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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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