Tag Archives: Council

Council Questions and Answers – water sprinklers, Alton Activity Centre, our ward Councillors…. (7 March 2018)

At the Council meeting of 7 March 2018 there was, as always, many topics raised by the Questions and Answers section. We have selected a few of them to highlight though please refer to the Agenda and the documents for all such questions and answers.

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Section 6 – Questions to the Leader of the Council

(10) Fire Inspections: Question raised by Councillor White to the Leader of the Council:

Inside Housing online magazine has exposed that Wandsworth Council has not made any fire inspections of its estate blocks since the Grenfell disaster. Can the council leader be confident that not re-evaluating its commitment to fire safety by making additional checks to WBC’s estate after such a tragedy was prudent?

Answer:

I think the Councillor has this issue confused and is actually referring to the required Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) that each landlord is required to have in place rather than the many thousands of fire safety inspections which are undertaken on all Wandsworth Council managed blocks at regular intervals. I can confirm that Estate Services staff undertake a range of inspections on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual frequency checking the communal areas of each block picking up on any issue that could compromise fire safety. This would include checks of fire doors, dry risers, signage, lighting and also ensuring all means of escape were free from obstruction and flammable materials. A general repairs check ensures that the compartmentation of the block is maintained at all times

Having already sought clarification on this matter, Councillor White is fully aware that Inside Housing recently published an article around FRAs, which fell a long way below their usual high standard of reporting. The article is simply wrong and rather than exposing the Council to criticism it has simply drawn attention to its own shoddy and alarmist journalism. In essence, the journalist had not paid close attention to the guidance issued by the Local Government Association which recommends that landlords review their FRAs regularly and as circumstances change. There is absolutely no need or requirement to conduct new assessments as stated in the article. I can, however, confirm that fresh assessments will be commissioned once revised fire safety guidance is issued following the ongoing enquiries into the Grenfell Tower fire. I am pleased to confirm that the Council has made strong representations on this matter and that hopefully Inside Housing have accepted their error.

I am also pleased to confirm that the Council has a fit for purpose FRA in place for each and every purpose-built block across its stock which was procured and undertaken in 2016 by an independent fire risk specialist consultant, these are valid and fit for purpose documents which are subject to review when and if there are any material changes to the block which may for example impact on compartmentation, such as the installation of a new heating system. A more perceptive journalist may perhaps have wondered why some authorities have had to undertake so many FRAs so quickly following the Grenfell disaster leading them perhaps to speculate that could be because many authorities didn’t have the necessary fit for purpose assessments in place, but that is for others to worry about.

Fire safety remains a vital important priority for the Council and I would strongly urge members not to try and play politics with the issue and to check their facts carefully before rushing to publicise such sensitive matters. Cllr White did at least demonstrate the good sense to check the facts of the case with relevant officers who were quickly able to clarify the position, indeed it would be unfortunate and highly irresponsible for any elected member to attempt to widely publicise such an emotive and potentially upsetting issue for our residents for their own ends without seeking the advice of officers or double checking the facts in the first place.

(12) School Funding 2018/19 covered in Paper No. 18-37: Question raised by Councillor Ambache to the Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services:

(a) I would like to thank the Cabinet Member for agreeing to the Labour suggestion to write to the Secretary of State for Education about the funding of special needs education in Wandsworth. She agreed to request that he reviews the funding arrangements for children needing Special Needs Education so as to ensure that funding keeps up with the increasing need for this type of education. Can you share a copy of the letter and his response?

(b) Officers report that: ‘there are several schools where the net reductions in their funding levels may result in them having to set deficit budgets unless robust action is taken to reduce their costs.’ Also, paper 18-37 indicates that 17 schools will suffer a 1.5% reduction in their levels of per pupil funding.

(i) Why didn’t the Cabinet Member agree to make further representations to the Secretary of State about these mainstream school budget cuts for 2018/19?

(ii) What will be the effects of these real terms budget reductions in 2018/19 have on Wandsworth children’s education?

Answer:

I will of course share my letter about the funding for special educational needs with the councillor and the response from the Secretary of State when received.

