Tag Archives: Fire Risk Assessments

Councillor Grimston water sprinkler update (5 December 2018)

Background

The below is an email received from Councillor Malcom Grimston regarding water sprinklers received on 5 December 2018.

Email

From: Malcolm Grimston

To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston

Sent: ‎Wednesday‎, ‎December‎ ‎5‎, ‎2018‎ ‎11‎:‎32‎:‎15‎ ‎AM‎ ‎GMT

Subject: Sprinkler Update

Dear All,

Inevitably there has been something of a lull in activity after the case management hearing in mid-October for the Tribunal process concerning the sprinklers. Not that anything is any clearer – the Council for example said it will put sprinklers in all its sheltered housing schemes, then discovered that some of them share blocks with standard units. So they were suddenly were faced with either introducing a ‘two-tier’ regime with respect to sheltered housing (which they have told us would be awful if it were applied to our 10+ storey blocks); or just putting sprinklers in the sheltered units in these blocks but not the others (which again they have ruled out on principle with respect to the tower blocks); or imposing sprinklers on the leaseholders and tenants in these blocks even though they are only 3 storeys high (which is against the policy too). In one sense it is frustrating that the Council is stumbling from one error to another, changing the story almost every week – some officers are now saying that ‘no decisions have been taken’ about sprinklers while others are saying ‘nothing has changed’, for example – but it does mean that their overall case to the tribunal is bound to be weakened. Still, as far as I can tell the Council is now saying it will wait until the Grenfell Inquiry report (which could be a very long time in coming, at least with respect to Phase 2 which covers actual causes and recommendations) and of course the Tribunal finding before deciding whether and how to go ahead.

MEETING ON NOVEMBER 4

There was a well-attended meeting in Wandsworth town on November 4. Councillor Claire Gilbert (who is a lawyer and has been extremely valuable to the campaign) makes the following comments. She can be contacted at clairegilbert77@gmail.com.

“The speakers at the meeting included (1) Mark Eaton, the solicitor and Amanda Gourlay, the barrister who represented 11 Leaseholders at the Case Management Hearing on 16th October, (2) a representative of the Leaseholder Advisory organisation LEASE, (3) myself and the Labour speaker on Housing, Councillor Paul White, and (4) West Hill Independent Councillor Malcolm Grimston. The lawyers spoke about their view of the case and explained how they could assist anyone who wanted to join the 11 Leaseholder Group whom they represent. They also took questions from the floor. LEASE explained their services and Councillor Grimston and I spoke about the hearing which took place on 16th October. Anyone who would like to be put in touch with the lawyers mentioned above is welcome to contact me to do so. Equally, I have given details of other expert advisors in this area to residents in Roehampton, so again please let me know if this would be useful to you. However, you do not have to engage any lawyer or representative and the Tribunal must ensure that all Leaseholders are able to participate.” If any of you are prepared to consider chipping in to the next stage of the campaign let me know and I will pass your details on to the organisers.

FIRE RISK ASSESSMENTS

After a suspiciously long wait and a Freedom of Information request I now have the 2016 Fire Risk Assessments for all of the 100 blocks affected. I should be able to send you yours if you have not had it.  

GRENFELL INQUIRY

The BBC is podcasting the proceeding from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry every day it sits – see https://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts?q=Grenfell. It is very thought-provoking and often very distressing to hear the stories of the residents and families of those who survived and those who didn’t.  The first phase of the Inquiry covers what actually happened on the night of the fire and will be laying out its findings next week. Phase 2, next year, will then look at the events which led up to the fire and lessons to be learned. It is therefore unsurprising that sprinklers as such have had very little mention so far. Perhaps the two things that have really jumped out at me as I have listened to the podcasts are just how damaging the Fire Brigade advice on the night was – they were actively turning residents who were fleeing the building back into their flats. That the Commissioner of the LFB, Dany Cotton, said that she would have done nothing different in hindsight has caused enormous distress and anger among those affected, and I do wonder the extent to which LFB can be trusted to set policy when it comes to major fires like this. Secondly, even given the limited remit of Phase 1 the central cause of the fire seems to be emerging loud and clear. The basic fabric of Grenfell Tower, like other social housing blocks from the time or earlier, was very sound – it was the decision to mess about with it that led to the tragedy. In Grenfell’s case the worst aspect of this was wrapping the building in a flammable plastic bag but there was more to it. For example, the standard of workmanship was poor, for example leaving gaps round the windows where fire could enter the space between the aluminium sheets where the flammable material was. One matter that has been mentioned more than one was the drilling of pipework ducts (for new boilers) through the concrete walls which are such an important element of ‘compartmentalisation’, the mechanisms whereby fire is prevented from spreading from one room or flat to another. The pipes often did not fit the holes, leaving a gap through which smoke and fire could pass. Given the quality of the workmanship that we have come to expect from Wandsworth major work projects this is highly worrying – in my view we should do all we can to leave the buildings in their original, extremely safe state rather than threaten their integrity with frankly unproven schemes which experience suggests will not be carried out well but I do not have the technical expertise either to know if that is right or to put it in the most effective way.

