Fire Risk Assessments for council housing blocks in Ravenscourt Park Ward

After some persistence I have managed to obtain the Fire Risk Assessments for all the blocks of council flats in the Ravenscourt Park Ward. The one for Standish House was already made available last October.

Here are the others:

33-34 Ashchurch Park Villas is here.

37-38 Ashchurch Park Villas is here.

7-9 Ashchurch Terrace is here.

69-77a Black Lion Lane is here.

Cardross House is here.

1-12 Chisholm Court is here.

13-27 Chisholm Court is here.

Derwent Court is here.

17-21 Eyot Gardens is here.

1-60 Flora Gardens is here.

61-120 Flora Gardens is here.

121-160 Flora Gardens is here.

161-185 Flora Gardens is here.

186-197 Flora Gardens is here.

7-21 Marryat Court is here.

13-18 Marryat Court is here.

19-22 Marryat Court is here.

23-26 Marryat Court is here.

10-18 Mylne Close is here.

Paddenswick Court is here.

I have not yet been sent the Fire Risk Assessments for 62-120, 161-185 or 188-197 Flora Gardens – so I have chased up for those ones.
For each of the blocks I was sent you can see there were various “actions” listed as required – including some as “high priority”. For each block I have logged an enquiry as to what has been done in response.
Missing Flora Gardens blocks now added.


We need a proper Council Leaseholders Charter

Council leaseholders often feel they are being treated unfairly by the Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council – with good reason.

Concerns are raised of excessive charges, poor service, secrecy, and bureaucratic obstruction.

The average service charges for council leaseholders in Hammersmith and Fulham is £827 a year. Some other London boroughs charge much less: in Hillingdon it is £378.73p; in Harrow it is £357.90.

Examples of outrageous costs for extra work abound. Replacing a lift in our borough costs the Council £125,000 – in Wandsworth it is £51,000. Yet our lifts frequently break down. The Council spent £5.6 million on scaffolding last year – often left up for months with no work being done.

Sometimes council leaseholders are forced to pay for “improvements” that are not wanted – such as replacing sash windows with PVC windows.

This must include a better deal for Council leaseholders with a proper Leaseholders Charter. The Council has offered a very insipid version full of meaningless promises such as to “consult”, “hold meetings”, “carry out satisfaction surveys”, “continue to develop the knowledge of our housing staff”and “ensure we charge leaseholder a reasonable cost for major works undertaken”.

We real Council leaseholders charter would include the following:

1. We will reduce leaseholder charges each year and ensure they are below the London average by 2022.

2. “Public works” costs, such as upkeep of footpaths and play areas on estates which are generally used by the public, will be charged to the General Fund and not to the Housing Revenue Account. This greater fairness will help cut service charges and improve maintenance.

2. At present it is difficult or impossible for leaseholders to check their bills are correct. We will simplify the charges and provide greater transparency. Council leaseholders will be granted full estimated costings in the “Section 125 notices” – rather than just a total figure and a vague reference to what the work is for.

3. When leaseholders own two thirds or more of the flats in a block they have a legal right to buy the freehold. We will use our discretion to lower this threshold for council properties and allow leaseholders the chance to buy the freehold in council properties where they own at least half of the flats.

4. Often those who undertake shared ownership get charged 100 per cent of the leaseholder charges. That is iniquitous. We would ensure they are only charged the proportionate sum.

5. Equal treatment. Council leaseholders must no longer be treated as second class citizens compared to council tenants. For example with the Council’s ill-judged stock transfer proposal they would have been legally obliged to give tenants a vote on the plan – but refused to guarantee this for leaseholders.

6. We will appoint an independent ombudsman to address leaseholder complaints when they are not resolved within a specific time period.

7. We will end the absurd excuse of “commercial confidentiality” used by the Council to escape scrutiny over its spending. If council leaseholders can identify areas where the Council is being ripped off they should be thanked – rather than face hostility; which happens under the current administration.

A better deal and a greater say for our leaseholders is in everyone’s interest. Tangible changes are needed to make that a reality – not just bland waffle.

Only 306 new affordable homes built in H&F in the past three and half years – Wandsworth’s had 1,195

When I canvass local residents in Hammersmith and Fulham the biggest issue that comes up is housing. Many people voted Labour at the last council elections in 2014 as they felt the Conservative council was not providing enough of what is officially termed “affordable” housing.

So what has been Labour’s record?

The Mayor of London provides the statistics.