At the time of the last OSC, when I agreed to write, the funding for special educational needs was not known. I am pleased to report that the Council has recently been notified that the High Needs Block grant to Wandsworth for the 2018-19 financial Year is £43.039 million, an increase of £0.543 million or 1.28% compared to 2017-18. This is largely due to the DfE changing its funding mechanism to recognise authorities such as Wandsworth which are net importers of children with SEN due to the quality of our special schools (of which 5 of the 7 are judged outstanding by Ofsted). As Members may be aware, this was a key issue which both I and my predecessor discussed with the then Secretary of State so I am pleased that we have been listened to.

I am also pleased to report that, as a result of the actions previously agreed with the Schools Forum, together with funding increases by the DfE, the Council has been able to set a balanced budget for High Needs for 2018-19.

In relation to mainstream schools, the main driver of schools’ funding is the number of pupils on roll and the proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals which attract the ‘Pupil Premium’. The schools which have suffered significant overall budget reductions have had falling rolls – sometimes by as many as 30 or more children as the primary ‘bulge’ moves through.

In relation to the 17 schools that will have a per pupil budget reduction (though their overall budget in some cases will increase), Cllr Ambache’s selective quote is misleading. These reductions are not due to any action by the Secretary of State, who has increased the per pupil funding for all local authorities including Wandsworth by 0.9%. Rather, the reduction in per pupil funding is due to the decision of Wandsworth’s Schools Forum to retain the Wandsworth Funding Formula, which includes a ‘Minimum Funding Guarantee’ of minus 1.5% (ie no school can lose more than 1.5% per pupil. The Forum was keen to retain stability and to review the formula next year when the impact of any national formula will become clearer.

Schools receive a substantial level of support from the Council’s Schools Financial Advice Service, which is highly valued. Officers are working particularly closely with the schools which are in a challenging financial position to help them identify efficiencies and forward plan effectively. At present, the proportion of schools judged good or better (98%) and those judged outstanding (45%) is increasing and we would expect this to continue as it reflects outstanding school leadership which manages change, however challenging, effectively.

(14) Funding for Children’s Services: Question raised by Councillor Carpenter to the Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services:

Education and Children’s Services is forecast this year to use £11.3m of the Reserve set up to support the recovery of Children’s Services following the Inadequate rating by Ofsted in December 2015. This leaves only £4.2m in the reserve. Does the Cabinet Member consider that this is adequate to fund the expenditures required in 2018/19 to support the continued recovery of Children’s Services, and if not, how does she propose to fund these costs?

Answer:

As this question is pretty much a repeat of one asked by Cllr Ambache at the last Council meeting, I’ll repeat the answer given then As in previous years, any need for additional budget for Children’s Services will be considered as part of the outturn report presented to the June cycle of meetings. In that same cycle we’ll look at the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy and consider how to fund any such future expenditure alongside the level of available reserves and how to close any remaining budget gap.

(20) Re-opening of the Alton Activity Centre: Question raised by Councillor Ambache to the Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services:

I have asked the Cabinet Member about the delay in re-opening the Alton Activity Centre on 3 previous occasions (March, October and November 2017) but I have not received a clear answer as to when this facility will be fully re-opened. The Alton Activity Centre has remained greatly underused since it was closed by the Council in March 2016. Play Rangers have opened the building and play area twice a week in term time and three times a week during holidays, just for a few hours each day.

  • Does the Cabinet Member agree that this has been a waste of a useful community building and play facility?
  • What are the ‘opportunity costs’ lost by not fully using this Centre over the last 2 years?
  • Does she yet have a firm date for leasing – and reopening – this facility to Roehampton Rocks?

Answer:

Let me stress that the Council remains committed to ensuring that the Ellisfield Drive site is used for the local community and we had hoped that by now we would have issued a lease to our prospective provider. However, the Council’s Legal Contractor, whose duty is to protect both the Council and the provider from undue risk is seeking to clarify the status of the site, which in the 1990s operated as the off-site nursery for the now demolished Danebury Primary School.

