Mayor of London and H&F Council at war over Fulham tower block

Both the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the Labour leadership of Hammersmith and Fulham Council are enthusiastic supporters of having yet more tower blocks. However they still manage to attack each other specific proposals. The Council opposes the Mayor’s plans for new 26-storey buildings in Old Oak. He is ignoring those objections.

Now the Mayor is getting his own back on his Labour colleagues by announcing he will block their plans for a replacement to Edith Summerskill House on the Clem Atlee Estate in Fulham.

The response from his office notes:

“The proposed development comprises the erection of a single residential tower of 20 storeys that would replace the existing 18 storey tower. With the provision of greater floor to ceiling heights the proposals would result in an increase in height from 54 metres to 72.2 metres.”

That bit doesn’t bother the Mayor at all. But it is an appalling proposal. In what sort of deranged socialist utopia does it make sense to replace a tower block with an even taller tower block? Due to the wasted space around tower block you can have more homes with lower rise buildings.

Then there is the small matter of building housing that people actually want. Overwhelmingly people would prefer to live in attractive traditional homes and not in tower blocks. The Grenfell Tower tragedy strengthens this feeling.

Anyway while regarding the general idea of a new tower block as absolutely fine the Mayor’s Office still says the specific plan put forward by the Council is unacceptable.

One objection the Mayor has to his Labour colleagues is their scheme would mean a loss of affordable housing. His report says:

“The Mayor’s Affordable Housing and Viability SPG provides additional guidance on estate regeneration and makes it clear that the Mayor expects existing affordable housing to be replaced on a like-for-like basis.

This application will deliver 100% affordable housing, with 106 units for social rent and the remaining 27 units for intermediate rent (a split of 80%/20%). Across the two sites, there will be an uplift of 10 affordable housing units and would equate to 41% affordable housing by habitable room (35% by unit).

However, in light of the proposed twin-track approach to affordable housing, which sees this site reproviding the existing social rented accommodation at Watermeadow Court, in addition to its own reprovision requirements, there would be an overall net loss of 17 units based on social rent levels, and 1,188 sq.m. of floorspace at that level; this is contrary to the London Plan, the Mayor’s Affordable Housing an Viability SPG, and the Mayor’s Homes for Londoners: draft good practice guidance for estate regeneration. This is wholly unacceptable.”

At the some time the scheme fails to increase the tenure mix at the Clem Atlee Estate:

“London Plan Policy 3.9 (Mixed and balanced communities) states that “Communities mixed and balanced by tenure and household income should be promoted across London through incremental small scale as well as larger scale developments… A more balanced mix of tenures should be sought in all parts of London, particularly in some neighbourhoods where social renting predominates and there are concentrations of deprivation.” Estate regeneration therefore provides the opportunity for a more balanced mix of tenures to be introduced into an estate, promoting social diversity and redressing social exclusion. For this reason, the supporting text to Policy 3.9 notes that infill schemes on predominantly social housing estates should primarily be targeted for intermediate and market housing. 

GLA officers are seriously concerned about the overall strategy to concentrate affordable housing delivery into a tower on an existing estate, whilst redeveloping Watermeadow Court, located in a different ward with differing socio-economic characteristics, as a 100% private housing scheme. The approach would reinforce the existing tenure of the estate by providing a greater number of predominantly social rented units in a 20 storey tower, albeit introducing a small number of intermediate rented units. At the same time, the proposal at Watermeadow Court would demolish existing affordable housing and redevelop the site for private housing, in an area close to the river and Imperial Wharf, and characterised by largely private housing. The approach to delivery of affordable housing across the two schemes is therefore not considered to promote mixed and balanced communities and is contrary to London Plan Policy 3.9.  “

There are also objections on design:

“The choice of material for the upper floor facades is precast concrete, which results in a visual heaviness to the building and monolithic appearance that lacks depth or quality, and is reminiscent of the poor quality existing Edith Summerskill House.”

This is just the latest episode in the shambolic handling by Labour of the site – which at one stage even included falsification Council minutes and years of delay.

Local fire chief backs calls for sprinklers in all council housing blocks

Last night the Council’s Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts Policy and Accountability Committee discussed fire safety.

The Council’s fire safety proposals say there is a “plan” for sprinklers in “all high rise blocks” but adds the caveat “we are drawing up specifications for the work for each block where sprinklers would help improve safety.” There was no plan for sprinklers in blocks of under six storeys. There was also a lack of clarity over whether sprinklers would be installed in each flat of just in the communal areas – although I was pleased to obtain an assurance that leaseholders would not be charged for sprinklers in any event.

