H&F Council must stop the cover-up

After the Grenfell Tower fire I hoped that the case for full transparency from Hammersmith and Fulham Council about its housing blocks was so obvious that it would be readily agreed. A useful start would be publishing Fire Risk Assessments online.

There was a report on Radio 4’s The World Tonight last night regarding the Shepherds Court fire last year – and Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s mismanagement and lack of transparency. (You can listen to it here – the item starts about eight minutes in.)

On June 14th I emailed the Council to say:

“Further to the terrible news the morning regarding Grenfell Tower please:

1. Send me copies of the fire safety assessments for all blocks in our
borough that are over ten storeys high.

2. Advise which, if any, fire safety assessments are not up to date
for any blocks (of any height) in the borough.

3. Advise if fire safety assessments for all council blocks (of any height) could be published on the transparency section of the Council’s website.

Best wishes,
Harry”

This week I had the following response:

“Dear Councillor Phibbs

Thank you for your enquiry regarding fire risk assessments. We are still looking into your request and need to extend our response date to 6 July 2017. Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.”

In reply have emailed the Chief Executive as follows:

“This delay is very disappointing.

On Friday we had an email to say that all our council housing blocks of 12 storeys and above have fire risk assessments. So why can’t we see them? What conceivable objection could there be to making them public?

As I have requested why can we not make the fire risk assessments for all our council housing blocks public?

Uploading the pdfs onto the transparency section of the Council website would probably only take someone a couple of hours.

Please may I have you comments.

Best wishes,
Harry”

We now know that a letter was sent out in May to local authorities in London by the London Fire Brigade. It said:

“Testing of panels has found that the combustibility of the composition of the panels at Shepherd’s Court did not meet the levels expected for conformity with the building regulations. On testing it was found that panels may deform or delaminate exposing any combustible core or constituent material resulting in the panel becoming involved in the fire and allowing the fire to spread and enter flats other than the flat of origin of the fire.”

It called for “potential mitigation measures” to be considered to prevent fire spreading.

I now understand that the Fire Risk Assessment document for Shepherds Court that I obtained from the Council was an “interim report”. I have now been sent (not by the Council) another earlier version – which is supposed to be the “proper” report.  So why didn’t they supply that one me as well? Also why didn’t either document reveal the issues  of the panels?

It’s not just me who has been trying to get at the truth. Inside Housing magazine had a report in April.

It said:

“Councils have been warned over the use of insulation panels on high-rise buildings, after tests revealed they are “likely” to have caused a devastating fire to rip through a tower block last year.

“Flames tore across five floors of the Shepherd’s Court building in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F) last August in scenes reminiscent of the Lakanal House tragedy, after a faulty tumble dryer caught fire on the seventh floor.

“Documents released to Inside Housing under the Freedom of Information Act this week revealed that an investigation showed panels attached to the outside of the building came apart when burnt, exposing flammable insulation material and plywood to the blaze.

“It concluded this “is likely to have assisted the fire in spreading up the outside of the building”, with the London Fire Brigade (LFB) warning H&F and all other London boroughs about use of the panels. No details surrounding the spread of the fire had previously been released.”

It added:

“Inside Housing is still awaiting a response from H&F to several queries about Shepherds Court made under the Freedom of Information Act. The council is considering the “public interest” in releasing the information.”

The London Fire Brigade wrote to the Council last October to say they “believe these panels have been used in the neighbouring premises”. I have asked the Council to comment on this. The Council’s response  at the time said they were “surprised.”

A report for the Fire Brigade by Bureau Veritas said the panels were :

“…likely to have assisted the fire in spreading up the outside of the building, as this mechanism progressively exposes a plywood surface to a developing fire”

That report is here.

Let’s get the other documents out in the public domain. The obstruction and delay must cease.

Most of all those who want the truth are the residents for whom the council is their landlord. In particular those living in Woodford Court, Bush Court and Roseford Court – along with Shepherds Court those are the blocks on the Charecroft Estate. They want to know if they can sleep safely at night.

It is time for the Council to level with them

 

 

Spear is helping H&F youths find work

There is a fantastic local charity called Resurgo Spear which helps the young unemployed find work. They have helped 4,000. Here is the story from just one of them:

Joe: “When I was 20 I weighed 23 stone. I was staying at home all the time and lying in bed until two in the afternoon. I really hated myself and what I’d become. Six months ago my my older brother told me straight to my face, “I wouldn’t employ you.” He is quite successful so that really broke my heart.

“I knew a change had to come. I’d never worked before and had no idea how to get a job. I went to the job centre and they handed me a Spear leaflet. It went straight to the bottom of the pile. I didn’t think it was for me. But a week later I got a phone call from Sam, who is the centre manager at Hammersmith, and he told me to come to see him for a chat. Just the thought that someone wanted me to come out of the house to meet them really helped me.

“Spear helped boost my confidence and think about what I wanted to do with my life. I hadn’t been out of the house for so long that I didn’t know where to start. I learnt about having a long-term mindset and the importance of communicating well, and I’m motivated now. Spear was definitely right for me and the programme gave me a positive mindset going in to work, as well as the skills to actually apply for jobs and be successful at interview.

“I started to go on a diet and six months later I’ve lost almost six stone. I’m now working as a Brand Promoter at Heathrow Airport. My family, including my brother, are all really proud of me now.”