The site transferred, as part of a much larger estate portfolio, from the Inner London Education Authority to the Council in 1990 on set up of the Local Education Authority. The status of these premises is that they were transferred for the purposes of education. This status means they must be kept for education or formally and legally appropriated by the Council for other purposes. This is important as the status of the land and premises decides under which act the premises can legally be disposed of by a lease. Unfortunately determining whether or not the Ellisfield Drive site was appropriated has been problematic which has resulted in a delay in issuing the lease. The Council’s legal team is working hard to rectify and expedite the lease.

However, in the face of this delay we have taken a pragmatic approach, ensuring that the prospective tenant has controlled access to the site and the building to offer community activity. Whilst this is necessarily limited it has included Christmas lunches for residents who found themselves isolated at Christmas will all food donated and frequent adult art classes. The Council also continues to directly provide Play Rangers.

(25) Residents’ safety: Question raised by Councillor Jane Cooper to the Cabinet Member for Housing:

With 34,000 properties under council management, the council takes its Landlord role very seriously; can the Cabinet Member for Housing explain what the Council has done to try and ensure that safety of all those who live in properties under its management remains its paramount concern.

Answer:

The safety of its residents is the paramount concern of the Council as landlord and this is reflected in the tight monitoring arrangements that are in place to ensure that our blocks and estates remain safe and secure places to live. Members will already be aware of the steps being taken to improve fire safety with the replacement cladding on the two affected tower blocks and the proposed retro-fitting of sprinklers to all blocks of ten storeys or more.

In addition, the Council supplies and fits smoke alarms to every Council managed property at no charge. Prior to the Grenfell Tower fire, the Council had already commissioned 1,300 Fire Risk Assessments to its purpose built blocks using an independent specialist consultant and which were all completed and in place by the end of 2016.

Through its publications Homelife and Homesafe the Council provides comprehensive home safety advice to all residents, covering subjects such as asbestos, water quality, electrical risks and window safety. A series of maintenance and inspection contracts are in place to ensure that the risks to residents both inside and outside the home are minimised. This would include boiler checks and servicing, lift maintenance, dry riser checks, water sampling and the management and removal of asbestos. These contracts are all backed up by a series of inspections and checks undertaken by the Council’s own staff at regular intervals and covering all communal areas, inside and outside the block.

Health and safety is obviously subject to change and I am very aware of the importance of keeping the matter under continuous review; the need for vigilance to ensure high standards are maintained across all areas of housing management; and, that sufficient resources are available to ensure all necessary works to keep our residents safe and secure in their homes can be undertaken. The estimated resources necessary to undertake fire safety works following Grenfell tower are in the region of £40 million. The residents of our estates chose to remain with this council as their landlord and we will never compromise or skimp on matters regarding their safety.

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Council Question and Answer about water sprinklers (7 February 2018)

At the Council meeting of 7 February 2018 there was at least one question which was asked regarding the retro-fitting of water sprinklers. There being Question 10 which are part of the Paper ‘Questions to the Leader of the Council’, this being Councillor Ravi Govindia.

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 (10) 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?

 Answer:

As my fellow Councillors are aware Wandsworth took an early decision after the Grenfell Tower fire to seek to install sprinklers into every property in all blocks of ten storeys or more, bringing existing residential stock up to the same standard with respect to fire safety that would apply to all new build properties of the same height. I was pleased that the proposal received the full backing of opposition members at the time. Since this important decision a number of other large scale social landlords have announced similar plans to retro-fit sprinklers to their existing high-rise stock and I fully expect more will follow our lead as the Grenfell Tower public enquiry proceeds. Professional bodies including the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority have also issued statements supporting the retro-fitting of sprinklers.

The Council is proposing a detailed consultation with affected residents on the proposals and will be making a pro-active application to a First Tier Property Tribunal and will encourage leaseholders to present their concerns.

I was obviously concerned to hear that opposition members are seeking to move away from their previous position and suggesting that the fitting of sprinklers should only proceed if a majority of residents in a block supported the proposal. This will not work and in my view could seriously jeopardise the safety of our residents. It is self-evident that in order to provide comprehensive fire protection to all residents it is critical that all properties in a block are fitted with sprinklers. As the London Fire Commissioner, Dany Cotton, stated last year sprinklers “can’t be optional, it can’t be a nice to have, this is something that must happen”.

