We urgently need sprinklers installed in H&F council housing blocks – currently there are none

The Grenfell Tower tragedy has obviously resulted in an outpouring of grief and compassion from residents in Hammersmith and Fulham to those in our neighbouring borough. It is also prompted fears from many residents in council blocks about their own safety.

The investigation of what happened in the Grenfell Tower will be important and will take time. Yet surely there is already enough evidence to make installing sprinklers an urgent priority?

I have asked for an update on this and a range of related concerns. But I’m afraid the situation is no likely to have changed since two years ago when the Council responded to a Freedom of Information request on the matter. It asked for a list of “residential high-rise tower blocks” owned by the Council. It defined high rise as 18 metres or above. The C0uncil interpreted that as properties over six floors and gave the following list of 40 blocks:

ASHCROFT SQUARE Primark (D) Kings Street W6 0JH-W
BARCLAY CLOSE Fulham Rd SW6 5QQ
BARTON HOUSE Wandsworth Bridge Rd SW6 2PD
BUSH COURT Shepherds Bush Green (17) W12 8PJ
CHURCHWARD HOUSE Ivatt Place W14 9LW
DESBOROUGH HOUSE North End Road W14 9UH
DRAKE COURT Scotts Road W12 8HG
FAIRBURN HOUSE Ivatt Place W14 9LZ
HARTOPP POINT Pellant Rd SW6 7NG
HENRIETTA HOUSE Queen Caroline St W6 9BT
HERBERT MORRISON HOUSE Lillie Road SW6 7SZ
JEPSON HOUSE Pearscroft Road SW6 2BG
JIM GRIFFITHS HOUSE Lillie Road SW6 7RZ
JOANNA HOUSE Queen Caroline Street W6 9EE
LAMPETER SQUARE Lampeter Sq. W6 8PS
LANCASTER COURT Darlan Road SW6 5TH
LANNOY POINT Pellant Rd SW6 7NQ
LICKEY HOUSE North End Road W14 9UQ
LINACRE COURT Great Church Lane W6 8DE
MICHAEL STEWART HOUSE Lillie Road SW6 7SS
MUSCAL HOUSE Field Road W6 8HS
NORLAND HOUSE Queensdale Crescent W11 4TL
POYNTER HOUSE Queensdale Crescent W11 4TA/D
ROSEFORD COURT Shepherds Bush Green (34) W12 8RA
SHACKLETON COURT Scotts Rd W12 8HQ
SHARNBROOK HOUSE Marchbank Road W14 9PL
SHEPHERDS COURT 21 Shepherds Bush Green W12 8PN/W
STAFFORD CRIPPS HOUSE Lillie Road SW6 7RX
STANDISH HOUSE St Peters Grove W6 9AY
STEBBING HOUSE 5 Queensdale cresc W11 4TE
SULGRAVE GARDENS Sulgrave Gardens W6 7RA
SULIVAN COURT Peterborough Road SW6 3DL
THACKERAY COURT Blythe Road W14 0PW
THE GRANGE Goldhawk Road W12 9PD
THE GRANGE Lisgar Terrace W14 8SL
TOM WILLIAMS HOUSE Lillie Road SW6 7SA/B
VERULAM HOUSE Hammersmith Grove W6 0NW
WALHAM GREEN COURT Cedarne Rd SW6 2DG
WALHAM GREEN COURT Fulham Rd SW6 2DH
WOODFORD COURT Shepherds Bush Green W12 8Q/YZ

None of them have sprinklers. (Apart from Roseford Court and Woodford Court having them in the car parks).

In the past some may have objected to sprinklers but this would probably have been due to misunderstanding. As the Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick has said:

“Anyone watching a television drama, an advert or a movie will recognise the comedy value of all the fire sprinklers in a building going off and everyone getting drenched. That is good slapstick fun, but it is just not true. People have a misapprehension that that is what sprinklers do, when, as most of us in the Chamber know, the heads of sprinklers all work independently and will only actuate above a fire when the temperature is above 68°. In the media, people just do not get to see the value of sprinklers.”