Paul Kavanagh, the Borough Commander for Hammersmith and Fulham of the London Fire Brigade, was present. He was very clear that sprinklers should be installed in all flats in all blocks. The evidence is conclusive. The Chief Fire Officers Association looking at the experience in the UK and internationally states:

“There are no cases on record where multiple fire deaths have occurred in buildings with working sprinkler systems, where those systems have been appropriately designed for the intended purpose, have been properly installed and maintained. The evidence also shows that no lives have been lost in the UK due to fire in homes fitted with domestic sprinkler systems.”

The Council’s report said that the costs of its Fire Safety Plus programme would be “between £20-50 million.”

Within that budget sprinklers in each council home could be funded. Hammersmith and Fulham Council has 12,500 tenanted properties and 4,600 leasehold properties. So 17,000 (including 4,000 street properties where sprinklers would still improve safety although the current risk is obviously lower than in blocks of flats.) The Callow Mount report found that the cost of retrofitting was £1,150 per flat. The total cost would be around £20 million even if street properties were included.

The reason sprinklers should be the priority is that where they are installed (and properly maintained) they will save lives even when the other hazards are overlooked. For instance there are many blocks in the borough where steel window frames have been replaced with plastic ones. As the Fire Brigade Borough Commander confirmed last night that increases risk – as plastic burns rather more easily than steel. The flames can spread from floor to floor. But if sprinklers are installed the fire won’t spread as it will be put out.

Similarly with cladding, with external panels, with missing fire doors, with exploding electrical appliances, with obstructions at fire exits, with a lack of concierge staff, with a lack of heat detectors, the array of failings in the Fire Risk Assessments (which the Council still hasn’t published)…all these problems can exist but if the sprinklers are installed and maintained death will be averted.

Counting the cost of the Shepherds Court fire

I have been urging Hammersmith and Fulham Council to install sprinklers in all its housing blocks.

One argument concerns cost. But then we need to consider the financial – as well as human – cost of fires that could be prevented had sprinklers been installed. I asked for the costs relating to the Shepherds Court fire and had the following response

The Acting Head of Financial Investment & Strategy for the Council’s Department says:

“You have asked us to advise on the estimate for the total costs to the Council resulting from the Shepherds Court fire – including loss of rent, cost of emergency accommodation, rebuilding costs, and compensation.

“As at 31st July 2017, the council has incurred:

Capital Works:

Capital works to the value of £630k have been carried out to date and there is an estimated £970k more work to do.

These costs include some works which are over and above the fire damage reinstatement works, like improving fire safety features. The exact proportion of cost attributable to such works has not been determined at this stage. Such enhancement costs cannot be expected to be recovered from the insurers as they are not being incurred because of the fire. 

The element of spend which relates to re-instatement works can be recovered form insurers (subject to the insurers loss adjusters being satisfied with what the council is claiming and the supporting evidence) but the council will need to pay a £100k excess of which £1k will be charged to the Housing Revenue Account and £99k will be charged to the corporate insurance fund.

Revenue costs

The council has also incurred other costs and lost income of £224k of which we expect £206k to be recoverable from insurers, resulting in a net cost/loss of income to the council of £18k.

As some tenants are still in homes that could otherwise be let out to new tenants the loss of income is expected to increase, however all of this is recoverable from insurance subject to the loss adjusters being satisfied.

Therefore, to date, the total estimated net cost to the Housing Revenue Account and Council’s Insurance fund resulting from the damage caused by the Shepherds Court fire is £118k.”

The Lytton Estate has beautiful gardens – we should make them more so

Cllr Caroline ffiske writes:

Residents living on the Lytton Estate have complained to me about the quality of grounds maintenance.  In response, I recently went on a “walkabout” with senior housing and grounds maintenances officers.  It did not take officers long to agree that more care is needed.  A particular problem is the proliferation of self-sown saplings.  Some have grown so large that they will require considerable effort to remove; yet tended to in good time, their removal would be easy.  Pictured is a sycamore seedling which is well over six feet tall.

Another theme was dead shrubs which inexplicably have not been removed.  The glyphosate ban also means that weeds are flourishing.  I asked officers if there is any danger of large weeds, including buddleia, cracking concrete and walls.  I think the conclusion is that the jury is still out on this, but it is something that needs to be watched carefully.

Residents had previously shown me where rough sleepers have been using a stand of very dense holly trees in the grounds of Clifford and Falkland House.  I’m pleased to say that officers have moved very quickly to remove the lower branches.  The area looks far more light and attractive and will no longer be a target for rough sleepers.