I would also draw attention to the fact that Labour led Birmingham Council which has the largest number of tower blocks in the country as well as a number of Labour led London Councils, including Croydon, Islington, Waltham Forest and Hammersmith and Fulham, have also taken the decision to retro-fit sprinklers. John Healey MP, Labour’s shadow housing secretary announcing last year that “Sprinklers save lives, which is why the government should set aside the money to fit them into tower blocks across the country.” Indeed he went further in welcoming the original decision to have a Public Enquiry post Grenfell he did not support waiting for its outcome and recommendations. He was clear on the need to “act now on the recommendations that were there in the coroner’s report that they’ve had for over four years – so they can start by installing sprinklers in the high-risk blocks, the highest rise blocks” and this position remains the clear policy of the national Labour Party.

Responsible leadership requires conviction and fortitude, qualities it seems may be being sacrificed by opposition members on the altar of political expediency, our residents who chose to retain this council as their landlord will not forget or thank them. As a landlord the Council is fundamentally responsible for the health and wellbeing of its tenants, leaseholders and their sub-tenants and whilst the decision to retro-fit sprinklers has attracted some criticism and will not be without challenge, I remain convinced that this is still the right thing to do. Sprinklers save lives and I would urge all members to support the Council’s commitment to this programme of works and not seek to make a political issue out of such an important matter, we must never, ever allow a tragedy such as Grenfell of Lakanal to happen in this borough in housing we are responsible for.

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 Contact

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Council Question and Answer about Alton Activity Centre (6 December 2017)

At the Council meeting of 6 December 2017 there was a question regarding the Alton Activity Centre. This being Question 27 which is part of the Paper ‘Questions to Cabinet Members and Chairmen’.

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(27) Alton Activity Centre: Question raised by Councillor Ambache to the Cabinet Member for Education and Children‟s Services:

The Alton Activity Centre has remained underused since it was closed by the Council in March 2016. Since then Play Rangers have opened the building and play area just twice a week in term times and three times a week during the holiday.

When I asked about this at the March 2017 Council Meeting I was told that lease negotiations had been concluded and that a meeting with parents was going to happen shortly. Further, I was told that there were various exciting plans for the community which included:

‘ ….future opportunities which will include an after school programme of arts, leisure and play projects; open access to the playground area after school and during school holidays, the development of a community café and local hub space hosting events such as play readings, performances and rehearsal events, and health visitor clinics and workshops.’

When I asked about this again at the last Council (11thOctober) and I was told by the Cabinet Member about the proposed agreement with the third party operator:

„ ….that lease negotiations have been concluded in respect of what would be provided, a lease has not yet been signed.’ …..and further that „Formal Heads of Terms have now been agreed by both sides and the lease is being prepared.‟

  • Why has it taken more than a year and half to reopen this excellent building and playground situated in the heart of the Roehampton community?
  • (ii) Has the lease now been agreed and signed by the Council and the third party operator?
  • (iii) When will this facility be re-opened for use by children and the community?

 Answer:

In response to the questions from Councillor Ambache about the Ellisfield Drive site, let me start by being very clear; we are not re-opening the Alton Activity Centre, nor are we intending to duplicate a service that ceased in 2016, at the natural end of a contract for targeted support. However, we most certainly recognise the site and its building as a valuable community asset. That is why we are leasing both to Roehampton Rocks – a local community and arts charity which, as Councillor Ambache, states will provide a range of child and family activity including an after-school programme of activity, access to the playground during term-time, after school and during school Official holidays and the establishment of a community café and arts hub, that will host events such as play readings, rehearsals and community performances.

To answer the specific questions, first about the delays, these are outside the control of the Council and are related to the development of the Heads of Terms of the lease. Unfortunately, the tenant found it necessary to seek alternative legal representation and this has delayed matters. However, as previously stated, Heads of Terms are agreed and the drafting of the lease is in process. It is anticipated that the lease will be signed in the new year.