Of course there would be a cost. It has been reported in the media that sprinklers for Grenfell Tower would have cost £200,000 – compared to £3 million on the external cladding and millions more on other work on the block.

Few of our blocks are as tall as Grenfell Tower – which is 24 storeys. Stebbing, Norland and Poynter Houses or the Edward Woods Estate are the same height. The other council in Hammersmith and Fulham are lower – some significantly so and therefore the cost of sprinklers per block would cost less. Suppose the total cost for all 40 blocks would be around £5 million. That would be a substantial cost but it should be prioritised. The Council’s annual capital spending on its housing stock is around £30 million a year.

One council document states that external cladding is planned for Hartopp Point and Lannoy Point in Fulham The Grange in Lisgar Terrace. I have asked the Council if they are still in the schedule to proceed…

I would certainly hope that the Council will get on with putting in the sprinklers.

If they refuse claiming lack of funds I will challenge this vigorously. After all they found £1.4 million for their unwanted stock transfer proposal. They miss out on revenue by having 423 empty council owned garages.  I have challenged them over the cost of scaffolding which I hope will now be reduced. Also on them holding on to derelict empty properties which could be sold. Then there is the Council’s ideological refusal to sell any vacant street properties regardless of the proceeds. So even if a council house in Parsons Green could be told for £2.5 million and pay for several replacement properties – or a large number of sprinkler systems – this option is ruled out.

The list could go on. But I think the point is made. For the Council to claim it could not afford sprinklers would be completely unacceptable. Nor should it delay until it is imposed as a legal requirement.

Our residents need to be able to sleep safely at night.

The Finsbury Park Mosque terror attack.

Cllr Joe Carlebach writes

It was with a very heavy heart that I watched the news reports coming in this morning of another terror attack on innocent civilians. A group of law abiding citizens emerging from an evening of prayer mown down by a terrorist intent on taking life and causing pain, injury and distress for what can only be described as utterly corrupt and heinous reasons.

I am sure that all the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham will join with me in sending our thoughts and prayers to all the victims of this atrocity and their families and friends.

I have said many times that crimes against any group based on what they look like, what their disability or sexual orientation is or who they pray to is  totally unacceptable. To single out worshipers coming out of a Mosque just because they are Muslim is frankly barbaric. It is an attempt to strike at the very core of what underpins our democratic values, principles and freedoms. It seeks to divide us and fill our communities with hate. An attack like this on innocent citizens just because they are Muslim is an attack on all of us.

I have no doubt seeing the overwhelming reaction to this attack that it has actually had the opposite effect. Members and leaders of the many diverse communities in London have come out and condemned this attack in the strongest possible terms. Politicians from across the main political parties have done the same, as they should.

Attacks like this, or the dreadful incidents London has had to endure in recent months serve to bring us all closer together. We will not seek to blame innocents nor will communities be pitched against each other as the terrorists (no matter what their cause) desire.

We will not let hate fill our hearts, we will not succumb to division. We are better and stronger than this. We will hold together and support each other,we will continue to show compassion and understanding.

We do this because we are Londoners and we proud to be so, irrespective of what we look like or who we pray to. It is this spirit that will ensure such acts of terror will never succeed in coercing us into surrender. They may hurt us, they may bring us great distress but they can never defeat us.

One lesson can already be learnt from the Grenfell Tower disaster

With the grim task of counting corpses still under way it is too early say much about the Grenfell Tower site. Those of us who pray can offer our prayers. Those of us with money can donate to help the survivors. Our grief is mixed with pride at the bravery of the emergency services and the long queues of those offering food and clothes. The surrounding community in north Kensington has come together in a desire to provide whatever practical help it can – a cause taken up by many further away. In the spirit of unity it is too early to vigorous debate about the political or architectural issues raised by the disaster. It is certainly too early to pronounce on the technical lessons until a thorough investigation has taken place.

