The latest update from Councillor Malcolm Grimston was received overnight with regards to the proposed retro-fitting of water sprinklers in 10+ storey blocks in the Wandsworth Borough Council ward.
From: Malcolm Grimston
To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston
Sent: Saturday, January 27, 2018 1:35 AM
Subject: 10+ storey block update
A couple of anecdotes from my interaction with residents just this week.
In one of the estates in our Ward redecoration works carried out in 2016 included replacing the wooden boards that act as the railings in the walkways. Over a year later these boards are still cracked with bubbling paint (a problem which emerged very soon after the work was done) despite attempts to rectify the problem.
In another block the entrycall system has had to be replaced. At first the new door could not even be opened with the fire override key. The door was eventually opened but yesterday one resident, a young lady, returning home at half past midnight, could not get the door open. The buzzer to her flat did not work either so she could not rouse her parents. In the extreme cold she was fortunately able to squeeze through railings and jump down a metre or so onto concrete to get to the back door, which opened.
I have been accused by the Chair of the Housing Committee and the Leader of the Council of scaremongering about the possible efficiency with which installation of sprinklers in all rooms might be carried out. I apologise if that is the case. But it may take a little more than a carefully prepared ‘show flat’, as promised by the Council, to persuade residents that a large-scale programme of works of this nature will all be carried out to the same acceptable standard.
HOUSING AND REGENERATION OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE, JANUARY 18 2018
The Housing and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on January 18 discussed the imposition of sprinklers once again. In front of a full public gallery there was a very effective deputation by Cameron Young from the Edgecombe Hall Residents’ Association. I spoke outlining some of the changes in information and advice that had happened since the previous meeting in which the issue was discussed and passing on some informal legal opinions which had been received by residents. (The gist was that the Council was very vulnerable to legal challenge on at least three grounds: that it had not held any meaningful consultation with affected residents, the policy being announced as a fait accompli just a week after the Grenfell tragedy; the overreliance on a single source of advice, LFEPA (the London Fire and Emergency Protection Authority), a body which has no duty to balance benefits of sprinklers with costs involved; and the fact that Wandsworth is out on a limb, no other local authority having decided to impose sprinklers on tenants and leaseholders whatever their wishes might be and to recharge leaseholders for the dubious privilege.)
Various responses were made to my comments. However, the Committee Chair then abused the Council’s Standing Orders by refusing me the opportunity that I was entitled to to come back and challenge some of these statements. In particular I wanted to know why, if LFEPA advice was to be taken as sacrosanct, the Council was not now intending to impose sprinklers on all flats in 6+ storey blocks, as LFEPA was now arguing, or that there should be a risk-benefit assessment on a block by block basis, again as LFEPA was calling for. Nevertheless, as I have said previously, one barrier to our campaign has been that in every vote on the matter so far both of the political parties have voted together, leaving me as the only dissenting voice on the Council (one argument for having a few Independent councillors!). Last week the Opposition put down an amendment, coming very close to giving the residents of a particular block the final say (subject to the findings of the Grenfell Enquiry). Though the ruling group did not support it this is still a great step forward, bearing in mind that this campaign is a five year war to defend residents’ rights (the period that the Council thinks it will take to do the whole programme), not a battle of a few weeks.
When I had a chat with some of those attending afterwards I was again struck by the expressions of dismay that, having thought their homes were their own, residents were now finding that someone from outside could apparently force entry, force unwanted changes and (in the case of leaseholders) force very heavy payment. One said it was almost like being burgled. I am not sure that the powers that be are even aware of the emotional impact this is having on some residents. I stress again my own personal position is not pro or anti sprinklers in any particular block (though I know how I would vote if I lived in one of our big blocks) – it is for treating Council tenants and leaseholders with the same respect that they would be treated in the private sector and allowing you to decide, based on the evidence available.
I gather that Bisley House, 52-138 Castlecombe Drive and Oatlands Court are putting together objections to the Council’s plans; this would bring the West Hill objections up to six blocks (out of a possible ten), counting the Edgecombe Hall objection as two as it covers Edgecombe and William Harvey Houses (the other objection being from Andrew Reed House). I also gather that several of the Roehampton blocks are intending to put in objections too. The Council is trying to kick the whole matter into the long grass until the election is out of the way by seeking a referral to the Leasehold Tribunal. It will rule on whether it is reasonable for the council to treat its own leaseholders so differently from what would be the case if they were in a private block but of course as we all know many tenants are also dead against this (over)reaction to the true and terrible tragedy of Grenfell Tower. It seems to me it suits the Council’s purposes to try to portray this as leaseholders-versus-tenants even though the objections have been coming from residents’ associations representing leaseholders and tenants alike.
Since this is the brief period in the four-year political cycle when you will see hordes of party politicians chasing your vote before they disappear into the ether again when the election is over, I would suggest you press any canvasser who may come to visit about their party’s stance on this matter so the message gets back to the decision-makers.
You may like to look at what Inside Housing says about it all – see https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/wandsworth-sprinkler-plans-set-for-tribunal-54140.
Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward
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