GOVERNMENT STATISTICS

I have been corresponding with the fire statistics department of the Home Office about their interpretation of the data in the Hackitt Report. They have confirmed that they took no account of the fact that the safety of 10+ storey blocks pre-Grenfell was improving considerably more rapidly than safety of lower rise residences and that the numbers are so very small (itself of course a cause for celebration) that it is hard to justify any comments such as the black-and-white “the risk in buildings of 10 storeys or more was already larger than the risk in lower buildings prior to Grenfell”. This was not true in the 5 years before Grenfell, as far as I can see. I am still pressing the point.

NEW TRIBUNAL DEADLINES

Again from Claire Gilbert: the Tribunal issued new Directions on 5th November, which you should have received already in hard copy, and which are available via this link: file:///C:/Users/TLA%20-%20CGil/AppData/Local/Packages/Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe/TempState/Downloads/Tribunal_Directions_5_November_2018%20(1).pdf. In brief, the new directions say the following key things:

  • all respondent leaseholders (i.e. those living in the 100 “tall” blocks) are entitled to take part in the proceedings whether or not they have already returned a reply form to the Tribunal office;
  • leaseholders are encouraged to work together in groups and seek representation but this is not obligatory;
  • by 19th November you should have been sent a hard copy of the following documents:
  1. the directions dated 5th November;
  2. details of the website where all electronic copies can be seen;
  • by 11th December the Council must give the Tribunal a full “statement of its case”, i.e. a better explanation of its position and what it is asking the Tribunal to decide. This must include explaining the reasoning it says should be used by the Tribunal

(a) to decide whether or not there is an obligation or right for the council to carry out the specified works in each flat;

(b) to decide whether or not there is a right of access to each flat for the purpose of undertaking the specified work;

(c) to decide whether or not there is a right to claim a proportion of the cost of the works as a service charge payable by each leaseholder; 

  • the Council’s statement should also give full detail of the decision-making process and decision or decisions by the Council to provide the proposed sprinkler systems;
  • the statement should include details of the matters taken into account by the Council in reaching its decision which has been described as being on a “global” basis and append block by block lists of all long leasehold addresses, the date of the lease for each address and the type/category of lease;
  • by 5th February 2019 the respondents (leaseholders or their representatives) must have made it clear if they intend to take certain steps; i.e.
  1. if they intend to apply to’ strike out’ the Council’s application (i.e. if they think the Tribunal can decide that the Council’s application should not be allowed to go any further because it’s wrong in law) and/or;
  2. if they intend to make a request to transfer the case to the Upper Tribunal (‘Lands Chamber’) – in effect to say that the issues are so important that the Frist Tier Tribunal does not have the powers to deal with them effectively;
  • if the leaseholders’ legal team does not intend to take either of the above steps they must give their statement of case in response to the Council’s case by 19th February 2019.  

Although the emphasis is on leaseholders since the legal proceedings are restricted to them, we have taken every opportunity to point out that the majority of tenants, certainly those who have contacted us, are also against this imposition.

 OTHER COUNCIL TENANTS 

I have been struck by how few of the Council’s tenants who do not live in 10+ storey blocks have had the implications of this scheme explained to them. The Council seems to have made little effort in telling them that over £10 million of the rent money of tenants across the Borough (through the Housing Revenue Account) is going to go on this scheme rather than, say, to deal with the chronic damp and mould problems that are found in so many of our medium-rise blocks.