In the absence of a signed lease, the tenant has been given controlled occasional access to the site and has already held three community engagement days, the first in late June, followed by events in September and November. I am delighted to report that Roehampton Rocks are currently planning to provide a free Christmas Day Lunch between 12-4:00pm, followed by a supper between 5-9 pm for members of the local community. This will be staffed entirely by volunteers with all food donated. I do hope that Councillor Ambache will join me in thanking Roehampton Rocks for taking the initiative on this event which will be of enormous support, particularly for people who find themselves isolated during the Christmas period. I also hope Councillor Ambache, will support the event by encouraging others to donate to such a worthy cause.

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Council Question and Answer about Dover House Fields (6 December 2017)

At the Council meeting of 6 December 2017 there was a question regarding the fate of the Dover House Playing Fields. This being Question 23 which is part of the Paper ‘Question to the Leader of the Council’, this being Councillor Ravi Govindia.

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(23) Dover House Playing Fields: Question raised by Councillor Mrs Sutters to the Cabinet Member for Community Services:

The Cabinet Member will be aware that I have served a petition tonight from residents in the Dover House Estate area calling on the Council to reconsider the opportunity for a community trust to come together to run the Dover House Playing Fields. If asked by the petitioners, what should I tell them?

Answer:

Councillor Sutters is thanked for raising what we know is an issue which concerns many local residents and of course we will respond in full to the petitioners in due course. The Council did seek submissions from groups and organisations in 2016, but we do understand that the residents of the Dover House Estate did not feel able to put forward a proposal at that time.

The Council is currently seeking views on the proposed leasing of the open space, at Roehampton Playing Fields, and, subject to agreement, we propose to enter into a 30-year lease for the management of this site.

The Council will carefully consider the petition and in the light of feedback and comments, will explore ways of further engaging with the community to find an acceptable solution.

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West Hill Let’s Talk event mentions water sprinklers (1 November 2017)

Question 10 of the Council meeting of 6 December 2017 referred to the discussion about fire safety and retro-fitting water sprinklers at the West Hill Let’s Talk event of 1 November 2017.

The following is an extract from this meeting and for the full meeting notes please refers to the Let’s Talk Minutes for that evening.

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Fire resistant doors in leasehold properties

Residents of leasehold properties had received a leaflet from the Council advising that their front doors must be rated to be at least 30 minutes fire resistant. The information regarding the differing responsibilities of the Area Housing Team and Building Control were unclear. Mr. Stewart advised that the Area Housing Team are available to visit properties to offer advice on request. Building Control could provide specialist technical advice if needed and would be contacted by the Area Housing Team as needed. Mr. Stewart undertook to take the resident’s details and arrange a visit.

Residents suggested that the timescale of six weeks for compliant fire doors to be fitted was unrealistic. Mr. Stewart advised that details of suitable fitters could be provided and that they would be able to fit a suitable door within this timescale. Any leaseholders struggling with this deadline should contact the Area Housing Team regarding this.

Installation of sprinklers

Residents asked why the Council had decided to install sprinklers in some Council properties and how this would be funded. Councillor Govindia advised that the Council had agreed to ringfence the money to allow the installation of sprinklers in all Council owned blocks of ten storeys or above. He noted that private blocks over ten storeys are already required to have sprinklers systems and the aim was to ensure there was no disparity in safety standards for residents in private blocks and those in Council blocks. The technical specification and details of these works were to be decided. Mr. Reilly added that current advice from the Local Government Association, Royal Institute of British Architects, the Coroner and Fire Brigade was that properties with sprinklers are safer. Mr. Reilly noted that leaseholders would have the opportunity to query and challenge any charges involved.

Councillor Grimston suggested that statistical analysis suggested that there was little benefit to the fitting of sprinklers. Deaths from fire are a third of what they were thirty years ago. Residents in tower blocks of ten storeys or above are less likely to die as the result of fire than residents in other types of property. The statistics suggest that sprinklers may save the life of one resident over a twenty-five year period. Mr. Reilly advised that any statistical analysis needed to take account of factors such as the decreasing number of old council owned tower blocks and the fact that new blocks have sprinkler systems.

