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;
From: Malcolm Grimston <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston <email@example.com>
Sent: Friday, January 12, 2018 1:58 PM
Subject: 10+ storey block newsletter
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.
Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward
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