Tag Archives: newsletter

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.

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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

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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;

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Councillor Malcolm Grimston’s 10+ storey block update (16 April 2018)

The latest update from Councillor Malcolm Grimston was received on 16 April with regards to the proposed retro-fitting of water sprinklers in 10+ storey blocks in the Wandsworth Borough Council ward.

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From: Malcolm Grimston
To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston
Sent: Monday, April 16, 2018 2:15 PM
Subject: 10+ storey news

Dear All,

If you have not seen it can I suggest you have a look at the today’s Evening Standard piece on Grenfell – you can find it at https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/shock-grenfell-dossier-reveals-disastrous-refurbishment-turned-tower-into-a-tinderbox-a3814866.html. It discusses a secret 210-page report by fire experts BRE Global into the causes of Grenfell Tower, which somebody has had the courage to leak. The findings are very clear and bang in line with the campaign we have been fighting together in Wandsworth against the Council’s knee-jerk decision to impose sprinklers against residents’ wishes. The report explains in great detail how the original concrete building was turned from a safe structure into a tinderbox by the refurbishment between 2014 and 2016.

The first conclusion of the report is that the fire would not have spread beyond Flat 16 (where it started) and would not have claimed even a single life if the original facade of the building had not been re-clad. The 2014-16 refurbishment failed, in several fundamental areas, to meet fire safety standards set out in the building regulations. Taken together these areas proved critical for the rapid spread of flames across the length and breadth of the building.

The report says: “Grenfell Tower, as originally built, appears to have been designed on the premise of providing very high levels of passive fire protection. The original facade of Grenfell Tower, comprising exposed concrete and, given its age, likely timber or metal frame windows, would not have provided a medium for fire spread up the external surface. In BRE’s opinion … there would have been little opportunity for a fire in a flat of Grenfell Tower to spread to any neighbouring flats.”

The BRE report does refer to the absence of a sprinkler system but does not regard this as directly responsible for loss of life. It does say that door closers would have helped once the fire had started – but of course if the fire could never have started then that becomes a less powerful point.

It is a shame that the powers that be are so determined to keep all of this secret – in Wandsworth we had the same problem when the Council bought expensive legal advice with our money but refused to let us see it. But now we have the facts, and from a company which is a global expert on fire risks. Grenfell Tower, as originally built, ‘provided very high levels of fire protection’ and ‘not a single life would have been lost’ had it not been for the appallingly botched cladding job. This is of course exactly what we all suspected. As you know, right from the start I have been arguing that rather than rush into potentially damaging policy and wasting money which could better be spent on reducing damp and mould, replacing draughty windows and so on – let alone intruding into people’s homes, destroying their decorations and leaving them with the risk and expense of the sprinklers going off accidentally – we should be waiting to hear what actually went wrong. Now we know.

To repeat the facts: none of the ten 10+ storey blocks in West Hill Ward had cladding fitted; nor those in Roehampton; nor those in St Mary Park; nor any in the Borough except Sudbury House in Wandsworth and Castlemaine in Battersea – and I do not know if even these blocks have the same faults as Grenfell (the cladding is being removed anyway, probably inevitably). So as this report makes clear and as we all really knew already, none of the features which caused the dreadful tragedy of Grenfell Tower apply to any of our 10+ storey blocks, whose performance over the last 65 years has shown that they too were designed on the premise of providing very high levels of passive fire protection.

The Council (or at least the ruling Conservative group – to be fair the opposition has recently been a little more willing to listen to our case) still shows no evidence at all of being willing to listen to the facts and to abandon its extreme position. However, I really can’t see how they can possibly stick to their guns in the light of the evidence now before us – they really must climb down, however humiliating that might be. It has been a long campaign with many excellent contributions from residents at the various committees and meetings – the concerns voiced at the West Hill Let’s Talk meeting were especially articulate as were the two deputations to the Housing Committee by Cameron Young on behalf of Edgecombe Hall and earlier by our friends from Roehampton. I believe we may be very close to a famous victory for commonsense and residents’ rights over Council arrogance. If I happen to be reelected next month I will be doing all I can to bring this to a rapid conclusion.

With 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.