Residents asked whether sprinklers would be installed in communal areas or also in individual properties. They raised concern about the aesthetics of sprinklers in individual properties. Mr. Reilly advised that the installation of sprinklers would be part of a package of measures including the installation of fire resistant doors.

Modern sprinkler systems are designed to operate on a room by room basis only where heat is detected. Mr. Reilly noted that 95% of fires start within individual properties rather than in communal areas and this was the reason why sprinklers are normally installed in individual properties. Residents queried the merits of sprinkler systems given that water will not extinguish all types of fire. Mr. Reilly advised that sprinklers will prevent the spread of fire. Councillor Govindia confirmed that there would be a need for the Council to work with residents to explain about the operation and appearance of any proposed system.

Residents asked who would be liable in the result of a sprinkler needing to be repaired or causing damage to property. They expressed concern that such damage might result in an increase in insurance premiums. Mr. Reilly advised that it was likely that block insurance would go down as result of sprinklers being installed.

Residents asked whether the Council could insist on the installation of sprinkler systems in leasehold properties and queried which clause of the lease allowed this. Mr. Reilly confirmed that legal advice obtained by the Council had confirmed that it could be installed under the terms of the lease which referred to the security and safety of the block.

General fire safety procedures

Residents asked about fire safety procedures in Council owned blocks lower than ten storeys as they did not have fire drills and few fire safety notices were in place. Mr. Stewart advised that fire drills do not take place in residential blocks. Fire safety notices should be on display on the ground floor of all Council owned blocks. Mr. Stewart encouraged any resident who was concerned that the correct fire safety notices were not in place to give him details and he would ensure that the appropriate checks were made.

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Or email your local Member of Parliament at;

For a different view of Roehampton, especially the Alton Estate

Council Questions and Answers about water sprinklers (6 December 2017)

At the Council meeting of 6 December 2018 there were at least two questions which were asked regarding the retro-fitting of water sprinklers. There being Questions 4 and 10 which are part of the Paper ‘Questions to the Leader of the Council’, this being Councillor Ravi Govindia.

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(4) Sprinklers: Question raised by Councillor Jane Cooper to the Leader of the Council:

Given some of the needless scare stories often given prominence by otherwise responsible people, will the Leader outline the Council’s position in terms of its response to safeguard tenants and leaseholders and explain what action has been taken to seek additional funding to assist with paying for these works?

Answer:

As Chairman of the Housing and Regeneration OSC, Councillor Cooper will be aware that this Council made an early commitment to the fitting of sprinklers to all properties in blocks of 10 storeys or more and which will provide the equivalent level of fire safety and security as to that enjoyed by residents in new build high rise blocks in the Borough. The proposal to retro-fit sprinklers has received wide political support, locally and nationally and is a measure that is backed by fire authorities across the country and all relevant professional bodies.

I have written to the Housing Minister and the Chancellor seeking additional funding for the extensive fire safety works that this council is committed to and I will continue to explore all possible options to reduce the burden placed on this Council in keeping our residents safe. We are working with other boroughs through London Councils to ensure that we make our requests to Government in the most coordinated and compelling way.

I have listened to the concerns raised by a small number of leaseholders in connection with these works and I think it is important that their arguments should be carefully considered as a part of any further advice or process undertaken to provide greater clarity on the legal position. Their concerns are understandable and I have already agreed measures to assist with any financial contributions which may be due. What is perhaps less understandable is that any responsible local councillor would object to works which would actually make tenants and leaseholders safer in their homes and let us be absolutely clear that is precisely what sprinklers do.

(10) Sprinkler Systems in high rise blocks: Question raised by Councillor Grimston to the Leader of the Council:

 The minutes of the West Hill Ward Let‟s Talk meeting on November 1 report

as follows:

“Councillor Govindia … noted that private blocks over ten storeys are already required to have sprinklers systems and the aim was to ensure there was no disparity in safety standards for residents in private blocks and those in Council blocks.”

A Why did the Leader make this patently untrue statement?