The rose bed outside Burne Jones House has more weeds than roses.  Officers agreed that a dense layer of mulch will keep down the weeds and help the roses to flourish.  I look forward to seeing this in place.  

All in all a very useful exercise. The grounds of the Lytton Estate are potentially very beautiful and in many parts they are already so.  There are many residents on the estate who play an active role in community gardening.  I spoke to other residents who are hugely appreciative of the work of the community gardeners.

If all the interested parties can work effectively together, the Lytton Estate grounds could be the most beautiful in the borough.



Where H&F Council refuses to install sprinklers will plastic window frames be removed?

Hannah Lucinda Smith spent six months investigating fire safety in tower blocks for a BBC documentary in 2010.

She says:

“Our findings were conclusive. Fire chiefs and safety experts all agreed that the vogue for cladding old concrete blocks with plastic fascia, removing asbestos and replacing steel window frames with ones made of UPvC cancelled out all the fire prevention measures that had been built into the blocks.”

This was all part of the “Decent Homes programme” launched in 2000. She adds:

“Billions of pounds of public funds were handed out to contractors to carry out the upgrades – £820 million in London alone.”

I have asked  which blocks in Hammersmith and Fulham have had steel window frames replaced with ones made of UPvC since 2000 under the Decent Homes programme and I have been sent the following list:

1-6 ADELA HOUSE, Queen Caroline Street
9-16 ALDINE COURT, Aldine Street
17-24 ALDINE COURT, Aldine Street
25-32 ALDINE COURT, Aldine Street
33-48 ALDINE COURT, Aldine Street
1-8 ALDINE COURT, Aldine Street
1-15 ALEX GOSSIP HOUSE, Basuro Road
1-16 ALEXANDRA HOUSE, Queen Caroline Str
1-16 ARLINGTON HOUSE, Tunis Road
17-22 ARLINGTON HOUSE, Tunis Road
1-8 ASKHAM COURT, Askham Road
9-16 ASKHAM COURT, Askham Road
17-24 ASKHAM COURT, Askham Road
25-32 ASKHAM COURT, Askham Road
1-76 BARTON HOUSE, Wandsworth Bridge Rd
1-8 BENBOW COURT, Benbow Road
9-20 BENBOW COURT, Benbow Road
1-16 BOSWELL COURT, Blythe Road
1-12 BRANGWYN COURT, Blythe Rd
1-11 BRONTE COURT, Girdlers Road
2-40 BURLINGTON PLACE, Burlington Road
1-102 BUSH COURT, Shepherds Bush Green
1-24 CALCOTT COURT, Blythe Road
1-11 CARDROSS HOUSE, Cardross Street
1-20 CAROLINE HOUSE, Queen Caroline Stre
1-16 CHARLOTTE HOUSE, Queen Caroline Str
1-30 CLIFFORD HOUSE, Edith Villas
1-12 CLIFTON HOUSE, 127 Uxbridge Road
1-30 COBBS HALL, Fulham Palace Rd
144-158 ev CONINGHAM ROAD W12
1-48 Cox House
1-38 DRAKE COURT, Scotts Road
1-12 EDITH HOUSE, Queen Caroline St
1-20 ELEANOR HOUSE Queen Caroline St
1-24 ELGAR COURT Blythe Road
1-25 ELIZABETH HOUSE Queen Caroline St
21-29 ETHEL RANKIN COURT, Landridge Rd
30-38 ETHEL RANKIN COURT, Landridge Rd
17-21 odd EYOT GARDENS
1-30 Falkland House
1-8 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
9-28 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
29-38 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
101-130 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
131-146 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
147-160 GIBBS GREEN, Beaumont Cresc
1-20 GLENALLAN HOUSE, North End Cresc
1-40 HENRIETTA HOUSE, Queen Caroline St
1-55 HORTON HOUSE, Field Road
1-20 ISABELLA HOUSE, Queen Caroline Stre
1-32 JOANNA HOUSE, Queen Caroline Street
106-130 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
131-166 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
21-40 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
41-65 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
66-90 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
91-105 LANCASTER COURT, Darlan Rd
6-10 LINTAINE CLOSE, Moylan Rd
1-18 MARRYAT COURT, Cromwell Ave
19-26 MARRYAT COURT, Cromwell Ave
1-6 MARY HOUSE, Queen Charlotte Street
1-24 MATON HOUSE, Estcourt Road
1-8 MORLAND COURT, Coningham Road
1-20 MORTIMER HOUSE, North End Road
2 MYLNE CLOSE, Upper Mall, W6
10-18 MYLNE CLOSE, Upper Mall, W6
1-9 PADDENSWICK COURT, Paddenswick Rd
1-40 PELHAM HOUSE, Mornington Ave
1/2 PHILLIPA HOUSE, Queen Caroline St
1-15 PHILPOT SQUARE, Peterborough Rd
16-25 & 42-61 PHILPOT SQUARE, Peterborough Rd
26-41 & 62-69 PHILPOT SQUARE, Peterborough Rd
1-20 ROBERT GENTRY HOUSE, Gledstanes Rd
1-24 ROCQUE HOUSE, Estcourt Road
1-114 ROSEFORD COURT, Shepherds Bush Grn
1-16 SCOTTS COURT, Scotts Rd
1-102 SHEPHERDS COURT Shepherds Bush gree
1-4 SOPHIA HOUSE Queen Caroline Street
153-172 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
213-227 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
248-262 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
298-315 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
1-12 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
263-282 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
283-297 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
444-484 SULIVAN COURT Broomhouse Lane
1-16 THE GRANGE, 218 Goldhawk Road
1-36 THE GRANGE, Lisgar Terrace
110-126 WALHAM GREEN COURT Cedarne Rd
50-108 WALHAM GREEN COURT Cedarne Rd
1-24 WALPOLE COURT Blythe Rd
1-25 WILLIAM MORRIS HOUSE, Margravine Rd
26-70 WILLIAM MORRIS HOUSE, Margravine Rd
1-114 WOODFORD COURT Shepherds Bush Green