One way to help this charity is with money. Another is with your time. For instance by becoming A mock interviewer:

“Mock Interviews are a key part of the Spear programme. Many young people on Spear have never had an interview before, so it’s a crucial experience to practise. Mock interviewers are volunteers from the local community – some are from businesses and others are individuals.

“The sessions take place every six weeks or so on a Friday afternoon from 3 – 5pm. Volunteers are welcome every time or as a one-off. A full briefing is given beforehand, though it helps if you have some experience of interviewing.”

Class war is the wrong response to the Grenfell Tower fire

Danny Kruger, a White City resident and social entrepreneur, offers a powerful message about the Grenfell Tower fire in this week’s Spectator.

Some on the far left have sought to exploit the tragedy to incite class war. But Kruger says the response on the ground has been of the community coming together:

“I live in a council estate not far from Grenfell Tower, and on these hot nights you can hear the hubbub on the walkways. It is taken for granted among my neighbours that ‘they’ want ‘us’ out; that the fire was deliberate at worst and passively allowed at best. Theories circulate not just about the infamous cladding but about how the gas pipes were laid, and the behaviour of the police and fire services.

“Yet there is another story about the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Also on the streets last week, jostling with the Socialist Workers Party, was another familiar London type: the upper-middle-class do-gooder. You could hardly move for vicars, as you would hope and expect. But it was also notable how many of the Notting Hill elite became ordinary people last week, walking down the road and pitching in. One of the first on the scene was Samantha Cameron. Suddenly her husband’s best idea, the Big Society, was happening on her doorstep.

“I know of a pair of private wealth managers who haven’t been to work since last Wednesday. Besides comforting the victims, they have run to the bank to get cash for the homeless. They bought laptops and clothes and toiletries, and hired vans. They contacted the boss of a mobile phone giant, also a local, and got him to send 300 phones then and there. While others were screaming about the evils of the government, they got on and made things better.

“The reason we need the Big Society is that the Big State is no good at this stuff. This is not to say that government can’t do disaster relief — it can and should. Certainly the council needs to tear down the towers and build streets and squares, with first-class homes for everyone. But the equal imperative is to rebuild a community here — and that’s where the middle classes come in.”

The full article is here.

Hammersmith Society gives BT a wooden spoon for ugly phone boxes

This week saw the Hammersmith Society’s annual awards ceremony. It was a glamorous event at the Dorsett Hotel in Shepherd’s Bush Green – which was mercifully air conditioned.

The Wooden Spoon was given  to “BT telephone kiosks with advertisements that have recently appeared on the borough’s street are notable for their ugliness and, in the era of mobile phones, lack of purpose except as an undisguised method of achieving revenue from advertising.”

I am old enough to remember when phone boxes were in great demand. You would often seem them in use. Sometimes you would even see small queues forming next to them. There would be comedy sketches about how impatient people were.

If the K6 Jubilee Kiosk designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930s was still present I wouldn’t mind if nobody used them. Or if the replacement ugly structures provided some practical benefit (perhaps charging points for mobile phones) that would also be a potential justification. But why do the Council back something that is both useless and hideous? I await their defence of the indefensible….

I have also asked the Council about a runner up for a wooden spoon regarding a cluster of confusing cycling signs in Iffley Road.

But the evening was not all about phone boxes. Far from it. Here is the full list:

King’s House

The Hammersmith Society today announced this year’s winners of its prestigious Awards, presented by Cllr Michael Cartwright, Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham at its AGM on Wednesday 21 June.

Main Award — King’s House, 174 Hammersmith Road, W6

This was originally the site of the King’s Theatre demolished in 1963. This new building is an unusually fine and distinguished office building, modest in height, beautifully detailed and in keeping with its location within the Brook Green Conservation Area.

Developer: Kier Property

Architect: TP Bennett

There were two Nancye Goulden Awards this year —

St James Street

20 St James Street, W6

This is a rather quirky but original conversion and extension of the former St Mark’s C of E church into offices. These currently house the headquarters of the Maggie’s Centres and a sales office for the nearby Riverside Studios development. The observatory, with its automated telescope and which was part of the original design, was made in Jackson Mississippi and shipped from New Orleans.

Developer and Architects: Michael Dunning and Elizabeth Swainston

Queen Caroline Estate

Queen Caroline Estate, W6, climate proofing project

This is a wide ranging project in its ambitions and is one of three involving west London housing estates aimed to demonstrate the important role they can play in increasing our cities resilience to climate change.

Developer: London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham

Architect: Groundwork London

Bush Theatre

Conservation Award — Bush Theatre, Uxbridge Road, W12

Although the work done recently on the Bush Theatre involved more than just conservation, the Committee felt that the whole of the Bush Theatre project deserves an award. The modernization and conversion, including a wheelchair entrance and garden terrace on the west side, has ensured that the building is now fully functional and more flexible while retaining its informality and the eccentricities of the original building.

Developer: Bush Theatre

Architect: Haworth Tomkins

Wooden Spoons

BT telephone kiosks with advertisement that have recently appeared on the borough’s street are notable for their ugliness and, in the era of mobile phones, lack of purpose except as an undisguised method of achieving revenue from advertising.

The flats above Apple Estate Agents, King’s Parade, Askew Road, W12, are crudely designed without any reference to the refined detailing of King’s Parade to which they are adjoined.

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