B Would he accept that what he should have said was: “private blocks over ten storeys are not required to have sprinkler systems (unless they were built after 2007, which does not apply to any Wandsworth Council tower block) and the aim is to introduce a profound disparity in standards of autonomy for residents in older private blocks and those in contemporaneous Council blocks, in that those in private blocks would be trusted to take these decisions for themselves whereas those in Council blocks will have sprinklers forced on them whatever their views and, in the case of leaseholders, will also be charged a significant sum of money to pay for it.”

C Does the Leader recognise the unarguable common-sense argument for treating new and existing blocks differently, viz. the significant difference between including a programme such as sprinklers at the design and build stage of a building and back-fitting them to a block which is already built with no provision in the design for such mutilation, the former being much more cost-effective and much less prone to unintended consequences?

D Will the Leader now ensure that there is no disparity in the way residents in private blocks and those in Council blocks are treated and abandon the enforced imposition of sprinklers on those leaseholders and blocks which do not wish to have them?

Answer: As Councillor Grimston understands perfectly well, the point I made at the West Hill meeting was that any newly built block of 10 storeys or more would be required to have sprinklers fitted and that the Council‟s intention was to afford the same level of safety to our own residents living in high rise blocks as that enjoyed by residents in the more newly built private sector blocks of the same height. The minutes of the feedback meeting are not intended to be a verbatim record.

To reiterate and for the avoidance of doubt, I believe that seeking to bring our existing high rise blocks up to the fire safety standard applying to blocks built since 2007 safety is the right thing to do to make our residents safer in their homes. Retro-fitting of sprinklers to high rise blocks is supported by fire authorities across the country and the safety and security of the block and its residents clearly depends on the fitting of sprinklers to all properties and in the words of the London Fire Brigade Commissioner, Dany Cotton, “should not be optional”. Whilst the retrofitting of sprinklers to existing occupied properties may be a little more challenging, neither this fact or the costs involved are satisfactory reasons for not doing the work and a number of landlords have already successfully fitted sprinklers to existing buildings with residents in occupation.

We will proceed carefully with our programme of works after engaging a suitably experienced consultant and we will consult fully with all residents affected. The Council can only take decisions about the blocks under its ownership and management, but it is possible that the recommendations from the Grenfell enquiry will lead to a requirement for all landlords to retro-fit sprinklers to their high rise blocks – ensuring a consistency of approach across all residential properties. Councillor Grimston will be aware that effective fire risk assessment also factors in the nature and vulnerability of the residents and for this reason social housing blocks have been specifically identified as being potentially of higher risk.

I have of course listened to the concerns expressed by a small number of leaseholders regarding these works and I feel strongly that these views should be carefully and fully considered at stages in the process where further legal clarity can be provided. Their concerns are understandable and I have already agreed measures to assist with any financial contributions which may be due.

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Email us at – roeregeneration@yahoo.com – and let us know of any concerns/thoughts you may have or add a comment at the end of the blog entry in the ‘Leave a Reply’ section.

Or email your Roehampton and Putney Heath Councillors at;

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10 storey block newsletter from Councillor Grimston (12 January 2018)

Leaseholders and tenants across the Wandsworth Borough Council may be interested in the newsletter that has recently come out from Councillor Grimston regarding water sprinklers. The newsletter is below;

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From: Malcolm Grimston <malcolmgrimston@btconnect.com>
To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston <mgrimston@wandsworth.gov.uk>
Sent: Friday, January 12, 2018 1:58 PM
Subject: 10+ storey block newsletter

Dear All,

Happy New Year. Please feel free to share this with anyone who might be interested.

The Housing Committee meeting on January 18 will consider a paper (attached) on the Council’s plans to force sprinklers on residents of its 10+ storey blocks. I don’t suppose you would choose a Council paper for fun reading any more than I would but it is actually fascinating and suggests that the wind may just be blowing in our direction, as the Council’s position slowly but surely disintegrates. In fact, part of me suspects they may be looking for a way of backing down with the minimum embarrassment.