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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

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

_____________________________________________

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

10+ storey block newsletter December 2017 from Councillor Grimston (16 December 2017)

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: Saturday, December 30, 2017 3:25 PM
Subject: FW: 10+ storey newsletter December 16 2017

Dear All,

The televised service marking six months since the Grenfell disaster was extremely moving – whatever differences we might have over an appropriate response to this tragedy I know we all have in our minds and hearts the dreadful suffering of those who felt that their councils and other bodies were not listening to them. I hope the promises that have been made that councils will listen more in the future are sincere and are acted upon. However, nothing changes the fact that our blocks have proven themselves safe over many decades and that none of the ten West Hill high rise buildings have ever had the cladding which was so disastrous at Grenfell.

RECHARGING LEASEHOLDERS

Unfortunately Wandsworth is still refusing to allow anyone but the inner circle to look at the legal advice (which it bought using our money) about the rechargeability of sprinklers, but it is obvious that the matter is by no means as black and white as Wandsworth would have us believe. For example, Hammersmith & Fulham Council is taking a very different approach from Wandsworth – it does not intends to put sprinklers in individual rooms but in the communal areas: it intends to do the work in all its council blocks, not just the high rise ones which (excluding the one-off disaster at Grenfell) were the safest from a fire danger point of view; and it is not recharging leaseholders even for new firedoors where needed.

The Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities, Sajid David, has said that private landlords should not charge leaseholders for cladding work (see https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/javid-private-landlords-should-not-charge-leaseholders-for-cladding-work-53475). Mr Javid said: “When it comes to local authorities and housing associations they have made clear that they will not be passing on the costs and that is the right approach. For the private sector landlords I would like to see them follow the lead of the social sector and not pass on the costs to their tenants [by which I suspect he means leaseholders, given the context].” It is not clear if this should also apply to sprinklers – probably not – but it is an interesting legal question as to why not. (Wandsworth is not recharging the works to the two blocks, Sudbury House and Castlemaine, which need to have cladding removed as the Council has admitted it was at fault in fitting it in the first place – all that cost will come from Council tenants across the Borough.)

Hearteningly, he also said that more money was going to be made available for the Leasehold Advisory Service so that leaseholders can have more information about their rights in defending themselves from their landlords.

I should say that I am not in favour of shifting the costs onto the backs of the tenants alone – I want to see residents at the heart of deciding whether they want this inevitably expensive and disruptive measure at all in buildings that have proven themselves safe for decades. But the council’s refusal to let anyone outside the power that be scrutinise why it is taking a very different legal position from at least some others is starting to look dubious.

RESIDENTS IN THE MEDIA

We have managed to get some publicity for the argument that residents should have a greater role in choosing how to proceed rather than having things imposed from the Town Hall. A number of leaseholders have been interviewed by the BBC. Radio 5 etc., and by the written press such as the national Guardian (see https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/11/wandsworth-anger-fire-sprinklers-bill-grenfell-tower), and have made the case for their views being taken properly into account when decisions are taken. I was interviewed for the BBC local TV news and made the point that if this work does have to go ahead then it is not fair that all the cost should fall entirely on the residents (tenants or leaseholders), both because some of those living in Council blocks are not the most affluent in society and because tower blocks are not evenly spread across the country. I also made the point that the money being proposed for sprinklers could be (in my opinion better) used in dealing with the many problems of damp, lifts breaking down, old kitchens and bathrooms and so on that I see in our council housing stock. Later in the day the Leader of the Council had been recorded saying in effect that Wandsworth had run its housing so brilliantly that it did not need any help from the government (though it would not say no if some were offered). Given that the government had already made it clear that it would only consider giving help to Councils in financial hardship this was a very peculiar line to take. Obviously overnight some words were said behind closed doors because come the next day the Leader was very publicly asking for help from the government, like many other councils had been doing from the start. Whether this makes any difference is of course yet to be seen but in any case it isn’t just about the money…