The total cost of replacing the steel window frames with plastic ones was £7.54 million. The full breakdown of the cost is here. I have asked if there are any plans to remove the UPvC window frames. Given the Council’s refusal to install sprinklers in all blocks it seems to me that where there are plastic window frames there is a particular source of concern.

The total annual spending on having cladding applied to the council housing blocks under the Decent Homes programme since 2000 in Hammersmith and Fulham £2.13 million – on the Edward Woods Estate.  Other blocks – including Shepherds Court – had insulation panels. But the problem of plastic window frames is more widespread.

H&F Council still backing more tower blocks in the borough

Last month I emailed the Council’s Head of Policy & Spatial Planning to say:

“I gather that the Mayor of London approved towers as high as 26 storeys for the Old Oak Park Royal Development Corporation.

May I suggest that the Council asks for the Mayor to review this decision unless it can be established that there is no greater fire risk than there would be in low/medium rise buildings.

Also with regard to our own planning policy could this be reviewed?

Currently we say: “A limited number of tall buildings could be considered as part of the approach to urban design.” May I suggest that we either make clear that the Council would oppose any new tall buildings or at least that we would oppose any new tall buildings unless it can be established that there is no greater fire risk than there would be in low/medium rise buildings.”

He has replied as follows:

“Dear Councillor Phibbs,
Thank you for your query sent on 19/06/17 concerning tall buildings and fire risk.  You have requested that we ask the Mayor to review any approvals of towers in the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) area and that we review our own planning policy so that we oppose any new tall buildings unless they can be shown to be of no greater fire risk than low-medium rise buildings.
May I first respond by saying that the council Planning department are very aware of the tragic fire that occurred on the 14th June at the Grenfell Tower residential block and the concerns of many about the safety of tall buildings.  I can advise that our planning policy on tall buildings sets out criteria proposals should meet and is largely focused on the visual impact, supporting transport, public realm, sustainability and the impact on local amenity which are amongst the matters that a local authority is required to take into consideration when determining a planning application.  Fire safety matters which we acknowledge are of paramount importance, are controlled through legislative powers within Building Regulations and the planning system should not duplicate or supplement these controls.  At any point in the future, if there are changes in law or guidance in the way planning policy can approach fire safety, we can respond and review our planning policy.  
It is important to note, however, that whilst the regulations on fire safety are contained in Building Regulations, our planning department work closely with our Building Control colleagues which allows for informed discussions regarding future projects within the Borough.  It is important that this continues to be closely monitored on all future high rise projects by our Building Control team in co-operation with the Planning department to ensure public fire safety.  We are also working closely with the OPDC on their emerging Local Plan policies with their second round of public consultation starting on 29th June and running until 11th September, which will include their approach to tall buildings.  Housing colleagues at the council are also currently engaging with the Greater London Authority and the Department for Communities and Local Government on any potential changes to policies that might arise as a result of the Grenfell fire.
I hope this information is helpful and please contact me if you have any further queries.”

So despite the Grenfell Tower tragedy the Council’s policy is still to support more tower blocks in the borough. A terrible mistake.

H&F Council refuses to publish Fire Risk Assessments and rejects plea for sprinklers in all council housing blocks

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.