I don’t know if it might be worth a deputation from say Andrew Reed House RA or Edgecombe Hall RA to ask the Committee about the report and press the desires of residents? You would get five minutes to put a case, the Committee could ask you questions and then they would discuss your comments in the context of the Paper. If you want more information please let me know – there was a very impressive deputation from colleagues from Roehampton last year and although it did not cut any ice at the time I believe it did sew some seeds of doubt which may be starting to find root.

Things which jumped out at me from the Paper include the following.

First, objections against the policy have been received from no fewer than five residents’ associations, including two from our Ward (Andrew Reed House and Edgecombe Hall) but also three from St Mary Park Ward in Battersea (Battersea High Street RA, Ethelburga Tower RA and Totteridge House RA), plus “a small number of individuals from other blocks”. I would anticipate further objections from Roehampton as I know many residents in the Alton are equally worried. At the last Council meeting the Leader was very patronising and dismissive, saying “a small number of leaseholders had objected” and implying that it was just a matter of money. He seemed unaware that there are also a lot of tenants who are very unsure about the whole thing. The current paper at last accepts that “some residential leaseholders are opposed to sprinklers regardless of whether they have to pay for them or not on grounds of disruption and aesthetics or because they feel they are not needed”. This is a real step forward and suggests that the work we have all been doing (helped by this being so close to a Council election) is bearing some fruit.

Secondly, although the Council is still refusing to let anyone see their legal advice re charging leaseholders for this work (even though we paid for it), it is clear that doubts are creeping in as to its validity. The Council notes that: “Although a number of other councils have announced that they also intend fitting sprinklers to their high-rise blocks, none have indicated that they are able to require residents to accept sprinklers or that they will be recharging leaseholders.” To put it another way, only Wandsworth has managed to find lawyers who say that it can force leaseholders to accept sprinklers against their will and that they can charge thousands of pounds for the privilege. Hammersmith & Fulham, for example, is intending to put sprinklers only in common areas (there may be a few exceptions but not many – in fact it is ironic that I have managed to get more information from H&F about their intentions than I have from Wandsworth!) and not to charge leaseholders for the work, so other more proportionate approaches are clearly legally valid. Given that Wandsworth has put itself out on a limb in trying to force this policy through, in my view now would be a good time for residents to seek alternative legal advice if it could be crowd-funded.

Thirdly, the Government recently announced it would be beefing up the First Tier Property Tribunal to help leaseholders in particular to defend themselves against their landlords. Wandsworth is now saying that it will make an application to the Tribunal to “ensure that the leaseholders’ voice is listened to” and to “seek a clear decision on the Council’s ability to undertake the works”. This is obviously the first opportunity to have the leaseholders’ case seriously listened to and my instincts suggest this may be part of a process to allow the Council to climb down without losing too much face.

Fourthly, the Council has already admitted that it was not true that it was imposing the same approach on Council blocks as is the case in the private sector – private sector blocks of the same age and similar size do not even have to have safety checks, let alone sprinklers in every room. The paper now admits that the claim that the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) was recommending that sprinklers (or Automatic Fire Suppression Systems, AFSS) should be fitted to all existing 10+ storey blocks was premature. The actual words used in the formal LFEPA advice of December 6 2017 are:

“We recommend AFSS 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.”

In other words, LFEPA seems to expect Councils do a block-by-block assessment of each block and decide if residents are particularly vulnerable. This is extremely important as it chops the legs from under the ‘one size fits all’ approach which the Council has been pushing. More positively, it gives the Council a further opportunity to climb down and blame it on LFEPA’s changed advice.

It is certainly worth keeping going with this campaign – I suspect that ultimately the Council’s position can’t be maintained but they can be very obstinate even in the face of public views so we’ll have to see.

Best wishes,

MALCOLM GRIMSTON

Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward

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Please note that all information is provided on a best efforts basis and that readers should make their own efforts to review and assess the provided content.

Contact

Email us at – roeregeneration@yahoo.com – and let us know of any concerns/thoughts you may have or add a comment at the end of the blog entry in the ‘Leave a Reply’ section.

Or email your Roehampton and Putney Heath Councillors at;

 Or email your local Member of Parliament at;

For a different view of Roehampton, especially the Alton Estate