In the past some may have objected to sprinklers but this would probably have been due to misunderstanding. As the Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick has said:

“Anyone watching a television drama, an advert or a movie will recognise the comedy value of all the fire sprinklers in a building going off and everyone getting drenched. That is good slapstick fun, but it is just not true. People have a misapprehension that that is what sprinklers do, when, as most of us in the Chamber know, the heads of sprinklers all work independently and will only actuate above a fire when the temperature is above 68°. In the media, people just do not get to see the value of sprinklers.”

Of course there would be a cost. It has been reported in the media that sprinklers for Grenfell Tower would have cost £200,000 – compared to £3 million on the external cladding and millions more on other work on the block.

Few of our blocks are as tall as Grenfell Tower – which is 24 storeys. Stebbing, Norland and Poynter Houses or the Edward Woods Estate are the same height. The other council in Hammersmith and Fulham are lower – some significantly so and therefore the cost of sprinklers per block would cost less. Suppose the total cost for all 40 blocks would be around £5 million. That would be a substantial cost but it should be prioritised. The Council’s annual capital spending on its housing stock is around £30 million a year.

One council document states that external cladding is planned for Hartopp Point and Lannoy Point in Fulham The Grange in Lisgar Terrace. I have asked the Council if they are still in the schedule to proceed…

I would certainly hope that the Council will get on with putting in the sprinklers.

If they refuse claiming lack of funds I will challenge this vigorously. After all they found £1.4 million for their unwanted stock transfer proposal. They miss out on revenue by having 423 empty council owned garages.  I have challenged them over the cost of scaffolding which I hope will now be reduced. Also on them holding on to derelict empty properties which could be sold. Then there is the Council’s ideological refusal to sell any vacant street properties regardless of the proceeds. So even if a council house in Parsons Green could be told for £2.5 million and pay for several replacement properties – or a large number of sprinkler systems – this option is ruled out.

The list could go on. But I think the point is made. For the Council to claim it could not afford sprinklers would be completely unacceptable. Nor should it delay until it is imposed as a legal requirement.

Our residents need to be able to sleep safely at night.

The Finsbury Park Mosque terror attack.

Cllr Joe Carlebach writes

It was with a very heavy heart that I watched the news reports coming in this morning of another terror attack on innocent civilians. A group of law abiding citizens emerging from an evening of prayer mown down by a terrorist intent on taking life and causing pain, injury and distress for what can only be described as utterly corrupt and heinous reasons.

I am sure that all the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham will join with me in sending our thoughts and prayers to all the victims of this atrocity and their families and friends.

I have said many times that crimes against any group based on what they look like, what their disability or sexual orientation is or who they pray to is  totally unacceptable. To single out worshipers coming out of a Mosque just because they are Muslim is frankly barbaric. It is an attempt to strike at the very core of what underpins our democratic values, principles and freedoms. It seeks to divide us and fill our communities with hate. An attack like this on innocent citizens just because they are Muslim is an attack on all of us.

I have no doubt seeing the overwhelming reaction to this attack that it has actually had the opposite effect. Members and leaders of the many diverse communities in London have come out and condemned this attack in the strongest possible terms. Politicians from across the main political parties have done the same, as they should.

Attacks like this, or the dreadful incidents London has had to endure in recent months serve to bring us all closer together. We will not seek to blame innocents nor will communities be pitched against each other as the terrorists (no matter what their cause) desire.

We will not let hate fill our hearts, we will not succumb to division. We are better and stronger than this. We will hold together and support each other,we will continue to show compassion and understanding.

We do this because we are Londoners and we proud to be so, irrespective of what we look like or who we pray to. It is this spirit that will ensure such acts of terror will never succeed in coercing us into surrender. They may hurt us, they may bring us great distress but they can never defeat us.

One lesson can already be learnt from the Grenfell Tower disaster

With the grim task of counting corpses still under way it is too early say much about the Grenfell Tower site. Those of us who pray can offer our prayers. Those of us with money can donate to help the survivors. Our grief is mixed with pride at the bravery of the emergency services and the long queues of those offering food and clothes. The surrounding community in north Kensington has come together in a desire to provide whatever practical help it can – a cause taken up by many further away. In the spirit of unity it is too early to vigorous debate about the political or architectural issues raised by the disaster. It is certainly too early to pronounce on the technical lessons until a thorough investigation has taken place.

Yet I would like to make one proposal. I hope it will not be controversial and that it would have cross party support. It would not cost any money. There should be a transparency requirement for all housing associations and local authorities to publish in their websites the Fire Risk Assessments for all the blocks that they own.

Last year there was a fire in Shepherds Court in my borough of Hammersmith and Fulham – mercifully nobody was killed but the flames in Shepherd’s Bush Green were an alarming site.

I requested the Fire Risk Assessment for the property – it is here. As a councillor I was entitled to have it and (probably) it could have been obtained by anyone via a Freedom of Information request. But would it not be better for all such documents to clearly and openly available on the websites of the relevant social housing landlord?

Transparency is a route to accountability. If it is easy for residents of a block to check if their life is regarded as being at significant risk in the event of a fire then it is likely they take the chance to discover this. If they then discover that various (often quite modest) measures are overdue to mitigate such a risk they might be expected to pursue the matter – with their housing officer, tenants association, local councillor, MP, housing association board members, etc.

I am not suggesting Fire Risk Assessments are perfect. As with all these box ticking exercises points can be missed. They can never be completely up to date. In the case of the Shepherds Court the back stair lights should have come on automatically in a fire and the fluorescent numbering of staircases should have been visible. I’m told that neither of these happened and residents were forced to use the lifts instead. The problem hadn’t been spotted in the Fire Risk Assessment the previous year.

But these documents are better than nothing. Farmers rely on weather forecasts, politicians look at opinion polls. It is what there is. They might be wrong but it is a starting point.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has already made a range of welcome transparency requirements – for instance on council finances. In the United States fire inspection reports are publicly available.

I would urge Nick Hurd, the new Fire Minister, to make it a legal obligation for councils and housing associations to make access to all their fire risk assessments available via their websites.

This article originally appeared on Conservative Home.

Grenfell Tower donations

Cllr Joe Carlebach writes

Like many of you I have been watching the unfolding disaster at Grenfell Tower just a stones through form our Borough. I am sure all the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham will join with me in sending our thoughts and prayers to all the effected especially where loved ones have been injured or are still missing.

I understand that at the time of writing there is a confirmed total of six fatalities with the emergency services expecting the total to rise.This loss is too heart breaking to describe. I know that many of you will be asking what you can do to help our neighbours in their hour of greatest need.

A Just Giving page has been set up by City Harvest and you can donate by following this link:

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/GrenfellUnbeelievableCityHarvest

I also want to publicly thank the Emergency services who rushed to the scene, doing their very best to help the victims of this disaster.

In particular I would like to thank the Police, London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service and of course our wonderful NHS staff at all our local hospitals especially St Mary’s and Charring Cross.

As always your heroism, so often understated, is what makes you world class in what you do.

There are also a lot of questions to be asked about how this fire spread so quickly and why it took so long to evacuate the building. Now is not the time for any inquests but there are clearly lessons to be learnt. These lessons will apply to us too as we have a significant number of tower blocks here in Hammersmith and Fulham. It would be totally unacceptable not to learn the very hard lessons of this disaster to avoid future tragedies.