Yet I would like to make one proposal. I hope it will not be controversial and that it would have cross party support. It would not cost any money. There should be a transparency requirement for all housing associations and local authorities to publish in their websites the Fire Risk Assessments for all the blocks that they own.

Last year there was a fire in Shepherds Court in my borough of Hammersmith and Fulham – mercifully nobody was killed but the flames in Shepherd’s Bush Green were an alarming site.

I requested the Fire Risk Assessment for the property – it is here. As a councillor I was entitled to have it and (probably) it could have been obtained by anyone via a Freedom of Information request. But would it not be better for all such documents to clearly and openly available on the websites of the relevant social housing landlord?

Transparency is a route to accountability. If it is easy for residents of a block to check if their life is regarded as being at significant risk in the event of a fire then it is likely they take the chance to discover this. If they then discover that various (often quite modest) measures are overdue to mitigate such a risk they might be expected to pursue the matter – with their housing officer, tenants association, local councillor, MP, housing association board members, etc.

I am not suggesting Fire Risk Assessments are perfect. As with all these box ticking exercises points can be missed. They can never be completely up to date. In the case of the Shepherds Court the back stair lights should have come on automatically in a fire and the fluorescent numbering of staircases should have been visible. I’m told that neither of these happened and residents were forced to use the lifts instead. The problem hadn’t been spotted in the Fire Risk Assessment the previous year.

But these documents are better than nothing. Farmers rely on weather forecasts, politicians look at opinion polls. It is what there is. They might be wrong but it is a starting point.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has already made a range of welcome transparency requirements – for instance on council finances. In the United States fire inspection reports are publicly available.

I would urge Nick Hurd, the new Fire Minister, to make it a legal obligation for councils and housing associations to make access to all their fire risk assessments available via their websites.

This article originally appeared on Conservative Home.

Grenfell Tower donations

Cllr Joe Carlebach writes

Like many of you I have been watching the unfolding disaster at Grenfell Tower just a stones through form our Borough. I am sure all the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham will join with me in sending our thoughts and prayers to all the effected especially where loved ones have been injured or are still missing.

I understand that at the time of writing there is a confirmed total of six fatalities with the emergency services expecting the total to rise.This loss is too heart breaking to describe. I know that many of you will be asking what you can do to help our neighbours in their hour of greatest need.

A Just Giving page has been set up by City Harvest and you can donate by following this link:

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/GrenfellUnbeelievableCityHarvest

I also want to publicly thank the Emergency services who rushed to the scene, doing their very best to help the victims of this disaster.

In particular I would like to thank the Police, London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service and of course our wonderful NHS staff at all our local hospitals especially St Mary’s and Charring Cross.

As always your heroism, so often understated, is what makes you world class in what you do.

There are also a lot of questions to be asked about how this fire spread so quickly and why it took so long to evacuate the building. Now is not the time for any inquests but there are clearly lessons to be learnt. These lessons will apply to us too as we have a significant number of tower blocks here in Hammersmith and Fulham. It would be totally unacceptable not to learn the very hard lessons of this disaster to avoid future tragedies.

Council red tape blocking development of derelict Ravenscourt Hospital site

For over ten years the Ravenscourt Park Hospital site has sat empty. Two ago I was delighted by news that it was planned to reopen as a hospital. But the finances fell though and that scheme did not materialise. The building is left to deteriorate – and last year there was a problem with squatters.

Isn’t it time to allow some flexibility? The housing shortage is well known. Allowing a change of use would achieve this. I should think room for at least 100 new homes. It could, in all probability, include a requirement for “affordable housing” and still be financially viable. Instead residents are left with what is increasingly becoming a local eyesore.

I’ve asked the Council’s Team Leader Planning Applications if there could be a meeting with the owners of the site to consider how to make progress. He says:

“The planning permission granted for the refurbishment and extension of the hospital development has been implemented and as such the planning permission has not expired.

“Whilst I accept there is a pressing need to increase the Borough’s Housing Supply, the enhancement of community services is one of the Council’s key policies in the current development plan (Policy DM D1).

