In the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, fire safety is receiving an unprecedented level of urgency and attention. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that a fire of equal but smaller seriousness at Lakanal House also involving awful deaths, was an event from which lessons could have been learned and the necessary procedures put in place which could have prevented the Grenfell fire. It seems finally the social housing authorities are moving on the issues and taking urgent and drastic action. But what of the private sector?
We received a letter from Melanie Dawes at the DCLG giving guidance for those of us who manage blocks with potential lethal cladding what to do to have it tested through the Building Research Establishment and put ourselves in a better position to know of any potential dangers to residents. The testing will be paid for by the DCLG so there is no excuse not to do the tests. Further costs depending on what the tests reveal will be for the owner of the building. Priority is being given to buildings over six storeys or 18 metres high and the DCLG emphasised that ‘it goes without saying that owners/landlords have robust fire assessments for their properties. It is likely that many of these assessments do not consider the type of cladding used in a building and we would recommend you look again at your assessments.’
But this is not where it ends. Our 2 Rivers watchdog IRPM followed up with advice given by the government if any cladding fails the test. On 23 June the government issued further correspondence to local authorities and housing associations. The advice was given to their own housing agencies but it is just as valid for us in the private sector. Click here for connection to the National Fire Chiefs website for their word on the subject but the advice from government as interim mitigating measures, to be immediately implemented, to ensure the safety of residents pending replacement of the cladding had the following headings:
- Notify Fire and Rescue Service
- Fire Risk Assessment
- Inform Residents
- Consider the competence of the fire risk assessors
- Emergency rehousing planning
Detail on each of these headings is for future blogs. Much exposure was given in the press to the fact that certain failed cladding had resulted in buildings being evacuated. But it was emphasised that “a failure in testing of the cladding does not necessarily mean that a building will have to be evacuated; the decision by Camden Council to evacuate 4 of the 5 towers on the Chalcots Estate was because the failed testing of the external cladding was compounded by multiple other fire safety failures which the fire inspection team found within the buildings.”
So the issues listed, all form part of, and contribute to whether the fire safety management of our blocks of flats are tight and responsible, or playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.