FINANCE

I am working with leaseholders in one of the estates in my Ward at the moment who, two years after major works were carried out (not particularly well) have suddenly received another very substantial bill for works they were not made aware of. There is a lot of scepticism about the Council’s initial cost guesses, especially as the removal of cladding from Castlemaine and Sudbury House is costing about twice as much as the original estimate.

COMMUNICATIONS

Claire Gilbert explained to the Case Management Hearing how bad communication on the issue has been and asked the Tribunal to note the importance of communicating clearly and regularly with residents on this important case. The Tribunal noted the request and has agreed to establish a Leaseholders Communications Group which will assist the Tribunal in ”seeking to ensure that communications are effective”. It will also liaise with the Council which I am told has agreed to assist in the task of communication. Claire is sitting on the Leaseholders Communications Group and it will met last Friday (30th November) at the Tribunal’s office in Goodge Street. To date the Council has been telling residents that they must look at the WBC website regularly for updates – not good practice even with respect to those who have access to the Internet, which is by no means all residents who will be affected by this scheme. We have been asking for a slot in Homelife or Brightside to keep residents informed of what is (really) going on, or at least for a list of the addresses of leaseholders, but the Council is as always very resistant to allowing anything except its own propaganda to get to affected residents. We hope the Tribunal will help but if you have any ideas please contact me or Claire. By the way, I ma pursuing a formal complaint against the Council implying that a parliamentary lobby group on fire safety (funded in part by the sprinkler industry) was in some way an official Parliamentary body.

Incidentally I wanted to raise the matter of the near-impossibility of getting through to anyone at the Council past the automated switchboard to ask any question that does not neatly fit into the menu you are given. The Conservatives used a procedure known as the ‘guillotine’ to prevent me from doing so but I am going to try again at this evening’s meeting, as whatever happens the ability actually to question the Council if (heaven forbid) this scheme does go ahead is going to be very important.

WHAT NEXT?

I suggest three actions.

First, could you let me have any horror stories about major works not being carried out properly and not being put right? Clearly given the potential damage that drilling through the concrete structure of our blocks could do the quality of the work will be crucial, yet it will presumably be done at a time when the sprinkler industry is under great pressure to get huge numbers of jobs done as quickly as possible.

Secondly, does anyone have the technical expertise to put together some more detailed words on the dangers of drilling through the concrete for the new water pipes etc.? My instinct is that there might be at least two potential problems – the holes themselves, acting as a potential conduit for fire and smoke; and the effect that the vibrations caused by the drilling process affecting a whole block might have on the structural integrity of the whole

Thirdly, any more petitions? Councillor Maurice McLeod and I are putting together a definitive block contact list which should help us to identify where we could be offering support.

Best wishes,

MALCOLM GRIMSTON

Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward”

Caveats

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.

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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.

To receive blog articles as they are uploaded please ‘follow’ the blog.

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

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Water sprinklers – Questions and (attempted) Answers

Introduction

Before we get into the questions and answers (Q&As) is should be noted that the answers are provided on best efforts basis and the reader should make their own efforts to confirm the answers.

The following relates to some of the questions which have been asked by various individuals.

  1. How much is this going to cost?

According to the Council, the initial cost is between £3,000 and £4,000 – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/questions-to-the-council-regarding-the-3000-to-4000-water-sprinkler-charge/

The London Assembly has some thoughts on cost variation – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/gla-document-on-retrofitting-water-sprinklers-march-2018/

2. What about ongoing maintenance cost?

There seems to have no mention of this (though happy to be corrected) yet the London Assembly estimates annual service charge impacts to be between £75 and £150 per annum – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/gla-document-on-retrofitting-water-sprinklers-march-2018/

3. Fire Risk Assessments – what does this say about water sprinklers?

Well, in many of the 2016 FRAs in section 2.6.8 it states that water sprinklers are not required – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/fire-risk-assessments-section-2-6-8/

4. I’m a leaseholder and don’t live in one of the 99 blocks impacted, should I be concerned?

That’s your choice, though something which you may wish to bear in mind is that many buildings, tall and not, share the same text in their lease – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/09/06/only-leaseholders-in-10-storeys-impacted-by-water-sprinklers/