“Furthermore, in our emerging Development Plan, Policy CF1, seeks to ensure high quality healthcare and the retention and enhancement of existing healthcare facilities….and

“a)    Assist in securing sites and buildings for future healthcare provision………

“Accordingly, in my view the proposal to agree a change in use of the site to residential would not be supported and would be contrary to existing and future policy with regard to healthcare facilities in the borough.

“I am sure that we could assist if the council were to request a meeting with the site owners/ representatives of the site owners.”

I will pursue…

 

Charlie Dewhirst: If you think Council Tax is high, consider Labour’s Land Value Tax

A guest post from Cllr Charlie Dewhirst, the Conservative candidate for Hammersmith.

It seems astounding that every other party campaigning in this election, apart from the Conservatives, wants to raise taxes on working people. If I am elected your MP on 8th June I pledge to campaign to keep taxes low and help working people keep more of their own money.

One of the greatest achievements of the Conservative Government since 2010 has been consistently raising the personal allowance to ensure those on lower wages can keep more of their own money. This policy is crucial with the higher living costs we have here in London, where many of those who would be considered average earners elsewhere in Britain are left struggling at the end of the month after paying on average nearly 60% of their salary on rent or mortgage payments and utility bills.

Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush is a great place to live but I know too many people who are struggling with the cost of living here. I want to be elected to Parliament to protect precisely these people, often overlooked by politicians, and ensure that everyone here is protected from greater financial stress and the increased cost of living.

Over the past few days I’ve been hearing real concerns about Labour’s proposed tax rises on the doorstep, especially their proposed Land Value Tax. Research has indicated that this would create a staggering average tax rise of 224% per household, and those with gardens would be hit hardest.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has said the tax might become a “tax on gardens”, which could tempt homeowners to sell off gardens to lower their bills. The IPPR warns that there will be “many losers” and the tax “might push some heavily mortgaged homeowners over the edge”.

This would have a knock-on effect for private renters, with landlords likely to shift the rising tax bill onto their tenants.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has also made it clear that this policy would have disastrous effects on our agricultural industry, driving up food prices for the entire country.

This misguided policy would have dire consequences; disproportionately targeting people on fixed incomes like pensioners; driving up private rents for the younger generation; threatening our green spaces in London; and damaging forever the character of our local area.

It’s clear that a Labour Government would make us all poorer – if I am elected as your MP I pledge to keep taxes low and ensure no further financial burden is placed on those already struggling. If you want lower taxes, vote Conservative in Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush.

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Will Marshall: Reactions to Terror

A guest post from Will Marshall.

Last night’s terrorist attack in Manchester has horrified our nation.  It has once more reminded us both of the challenges that the world presents us, and of our greatest strengths.

First reactions to tragedy are always telling.  From the hate-mongering columnists demanding a ‘final solution’ to acts of terror, to the tin foil-hated tweeters retweeting what should be untweetable, tragedy lays bare the person within, artifice and second thoughts stripped away.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the actions and reactions of the people of Manchester last night.  From those who opened their homes and their hearts to strangers, to those who offered transport, safety and a chance to call their families, the people of Manchester have shown us everything that is great about Britain.

I was reminded this morning of the lessons so many politicians swore to learn after the death of Jo Cox.  To demonise less, to end the mongering of fear and hatred, and to celebrate our common passions as people and as a nation.  #moreincommon and now #standtogether  are ideals – ideals so many of us cling to in these uncertain times, and ideals that we can be proud of. They are the aspiration for a better public discourse, an aspiration that acknowledges viciousness to be the problem in our country, and not the solution.

There will be many stories yet to tell of last night’s attacks – of the heroism and sacrifices of our emergency services, of the many kindnesses shown, and of the grief of so very many yet to mourn.  But let us also not forget that we are not just observers.  In our recounting of the tales that tell our country at its best, and in our mourning of the memories of those taken before their time, we speak to our highest ideals, and we point the path to the country we long to continue.