There was a Hammersmith and Fulham Council meeting last night which saw hours of filibustering by Labour councillors to curtail time for discussion on their fire safety record.
The motion they didn’t want debated stated:
1. This Council reaffirms the commitment to the safety of tenants, leaseholders, residents and their families in its housing stock which lies at the heart of its public service provision.
2. This Council notes:
a. The ‘Limited Assurance’ audit report issued in July 2016 in respect of the Council’s Housing and Regeneration Department (“HRD”) Health and Safety Checks.
b. The reports to Audit Pensions and Standards Committee of 13th September 2016, 7th December 2016, 13th March 2017 and 21st June 2017 relating to deficient and late implementation of health and safety checks and remedial works, which included gas safety, electrical installation, asbestos management, communal hot water tank chlorination and fire risk assessments.
It also said:
4. This Council resolves to:
a. Eliminate immediately the backlog of HRD health and safety checks and remedial works of all kinds identified by the reports to Audit Committee.
b. Install sprinkler systems in all blocks of Council flats.
c. Set for a date for the removal of the hazardous panels to the Charecroft Estate.
d. Set a date for fitting sprinklers in the Charecroft Estate as requested by residents of that estate.
e. Publish immediately copies of fire risk assessments and other health and safety reports for all Council owned housing blocks in the borough on the Council’s website.”
When it eventually came they voted to reject my proposal that all Fire Risk Assessments for all council blocks should be published on the transparency section of the Council’s website. That was a shameful decision which they struggled to even attempt to justify. The Council leader told me there was a lot of anxiety among residents. Indeed. Does he really imagine that secrecy helps?
The Charecroft Tenants and Residents Association have obtained the fire risk assessments for their blocks and published them on their website. It gives the address for Roseford Court and Woodford Court as Hammersmith Grove. That does not exactly instill confidence. Nor that the Council is still resisting publication of documents relating to the Shepherds Court fire put in as FOI requests by Inside Housing magazine. They say it would not be in the “public interest”….
I have put in a Freedom of Information request for the Fire Risk Assessments for all blocks in the borough of over six storeys and I will publish them on this site if I get them. Then I will ask for the lower rise blocks.
So far as the sprinklers are concerned I was told that they would be installed in tower blocks. But how were tower blocks defined? How many storeys? “You should already know,” the Council leader told me as if it was a game. “We will tell you afterwards.” Then he said it was 12 storeys. Later he told me it was six storeys.
What happens if there is a fire on a five storey block? Or a two, three or four storey block?
The Chief Fire Officers Association points out that nobody had ever died in a fire in the UK in a property with a properly installed sprinkler system.
Ronnie King, an acknowledged expert in this field, has told me the case for installing sprinklers in all blocks of flats is overwhelming. This was what the Labour councillors voted against last night with an amendment deleting making any such undertaking.
This report from a study of a retrofitting project in Sheffield says:
“Perhaps the key finding of the project is that the installation cost is less than £1,150 per flat. This is significant in that it is significantly less than had been estimated and illustrates how economically such a scheme can be retrofitted in occupied premises without undue disruption.”
As I have argued before that spending should be given priority in the context of the Council’s £30 million annual capital spending. Council leaseholders should not be charged. Myths – such as that the sprinklers might go off by accident – need to be busted. Fire officers should be encouraged to tour the estates to meet residents to explain the need for the sprinklers to be installed.
The Council needs to provide transparency and show some leadership. Rather than dithering and delaying it needs to take the action that is clearly required to keep residents safe.