5. I’m not sure where my lease is, how can I get another copy of it?

If you’re stuck the Council can provide another copy of it though there is a fee – http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/info/200373/i_am_a_leaseholder/106/council_leaseholders/3

6. The Council has commented on a mortgage lender not lending on tall buildings without water sprinklers?

That’s true though the lender has a low market share so should this be a consideration? – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/mortgage-lenders-not-lending-on-tall-buildings-without-water-sprinklers/

6. Will this impact future major works schedules?

Such impacts should perhaps be considered due to the financial implications to leaseholders and the Council’s overall budgeting. Examples are whereby some leaseholders have already had one or more recent major works costs. One such example is outlined – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2017/11/08/alton-leaseholders-meeting-some-notes-6th-november-2017/

7. Has any legal advice been sought for challenging this?

Yes there has and there is some work ongoing in seeking a lawyer for additional support, though there are various strands currently looking into this. Some of the advice offered is below;

LEASE – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/what-does-the-citizens-advice-bureau-suggest-regarding-water-sprinklers/

Citizens Advice Bureau – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/feedback-from-lease-regarding-retro-fitting-water-sprinklers/

8. I’d like to try and speak with other leaseholders in my building though not sure which flats are leasehold?

Yes, this can be tricky, though some ideas are provided at – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/how-to-locate-leaseholders-in-your-block/

Also, it has been highlighted how you can find out the number of leaseholders (resident and non-resident) and council tenants per block at – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2017/11/29/questions-to-wandsworth-borough-council-about-water-sprinklers/

9. I didn’t see either of the show flats, are there photos I can see?

We’ve tried our best and the following has photos of both;

Flat #1 – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/05/30/view-sprinkler-show-flat-4-may-2018/

Flat #2 on Alton Estate – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/08/05/alton-estate-water-sprinkler-show-flat/

10. Didn’t the Council suggest that a ‘small number of leaseholders’ have raised concerns?

That has been mentioned in Question 4 of the Council’s Questions and Answers session on 6th December 2017 – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/02/04/council-questions-and-answers-about-water-sprinklers-6-december-2017/

Not sure this claim to be a ‘small number’ holds based on the First Tier Property Tribunal (FTPT) recent ask for a larger venue for the holding of the Tribunal – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/09/07/breaking-news-about-sprinklers-from-the-tribunal/

11. Is there any impact on contents insurance?

Anecdotally, we have heard of one leaseholder calling their contents provider to ask the question and apparently this made no difference to the contents insurance policy and cost. However, this would (it is guessed) vary for each situation and it might be an idea if you speak with your contents provider to ask about any potential impacts.

12. What about buildings insurance impacts?

Council seems to think it will result in reduction to service charges though it may not make much difference to the service charge bottom line – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/retro-fitting-water-sprinklers-impact-on-building-insurance/

13. Some people have raised concerns about asbestos becoming a problem?

At best, we can only share what we have come across – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/retro-fitting-water-sprinklers-and-asbestos-concerns-raised/

14. How many days off work do I need to have a think about for installation, should I take time off work?

No information, that we know of, has been made available on this by the Council, however, one might consider Croydon’s experience as a proxy, refer to questions (8, 14 and 19) – https://roeregeneration.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/faqs-about-water-sprinklers-by-croydon-council/

15. Has this situation been covered in the media?

On a few occasions it has, more recently, the following examples;

Sprinkler madness and Council incompetence (putneysw15)

http://www.putneysw15.com/default.asp?section=community&link=http://appasp.putneysw15.com/server/app/forum/ShowMessage.asp?ID=1270495

Residents Planning Protest Over Sprinkler Charges (putneysw15)

http://www.putneysw15.com/default.asp?section=info&link=http://neighbournet.com/server/common/consprinklersprotest001.htm

Even after Grenfell, tower block residents are being ignored (The Guardian)

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/31/grenfell-tower-block-tenants-tragedy?CMP=share_btn_fb#comment-119948786

Wandsworth residents concerned over council plans to retrofit sprinklers in tower blocks (Wandsworth Guardian)

http://www.wandsworthguardian.co.uk/news/16685359.wandsworth-residents-concerned-over-council-plans-to-retrofit-sprinklers-in-tower-blocks/

16. Anything else about water sprinklers?

Type ‘water sprinklers’ in the search section to see the many articles about this topic.

