Agenda item

Fire safety measures for tower blocks across Brent

Minutes:

At the invitation of the Chair, Hakeem Osinaike (Operational Director Housing), provided an update on planned fire safety measures in tower blocks across Brent. As part of the wider programme, Mr Osinaike explained that measures were being taken in relation to assessing potential risks, providing assurances and responding to wider public interest. Members heard that following the Grenfell Tower incident and as part of the fire risk assessment programme all 37 high rise buildings of 6 storeys in Brent were revisited by the Estate Services Team and were having Fire Risk Assessments carried out. The recommendations in those fire risk assessments were currently being implemented and would form the basis of a programme that the Council can take forward. The committee was also informed that following the Grenfell Tower incident the Council had received several Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, all of which had been responded to and information published on the website. Dates for drop in sessions had also been set up at each tower block where residents could get more information on future developments and share any concerns they might have.

 

In the following discussion, members had an opportunity to ask further questions on the report relating to fire safety assessments, costing, impact on tenants and leaseholders and quality of contractors work.

 

In relation to fire safety assessments, Mr Osinaike explained that until the end of August 2017 the Council would be carrying out its statutory responsibility for non-intrusive Type 1 visual checks which would cover all communal areas but not individual flats. This would also include electrical testing of all appliances in communal areas as well as advice for residents on avoiding issues in their own homes. In addition he said that the Council had adopted the London Fire Brigade Tool and was using it to check that buildings which had recently undergone major works were fire safe. Mr Osinaike pointed out that depending on the outcome of the assessments the Council could take a decision to carry out more intrusive Type 4 checks which would involve going into individual homes. Within a wider context, it was stressed the importance of gathering intelligence not just for Council owned buildings but also for any commercial or registered provider buildings in order to get an overview of the fire safety situation in Brent. Members were reassured that the Council seeks collaborative working with other housing associations and as part of this will meet on 16th August to discuss fire safety with more information regarding this meeting to be provided to members at a future date. In terms of registered providers who have ACM cladding, Peter Gadsdon (Director Policy, Performance and Partnerships) explained that a fire management plan had been enhanced in those buildings and the local authority (LA) was in discussion with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the landlords to ensure they were communicating effectively with tenants. In addition he said that a report had recently been published listing all buildings in Brent with such cladding and that this information is available on the Council’s website. In addition, the LA had been contacted by the casework team in the DCLG to say that there were a number of secondary failures in those blocks and they were to be written to and informed about that.  As a result blocks would have to have their cladding replaced with a non-combustible alternative. He assured the committee that none of the Borough’s community schools were above 19m which is the building height at which ACM cladding is being tested.

 

With regards to costs, members sought reassurance that tenants and leaseholders would not be penalised by any potential fees incurred as part of the fire risk reviews. In response to questions, Mr Osinaike stated that costs would depend on the outcome of the current assessments but specific details could not be confirmed yet. In addition he explained that any potential works identified would both be considered as part of the Council’s repairs and maintenance responsibilities and be paid for through the Wates contract or, if major, would be covered as part of the Capital programme. Members heard that the £10m allocated to fire safety measures would need to be split between 2,252 units across 37 tower blocks in Brent. Once all details are confirmed, a detailed programme will be prepared to show works which would need to happen and how much money would be spent and where and presented to Cabinet in October 2017 for approval. Upon the Chair’s request it was agreed that the report be presented to the Fire Safety Task Group before Cabinet for further scrutiny and review.

 

Overall members were reassured that all efforts were made to ensure tenants wellbeing and any potential concerns they might have were discussed. Members heard that although none of the FRAs had identified a potential need to relocate residents, this is still covered by the FRAs and can be implemented if necessary should such risks be identified. The committee were reassured that work was being done to improve communication and raise awareness about fire safety and evacuation. In terms of people with special needs Phil Porter explained that the Council will be using information from BHP and Council and try to relocate the residents if necessary. Phil Porter gave an example with using premises information on estates to help identify people with special needs in case of emergency. Further information on fire safety had already been sent to residents to ensure they do not leave anything in communal areas and information was available on Council’s website.

 

A member asked a question in relation to the number of contractors and sub-contractors and overall quality of contractors’ work, as often tenants were charged higher than normal rates for even simple repairs. Members were told that contractors often have to outsource work to sub-contractors due to lack of expertise in a certain area of work overload. However, the committee was reassured that the Council has an overall contract management and spending responsibility scrutiny and that some of the contracts were currently under review. With the transfer of BHP back to the Council the Council will both manage and own those properties, with the direct responsibility for repairs and maintenance sitting within the Housing Operations Team.

 

A member asked a question on monitoring illegal subletting. Mr Osinaike explained that the Council relies heavily on information supplied by residents as well as on other sources of information such as rent collection data. However, plans were being made to introduce an active programme that seeks to find out whether people are illegally subletting.

 

A member asked a question on access for emergency vehicles as many places have shortage of parking spaces due to single yellow lines, which makes it difficult for fire engines to access a building. The committee was assured that access is a priority issue for the council but wider changes in legislation may be required to tackle it.

 

RESOLVED that:

 

      i.        the contents of Fire Safety Measures for Tower Blocks across Brent report, be noted;

     ii.        Cabinet should be asked to ensure that tenants and leaseholders are not made to pay for the enhanced fire measures envisaged by the spending of the £10m;

    iii.        Task Group on Fire Safety add to its scope working with the Housing Service during development of work programme

   iv.        Task Group on Fire Safety to receive new expenditure plans on fire safety for pre-Cabinet scrutiny;

    v.        Housing team to share information on unit cost of Fire Risk Assessments;

   vi.        Breakdown of the expenditure of £10m received from mobile phone masts on Brent Council housing properties;

  vii.        share housing association meeting report (16th August) at scrutiny meeting (14 Sep);

 viii.        share report from August meeting of the Borough Resilience Forum.

 

Supporting documents: