The Technical Services Delivery
Manager introduced the report and stated it focussed on the whole
portfolio, rather than just tower blocks. He gave some context to
the report and stated it had come before committee due to the
tragedy of Grenfell Tower and the government review on fire safety,
which the MHCLG were currently working on, and although
recommendations had not yet been published, the council were being
proactive. He commented that in March 2019 a fire risk assessment
from the chartered institute would be carried out, although the
council were already upgrading fire doors. He stated that to
install a suppression system in all tower blocks across the borough
would cost £3.3million, and although Essex Fire and Rescue
would give the council £10,000 per block, it would not be
enough money to install them. He summarised and discussed how
during a fire in a block of flats in Chadwell St Mary, the compartmentalisation system
had worked, so no one was injured and only a small number of
properties were damaged.
Councillor Redsell opened the debate and stated that the Chadwell St Mary tower block fire had shown that the systems in place were working as the fire had remained in one flat. She asked if the Essex Fire and Rescue policy of staying inside your homes if there was a fire was also followed by Thurrock Council. The Technical Services Delivery Manager replied that the ‘stay put’ policy was supported by Thurrock Council and was in place in all tower blocks. He stated this was the most effective way of keeping a fire from spreading as residents did not impede firefighter’s in stairwells and kept the fire from spreading as doors remained closed.
Councillor Liddiard questioned if the council was replacing front doors on flats, or communal doors, and it was confirmed that front doors on flats were being replaced, although it was felt some communal doors might also require upgrading. Councillor Pothecary then stated she felt there were problems in tower blocks of communal fire doors being left open, and asked if the council could communicate with residents the importance of keeping them shut for their safety. The Technical Services Delivery Manager replied he would look into this, and stated that as communal doors were used most, they were the doors which needed replacing more often. He stated that officers undertook monthly walk-throughs in flats to identify issues, and CCTV was in place to identify residents who were abusing fire doors, and tackle the source of the problem. The Assistant Director Housing added that she chaired the monthly fire safety meeting, during which officers shared pictures of problems in communal flat blocks so issues could be solved.
Councillor Pothecary expressed her concern with residents smoking in lifts, as this was anti-social behaviour as well as being a safety concern. She stated she felt glad there was CCTV and asked if this could be checked regularly, to which the Technical Services Delivery Manager replied affirmatively. Councillor Redsell agreed with Councillor Pothecary’s point regarding keeping communal fire doors open, as it allowed non-residents to access areas they were not allowed in, which could cause a safety concern.
Councillor Pothecary then questioned whether the extra money which was needed to fund the sprinkler system could come from the HRA or the general fund. The Assistant Director Housing replied that both budgets were ring-fenced, so no money could be taken from the general fund, and there was no money in the HRA. Councillor Redsell asked if the council knew who lived in its high-rise flats, as one of the problems in Grenfell had been firefighters being unable to identify residents. The Assistant Director Housing replied that on any given night, it would be difficult to know exactly who was in the block of flats, as people might have friends over or may have gone on holiday. She stated that many properties had been sold under the right to buy scheme and then been rented out, so the council were unaware of who was living in those properties. She added that the council knew the tenants of the flats, and the members of their household. She also clarified that plans of the building and a list of all vulnerable residents was kept in a secure box at the base of the block of flats, so if residents did need to be evacuated, the fire service knew which houses had vulnerable people living in them.
Councillor Liddiard then asked on policies regarding low-rise blocks, as some of these had wooden rather than concrete floors, and asked if they should follow the ‘stay put’ policy. The Assistant Director Housing replied that she would look into this.
RESOLVED: That the Committee:
Commented on the contents of the report and ongoing
fire safety work undertaken by the housing service to ensure all
council owned property is safe.