What do you think?

Please leave a comment on the blog with your thoughts.

 Caveats

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.

Receive articles into your inbox when uploaded on the blog

To receive blog articles as they are uploaded please ‘follow’ the blog.

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. Please note that if an email is sent any response might be part of a generic group email.

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

Councillor Malcolm Grimston’s 10+ storey block update (2 May 2018)

The latest update from Councillor Malcolm Grimston was received today with regards to the proposed retro-fitting of water sprinklers in 10+ storey blocks in the Wandsworth Borough Council ward.

_______________________________________

From: Malcolm Grimston <malcolmgrimston@btconnect.com>
To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston <mgrimston@wandsworth.gov.uk>
Sent: Wednesday, May 2, 2018 9:05 AM
Subject: High Rise newsletter

Dear All,

At the last Council meeting I raised a question concerning fire safety assessment – I reproduce the question and the ‘answer’ below (actually as usual the Cabinet Member for Housing made no attempt to answer the question). The most remarkable sentence, apart from it being made clear that the Conservatives intend to continue with the policy of forcing sprinklers into every room in our 10+ storey blocks, is this.

Had the journalist actually bothered to read the guidance he would have noticed that it recommended that “fire risk assessments should be reviewed regularly and when circumstances change” and that there was absolutely no requirement to complete new assessments.

This is the first very clear statement we have had that in the view of Wandsworth Council there was no need for new fire safety assessments after Grenfell because “circumstances” had not “changed”. This is of course what we have been saying all along – that Grenfell was to all intents and purposes irrelevant when it came to assessing fire risk in our unclad blocks, with their decades of success in containing flat fires safely.

  1. Incidentally, note the dig that our objections to sprinklers are ‘rather esoteric’(defined online as “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialised knowledge or interest”), based on such obscure ideas as value for money, disruption, intrusion, the Council’s dreadful record on major works, the potential for damage if they go off when they shouldn’t … and their being entirely unnecessary, of course.

The battle continues!

By the way, did anyone get a chance to raise the issue with Conservative election candidates or their entourage (I gather they have been avoiding the high rise blocks in West Hill but there may be the odd rogue sighting!). It would be interesting to see if there were any promises of support for our position.

Best wishes,

MALCOLM GRIMSTON

Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward

Fire Safety Assessments: Question raised by Councillor Grimston to the Cabinet Member for Housing:

How many fire safety assessments were carried out in Wandsworth with regard to 10+ storey blocks of flats in 2017?

How does this compare with the guidance offered by LGA and others on the desired frequency of such assessments?

Given the growing opposition to the Council’s ‘one size fits all’ imposition of sprinkler systems in 10+ storey tower blocks, does the Cabinet Member believe that residents have a right to know why their individual block has become so much more dangerous since the last round of fire assessments found that sprinklers were not necessary?

Answer:

Thank you for raising this question as it gives me the welcome opportunity to correct a recent article on this matter published by Inside Housing in which the journalist made the observation that Wandsworth Council had not completed any fresh Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) of its blocks since the fire at Grenfell Tower last June, implying that the Council was in some way negligent in not following the Local Government Association guidance that “tower blocks should be fire risk assessed every year”. Had the journalist actually bothered to read the guidance he would have noticed that it recommended that “fire risk assessments should be reviewed regularly and when circumstances change” and that there was absolutely no requirement to complete new assessments. I am pleased to confirm that following representation by the Council pointing out that the article was both wrong and irresponsibly alarmist it appears to have been taken down.

The Council takes its obligation around the management of fire risk seriously and in 2016 commissioned an independent consultant to complete new FRAs for all of its 1,300 purpose built blocks. Since the fire in Grenfell the FRAs to all of the high-rise blocks are being reviewed and when further guidance is issued new assessments will be commissioned but meanwhile I can confirm that they remain valid and fit for purpose. As the Councillor is fully aware since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower the whole approach to fire risk has changed and continues to change. Fire risk assessments were previously silent on the issues of sprinklers as they were on the presence or flammability of external cladding and insulation and I’m sure that this will be addressed in revised guidance. Despite the Councillor’s continued objection to the installation of sprinklers on rather esoteric statistical grounds the fact remains that sprinklers are the single most effective way of ensuring that fires do not spread in our blocks and as a consequence they will save lives and protect property.