COUNCIL MEETING

The issue was raised in questions at the Council meeting on December 6. As past performance led me to expect, rather than trying to discuss the concerns of the leaseholders (and many tenants) seriously, senior councillors simply attacked me personally and effectively dismissed the concerns of leaseholders as only involving ‘a small number’. I was accused of spreading ‘needless scare stories’ (for suggesting that our blocks are still as safe as they ever were, presumably) and accused of being irresponsible. Well, ok, I’ve been called worse over the last three years but it did betray a certain mindset. There was a reference to ‘a small number of leaseholders’ who were expressing concern. In my newsletter of August 26 this year I called for the Council to spread the costs for leaseholders over at least three years – the one bit of good news is that the Council has given in to this, in fact extending it to four years. Even so I don’t think the Council has heard two important messages:

  • it is considerably more than a “small number” of leaseholders who would like their views to be heard and acted upon – I am aware of a large number of leaseholders and at least a small number of council tenants;
  • it is not (only) about cost – there are all sorts of concerns, ranging from destruction of people’s decorations; to concerns about sprinklers going off accidentally or through malice; to not wanting the disturbance when the buildings have shown themselves safe for decades; to the poor quality of many major works projects; to a general objection at the Council feeling it can march into someone’s home against their will and do what it likes; to the same sense of frustration at a council that will not listen as is being expressed by the Grenfell survivors and families.

I asked a question of my own (as outlined in my last newsletter) – the Leader did not try to explain why residents in our blocks are being treated so differently from people in private blocks of the same age or acknowledge that it is a very different matter to include features at the design and build stage than to backfit them to existing buildings. We should remember that in June the government said it would not even force private blocks to undergo fire tests, let alone have a particular expensive and disruptive approach forced on them (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/private-landlords-not-forced-check-fire-cladding-combustible-safety-tower-block-a7805296.html). To be fair to the Leader he did accept that his comments recorded in the minutes of November’s Let’s Talk meeting, which he had seen and passed as accurate, in fact were misleading.

I do not know what the position of the opposition is at the Council – they did call for ‘meaningful consultation’ but whether this means meaningful consultation (i.e. actually acting on residents’ views) or not is not yet clear.

It could be a rather interesting New Year! Let’s hope it is a sensible one.

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

LEASE newsletter (December 2017)

There are a lot of leasehold properties on the Alton Estate. If you are not aware of LEASE, the Leasehold Advisory Service, then maybe you should have a read of their newsletters.

The December newsletter has the following articles;

  • Government to end unfair and abusive practices within leasehold
  • Message from LEASE Chair Roger Southam
  • LEASE advises on fire safety in leasehold
  • Leasehold houses – if buying the freehold, make sure you own the roof and foundations
  • Tribunal Procedure Committee publishes consultation
  • Transparency is key for the reasonableness of Insurance Premiums
  • LEASE webinars to help with consultation responses
  • Does service charge legislation apply to student units?
  • LEASE a WOW! Awards Finalist
  • Ground rent notices – have an eye for the detail
  • Christmas quiz

For past newsletters:

Please note that all information is provided on a best endeavours basis.

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

10+ storey block newsletter December 2017 from Councillor Grimston (10 December 2017)

Leaseholders 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>
Sent: Monday, December 4, 2017 1:18 PM
Subject: 10+ storey block newsletter December 2017

Dear All,

As you may know, we have ten 10+ storey blocks in West Hill Ward, i.e. Edgecombe House, William Harvey House, Andrew Reed House, Tymperley Court, Mynterne Court, Oatlands Court, 2-88 Keevil Drive, 146-256 Keevil Drive, 52-138 Castlecombe Drive and Bisley House. All date from the 1950s and 1960s. They all have a mixture of people living in them, ranging from Council tenants through private tenants to leaseholder-occupiers. Perhaps the biggest issue affecting your properties as a group is the decision by the Council, following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in Kensington & Chelsea, to install sprinklers in all rooms of such blocks, no matter what residents think about the idea, and to pay £24 million of tenants’ money and recharge the cost, expected to be between £3 and 4,000 per property, to leaseholders where appropriate.

BACKGROUND

The evidence, before Grenfell, shows clearly that if a fire breaks out the safest type of property to be in is a 10+storey block, followed by 1-3 storey purpose built flats, houses/conversion and, in last place, 4-9 storey blocks. However, the most important thing is just how extraordinarily safe all Council blocks are. Deaths in fire have fallen by two thirds over the last 30 years despite sprinklers still being very rare. Grenfell Tower was clearly a dreadful exception but all the evidence so far points to badly-thought-out installation of cladding outside the building, which created a’ chimney’ up which heat could flow rapidly and set the cladding itself on fire. No block in West Hill has ever been clad in this way.

