Fire Safety of Low-Rise Domestic Properties
The report sets out the progress on recommendations provided by the Scrutiny Committee Task Group on Fire Safety of Low-Rise Domestic Properties.
Sean Gallagher (Head of Housing Management, Brent Council) presented the committee with a progress update on the fire safety recommendations in low rise properties provided by the Scrutiny Committee Task Group and confirmed that each recommendation set out in the report had been addressed, with progress made on some.
In the discussion which followed, the Chair stated that the original report request had in fact referred to fire safety across all properties and tenures. As such the level of detail required was not fully evidenced in the report, which focused solely on low-rise Council domestic properties. The Chair also noted her disappointment with the provided response to Recommendation 11 on improved communication on Fire Safety, stating that communication channels such as the Brent Magazine and social media could be better utilised, at a nil cost to the Council and registered providers.
In assuring members that a full fire safety review of low rise domestic properties would be completed, Mr Osinaike drew members’ attention to existing legislation and reminded them of the level of responsibility underpinning any fire safety advice issued by the Council. He stated that the Council was committed to learning from past experience such as Grenfell Tower and would consider adopting relevant good practices going forward.
Focusing specifically on the condition of the existing council stock in terms of fire safety, the committee heard that a programme was in place, with a fire risk assessment already completed in all high rise, specific low rise and in a limited number of converted properties. Despite the intrusive nature of the programme and the subsequent cost implications, it was stated that alongside further maintenance work, the expectation was for all council properties to be fitted with fire doors by March 2020, starting with converted properties.
A question arose on the cost implications and eligibility arrangements for fire doors on private properties. In response, officers explained that for those type of properties the responsibility sat with the landlords themselves, with the Council only responsible for those private properties which fell under the licensing scheme, including all Houses of Multiple Occupancy. A process was also in place to force private landlords to carry out necessary fire safety measures or allow Council to do them on their behalf at a cost. Similarly, the committee heard that with leaseholders’ properties, the full cost of the fire door installation would fall on the leaseholders themselves. The committee was informed however that a payment plan was available for those on lower incomes to ensure safety measures were not compromised, whilst also avoiding going into arrears. Finally, in terms of registered providers (RPs) it was stated that they were responsible for their own fire safety measures. While acknowledging members concerns on the potential repercussions of this, officers state that it was difficult to justify investing in resources into something that the Council had no powers to enforce.
In the subsequent discussion, members raised questions on some of the recommendations set out in the report as follows:
· Recommendation 1: Publication of fire risk assessments for all properties on an ongoing basis –officers advised that tenants and landlords could login and check the reports online for their specific properties. However, for data security the documents would not be fully available to the public. Copies of the FRAs would also be available via the Members Enquiries system for elected members. It was stated that the Council was also pursuing the idea for requiring FRA consultants to employ builders to provide estimates on the cost of works during inspections. A report was due in January with any actions required to be built into respective remedial programmes
· Recommendation 2: Amnesty from prosecution for landlords with unlicensed properties in wards where landlords licensing scheme is in force - it was stated that the initiative was widely publicised and number of people who had signed up to it had surpassed original estimates. Further details on the breakdown of uptake figures would also be provided following the committee meeting.
· Recommendation 7: - referencing the report, a query was raised on the high number of fire risk identified. In response it was stated that these were classed as FRA1 and considered low risk. A fires risk log had been maintained since 2016 and the Housing Management Team was actively engaged with building surveyors on all aspects of fire safety. Officers advised that FRAs were carried out routinely, every three years on both high and low rise properties, with another round due in 2019. It was stated that the Council had adopted a case by case approach and emphasised that fire safety was largely dependent on the specific configuration of the building, adding that compartmentalisation was seen a particular issues for high rise blocks.
· Recommendation 8: Provision of storage for bulky items for all property types and sizes– a query was raised on bike storage provision and whether that was incorporated in the fire safety programme. Officers advised that a although a programme of bike sheds was in place, issues existed in terms of street and converted properties due to lack of available space. In terms of funding for this officers expressed willingness to explore possibility of utilising CIL money and liaise with colleagues from environment.
i. That the contents of the Fire Safety of Low rise Domestic Properties report be noted