Published by Peter West, 57 Sutherland Grove, for Malcolm Grimston

_________________________________

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.

To receive blog articles as they are uploaded please ‘follow’ the blog.

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

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.

__________________________________

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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Points of concern raised with ward Councillor regarding retro-fitting water sprinklers (9 September 2017)

It was a little while ago, though in the context of discussions regarding retro-fitting water sprinklers the following might be of interest.

On Saturday 9th September 2017 four Alton Estate residents attended the Councillor’s surgery on to discuss retro-fitting of water sprinklers off the back of the Paper 17-269 which was to be discussed at the Council’s Housing and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 14th September 2017. The ward Councillor who this was discussed with was Councillor Sue McKinney, who also attends this meeting. Timing wise many on the estate received a copy of the September Brightside magazine earlier the same day which mentioned retro-fitting of water sprinklers which did not mention how this would be funded.

As far as these four residents were concerned, the following points were raised;

  1. Water sprinklers were first brought up in June there has been ample time to arrange to door knocking of residents to seek views and opinions, or to arrange a consultation. The response was that summer holidays may have had something to do with this.
  2. Related to this was that instead of Labour campaigning, such as what was seen the previous Saturday in Putney then perhaps this resource could have been better spent on garnering views about water sprinklers.
  3. That the absence of the Borough Residents Forum (BRF) Minutes from the Western Area Housing Panel (WAHP) Agenda for the meeting of 11th September was not on (as this included an item about water sprinklers) and needed to be raised and added back in. This was raised by a Residents Association.
  4. Residents raised that there are block differences which need to be considered.
  5. One block has requested a copy of the Fire Risk Assessment and was waiting for a copy of this. They are not held by the Western Area team and are held centrally. It was suggested that if any residents were concerned then having a copy of the Fire Risk Assessment based on the ground floor might assist with some comfort.
  6. A discussion regarding frequency of Fire Risk Assessments was held, top of head thoughts were monthly or quarterly.
  7. One resident highlighted disappointment that a query regarding water sprinklers sent to Councillor McKinney the previous Sunday had not been acknowledged.
  8. Concern was expressed about contents insurance in that it was doubtful one’s residence would be covered if the water sprinklers went off by accident. A mention of wooden floors was highlighted as a problem area should this happen.
  9. In the paper 17-269 there is a mention of potential building insurance benefits. Councillor McKinney was unaware of the current cost of building insurance for blocks and one resident suggested low £100+. [Post meeting update, having just seen one building’s service for 2015/2016 the Buildings Insurance premium is £12.43. If correct, then the benefits of section 24 of the paper 17-269 is perhaps negligible].
  10. Concern was raised about whether there could be electrical fires which start as a result of water sprinklers.
  11. One resident presented statistics regarding deaths from fires in the Wandsworth Borough which worked out to be 1.2 per annum and queried whether this cost was commensurate with what the £26 million cost to the Council.
  12. A mention of possible double counting of service charges could be on the cards. Major works are being conducted now on tall blocks on the Alton Estate, by installing water sprinklers would this undo any of the works being paid for now. If yes, then would leaseholders be paying to have this put back to pre-water sprinkler state?
  13. Uncertainty about where water sprinklers would be located was highlighted, would they be inside flats or just on the landing areas?
  14. One resident asked whether there was consideration that forcing this onto residents as part ‘security’ meant that leaseholders who have bought properties and tenants who have moved into them, have therefore moved into properties which were not ‘secure’ and whether they could have a legal case?
  15. Legal action was mentioned as a possible challenge if this is ‘imposed’ on leaseholders.
  16. Buildings on Danebury Avenue with long walkways which are covered might pose a risk if residents are at the furthest points from the stair case.
  17. Leaseholders in tall blocks are currently undergoing major works which is costing between £7,000 to £10,000 and now they have will have to contend with this additional cost.
  18. One resident mentioned that in one block the Council is very good at removing clutter from landings.
  19. There was also concern regarding the ongoing costs of servicing the sprinklers.

Councillor McKinney was asked to object to Section (b) and (c ) of Point 3 and the feedback was that this seemed a reasonable request thought this would need to be put past Councillor Paul White, the Opposition Speaker at the Housing and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

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.

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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