Any new building put up since 2007 which is of 10+ storeys has to have sprinklers fitted. This makes some sense – obviously putting sprinklers in right at the start is a much easier and cheaper job than trying to tack them on to older buildings. However, the Council has decided to treat people living in its own blocks differently from people living in private blocks of the same age. People in private blocks are being trusted to take decisions for themselves about fire safety, whereas the Council is going to impose its own ideas on residents of its own blocks. One can just imagine how angry a senior councillor would be if the government turned up at their door and forced them to have sprinklers fitted at great expense. Many residents are telling me that they don’t see the point, that they don’t want the Council destroying their internal decoration to put these things in, that they have no confidence that the Council is any good at carrying out major works anyway, that they don’t want to risk sprinklers going off accidentally and flooding their possessions, and in the case of leaseholders that they certainly don’t want to have to pay for the ‘privilege’.

I am not of course against fitting sprinklers in properties where people want them. But I do believe that residents should be given the final say over their own lives, their own homes and their own money, especially given the very poor evidence that they would make much of a difference. I see so many flats with damp, so many failing lifts, so many tenants waiting for years for new windows, bathrooms or kitchens: surely it should be residents who choose whether £24 million of their rent money is spent on these problems or on sprinklers or in some other way.

The no-choice policy was supported by the whole Council at the October meeting with one exception (yours truly). However, I have been discussing the matter with other councillors and I suspect one of the other political groups may be about to change tack and argue for ‘meaningful’ consultation, by which I take to mean that any individual block which doesn’t want all of this won’t have to have it and (I hope) that individual residents will be allowed to decide if they want to take part in a block scheme or not. There is a debate at the Council meeting on Wednesday on whether the Council should start listening to its residents more and I will be making my point. I have also put a question down to the Council leader as follows:

“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 commonsense 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 backfitting 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?”

The Councils’ own position on sprinklers has been clearly set out and  leaseholders are of course entitled to challenge the decision through an application to a First Tier Property Tribunal. However as we have yet to appoint consultants to develop the programme  we are still many months away from the first phase of formal consultation with leaseholders in specific blocks.

FIRST TIER PROPERTY TRIBUNAL

There is a national scheme through which residents can protect themselves from unreasonable actions affecting their properties, known as ‘First Tier Property Tribunals’. Residential property disputes that they can handle include leasehold disputes. More information can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/first-tier-tribunal-property-chamber/about.

OTHER COUNCILS AND LEGAL ADVICE

One of the frustrating things has been the decision of Wandsworth Council to buy legal advice (using our money) but then absolutely to refuse to allow even other councillors to see the result. Obviously it makes for an easier ride for the Council to keep it secret in case people start to question it. From my point of view, though, it makes it harder to understand the reason behind the Council’s belief that it can recharge these costs to leaseholders under the ‘security of the block’ clause in the leases. I’ve been trying to find out what other Councils are doing. One obvious one to look at is Hammersmith & Fulham, very close to Grenfell and a similar Borough to ours in many ways. They are taking a very different approach. Most strikingly – they are not going to impose sprinklers on each room or property, mostly putting them in communal areas (of all blocks, not just high rise) like staircases and landings; and they are not going to recharge the costs to leaseholders. I am actually not happy with the idea that tenants, through the Housing Revenue Account, should have to carry an even greater cost than the £24 million they will already have to find for this project but what is very interesting is that clearly H&F have received very different legal advice from Wandsworth.

COUNCILS LEASEHOLDERS ACROSS WANDSWORTH

When I was chair of the Housing Committee in 1997-8 there was an organisation called CLAW (Council Leaseholders Across Wandsworth) which I found extremely helpful in trying to understand and respond to their concerns. I wonder if a similar organisation is needed today? I would be very happy to be involved in setting it up if that would be useful.

Please pass this on to any of your neighbours who might be interested. If you want to unsubscribe just drop me an email please.

Best wishes,

MALCOLM GRIMSTON

Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward

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