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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston <email@example.com>
Sent: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 1:31 AM
Subject: 10+ storey news update
The Council has attempted to kick the sprinkler issue into the long grass until after the election (May 3) by pledging to go to the Leasehold Tribunal. However, this is only part of the story. The Leasehold Tribunal could find that the Council was acting unreasonably in recharging leaseholders for the imposition of unwanted sprinklers in every room of their properties – in which case the cost would be pushed onto Council tenants through the Housing Revenue Account – but not I think that the whole proposal is unlawful or indefensible. Of course many leaseholders and tenants have expressed much wider objections than simply the direct cost. I was in Keevil Drive this week and absolutely horrified by the number of flats suffering from severe damp and mould, for example. The Council of course blames individual residents for drying their clothes and having showers etc. but it is highly unlikely that so many residents are all just failing to follow simplistic rules. Every Council tenant who raised the matter said they would far rather the £24 million of tenants’ money (plus of course the leaseholder contribution) were spent on addressing this real threat to wellbeing and health – or on fixing increasingly unreliable lifts or entrycall doors – rather than on what many residents believe to be a knee-jerk over-reaction. Tenants will not get a voice at all at the Tribunal; nor, as I say, can the Tribunal prevent the Council from imposing the programme on every block irrespective of the outcome of Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs).
Fire Risk Assessments? Well, thereby hangs a tale. This week’s edition of Inside Housing (https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/no-fire-risk-assessments-since-grenfell-on-wandsworth-tower-blocks-54949) has a report based on a rather more successful Freedom of Information request than the one I made to see the Council’s legal advice on all of this. Given that Wandsworth is the only Council (as far as I can tell) intending to take such drastic action against what so many leaseholders and tenants see as their interests, one might presume that it had by now a large number of FRA findings to support it. After all, the Local Government Association, whose guidance has been cited many times by the Housing Department to justify its policies, recommends that tower blocks should be fire risk assessed every year.
So, any guesses as to how many FRAs have been carried out by Wandsworth since the Grenfell tragedy in the 192 10+ storey blocks in Wandsworth’s social housing stock? As a clue, if you guessed ‘1’ then you’ve gone too high. Housing Today found out that the last FRA carried out by Wandsworth was done in November 2016. Bizarrely, Wandsworth’s excuse was that while they are removing cladding from Castlemaine Tower and Sudbury House it would be “premature to arrange new FRAs at this stage”. But of course none of the blocks in West Hill Ward, Roehampton or St Mary Park (for example) have ever been clad in this way so it is not clear why Castlemaine and Sudbury are relevant.
It is becoming increasingly clear, then, that the Council’s blanket policy of imposing sprinklers specifically in 10+ storey blocks is not based on any risk-based approach involving these buildings, despite the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) policy being:
“We recommend AFSS (Automatic Fire Suppression Systems) in:
- all new residential developments over 18m in height;
- existing residential blocks over 18m in height (retrofitting), subject to a risk based approach that should include consideration of the vulnerability of the residents.”
Incidentally, I gather that Oatlands Court is now very close to submitting its objection to the policy to the Council – if any others (e.g. Bisley House or 52-138 Castlecombe) can get petitions to me by March 6 or 7 I will present them at the Council meeting on March 7.
The battle is certainly not yet lost. I am told that the Estate Manager in Keevil Drive has been telling residents that he believes their blocks, being (like almost all Wandsworth blocks) unclad brick and concrete boxes, will be left until the very end of the policy. In my view (and that of several other councillors), by then the project may well have run out of steam and commonsense may have returned. For now, since we are in the brief period during the four years of a Council term when party politicians are knocking on doors begging for your vote, I suggest you press any that you do see for their views and make your own very clear! The official opposition on the Council seems now to be committed to binding ballots of each block. I would personally give residents a further choice – would they rather see their share of the earmarked £24 million spent on sprinklers or on addressing the various other problems that affect their homes?
However, this is not say that the battle is won. I reproduce below a question asked at the Council meeting on February 7th by a former Deputy Leader of the Council which I think makes very clear how dismissive some members of the council still are to the idea of trusting residents to know what is in their own best interests. Most councillors, I think, now realise that opposition among residents is very widespread and that it is not limited either to leaseholders or to considerations of cost but we need to keep the pressure up!
Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward
Sprinklers: Question raised by Councillor Heaster to the Leader of the Council:
In the Housing Revenue Account are firm plans, boldly put forward by the Conservative administration, to spend Borough wide on the Installation of sprinkler systems to high rise buildings. £12,000,000 in 2018/19 and £11,800,000 in 2019/20. Such measures ae overwhelmingly supported by the Mayor of London; nationally by the Labour Party; London’s Fire Commissioner and worried occupants living in high rise buildings. Does the Leader therefore:
- a) Have any concerns about Wandsworth’s Labour Party plans, to potentially reduce or undermine this expenditure, by consulting individual high rise occupants on whether they support plans to install sprinklers in their individual blocks and thereby possibly exclude some from benefiting from better fire safety in their homes?
- b) Does he believe, like me, that this is purely gesture politics by scared local politicians who are failing in their duty to unequivocally support calls for greater fire safety as a result of the tragedy at the Grenfell fire disaster?
- c) Condemn the push-me-pull-me politics of a desperate minority?
- d) Continue to demonstrate firm and decisive leadership in promoting the highest standards of fire safety for all throughout the borough?
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