For 2013/14, when the Council had a Conservative administration, there were 178 “affordable completions” – that is to see new homes that were actually built that met one of the criteria for being “affordable”. There were eight “affordable rent” (which can be up to 80 per cent of market rent and so pretty unaffordable to many people), 35 “social rent” (which is under half the market rent). There was also  135 for “affordable home ownership” – this would include “shared ownership” schemes.

Anyway for 2014/15 the figure was 168 for “affordable completions” – 61 affordable rent, 27 social rent, 80 affordable home ownership. So slightly down in Labour’s first year. Still they could argue there was a bit of a time lag so that wasn’t really their fault.

Then we have the figure for 2015/16 which was 86 – of which 20 affordable rent, 48 social rent, 18 affordable home ownership. They could still mutter about a time lag – although it is a bit harder for them to say that it was still nothing to do with them.

So we now have the figure for 2016/17. I don’t think any reasonable person could say that three years of power meant they could still be absolved of any responsibility. The total of affordable completions for that year was ten. That’s right. Just ten. Four of them for affordable rent, six for affordable home ownership.

For this financial year so far we have the tally for seven months to the end of October. The total so far is just 42 – all for affordable rent.

When you add them up it means that only 306 new affordable homes have been built over the past three and half years of Labour running the show. Over the same period Wandsworth has seen 1,195 affordable homes completed. In Barnet it is 943.  Westminster has managed 480. Hillingdon has seen 463.

The figures provided by the Mayor of London go back to 2008/09. So that covers six Conservative years. The total during those six years of affordable completions was 1,162.  So an average of 194 a year. Labour’s annual average, for their three and half years, is 87.

Anyway you slice it a deplorable record. By comparison with what Conservative councils have achieved over the same period, or what was achieved in Hammersmith and Fulham during the Conservative years the Labour failure is stark.




London Fire Brigade issues enforcement notice on Robert Gentry House

Hammersmith and Fulham Council has stalled on my requests – both a councillor enquiry query and a Freedom of Information Request – to provide the fire risk assessments for the council housing blocks in Ravenscourt Park Ward. They say they intend to provide the information in February. So far they have only provided the information on high rises.

A reminder that this is not enough comes with the news that the London Fire Brigade has issued an Enforcement Notice against the Council over Robert Gentry House, one of its blocks in Barons Court. I have asked the Council for an explanation.

Housing associations should also show greater transparency. The Shepherd’s Bush Housing Association has had enforcement notices issued for Cairns House and Down House in Wandsworth Bridge Road, Kelway House in North End Road and Ismailia House in Townmead Road.

Cover up of H&F Council’s affordable housing failure

A year ago I obtained some startling figures on the extent of Labour’s failure on affordable housing in the borough.

In the financial year 2015/16 only new affordable homes were approved 165. This compares with 1,511 in 2013/14 – the most recent figures for when the Council was run by the Conservatives. Given that Labour was elected on a promise to increase the supply of affordable housing that is an astonishing betrayal.

A year later what about the figure for 2016/17? The Council refuses to tell me.  It says that it would be “prejudicial to the council” to provide it.

That doesn’t sound like a great improvement, does it?

At least a year ago council officials had the professionalism to admit failure. Why the change? With the council elections in May some may suspect political pressure to suppress inconvenient truths being allowed into the public domain….

Council publishes fire risk assessments for its blocks of six storeys and over

I am very pleased that Hammersmith and Fulham Council has published the fire risk assessments for its housing blocks of six storeys or more. You can see them here.

This is something I was strongly pressing for. In July I requested the documents as a Freedom of Information request and I would have published them on this site if the Council had persisted in its refusal to do so.

While this is an important victory for transparency I am pressing for the Council to go further. The fire risk assessments for the other blocks should be published too.

As a councillor for Ravenscourt Park Ward I have been able to see the fire risk assessment for Standish House.  So can everyone else. That is because it has seven storeys. I have logged a query about the “actions” that were identified as required and whether or not they have been undertaken. Residents of the block will now have a chance to read the report and have a chance to spot any errors or omissions.

But what about Flora Gardens? What about Chisholm Court? Marryat Court? Derwent Court? Cardross House? Paddenswick Court? The small council blocks in Ashchurch Park Villas, Ashchurch Terrace, Mylne Close, Eyot Gardens and Black Lion Lane? I want those residents in my Ward also to know the level of fire risk in the homes they live in. I want them to know what is being done to reduce the risk.

It is disappointing that getting the Council to be open about this should be such a struggle.


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.”