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
Well done Harry ; at a stroke you’ve done more than al the politicians and “experts” put together
The Fire Risk Safety Asessments are the key piece of information that EVERYBODY has ignored so far
The Councils response is either sinister or idiotic ; these things are held and disseminated electronically and would require the touch of a key to send
I too have been trying to get a copy of the Fire Risk Assessment for Woodford Court – it is not forthcoming and once again I am having to use Freedom of Information to obtain this, DESPITE BEING TOLD THAT RESIDENTS CAN SEE AN ELECTRONIC COPY ON REQUEST AND THAT THIS SHOULD NOT BE REFUSED. I was promised a copy last week, but it was not sent through and now my phone calls are being ignored by the department that said they would send this out. Residents on the Charecroft Estate are being told that their flats are ‘safe’ and that they do not have the same cladding as Grenfell, but are not being advised that the panels were found by the Fire Brigade and Veritas to be suspect in a report that can now be seen all over the country. The panels have been sent off for further testing at the request of LBHF, which will result in many many months of delay, during which time, I believe, lives are potentially being put at risk. Other questions I have raised on the safety of the block have also not been answered yet. This is very worrying. THANK GOD WE HAVE SOMEONE WHO FEELS STRONGLY ENOUGH ABOUT THIS to KEEP CHASING THIS UP. I am sure if it were more widely known a lot more people would be thanking you for what you do – you have my gratitude for one! Thank you so much.
Watching politicians scrambling over themselves to make capital out of this dreadful event is becoming nauseating. Why is Mayor Khan calling for the resignation of Kensington and Chelsea council but not Camden council? They have also contrived to house tenants in highly flammable deathtraps, and deal with the consequences of that in a less than satisfactory way, possibly even involving an elements of panic and chaos. Somehow they still manage to get a free pass.
Would all involved please stop this toxic political point-scoring and focus on real causes, justice for victims and long term solutions.
The blocks in Camden have been shown to contain flats in which tenants have taken out fire doors to the kitchen and removed closers. Some flats are sub-let. Why cannot the Housing Departments or tenants management associations who manage the blocks do the same as private landlords and check that their properties are not altered without permission. Private tenancy agreements have strict conditions preventing this and some agents inspect quarterly. Surely, any tenants that receive a subsidised property and then sub-let for a higher rent should lose their rights and be banned from further subsidy. Many of those who died in the recent fire may have been renting in this way and would have been unable to complain to the council about safety. It was reported that a young Italian architect had died in the fire and had told his father that the conditions were unsafe.
By the way there are misting fire extinguishing sprinklers that do not cause flooding.High blocks are not permitted without sprinklers under current regualtions (part B appendix).
The same has happened in some of the blocks in Shepherds Bush – I thought it was an obligation on the leaseholder (as it is with tenants), to ask for permission from the Landlord (the Council) before carrying out these types of works? How can knocking down kitchen walls and doors be safe if apartments were classed as one hour fire resistant but have had major changes made internally?