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Councillor Malcolm Grimston’s 10+ storey block update (19 August 2018)

The latest update from Councillor Malcolm Grimston was received on 10 August 2018 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: ‎Sunday‎, ‎August‎ ‎19‎, ‎2018‎ ‎08‎:‎55‎:‎23‎ ‎PM‎ ‎BST

Subject: 10+ storey news – tribunal special (Case reference LON/00BJ/LSC/2018/0286)

Dear All,

The Council has published more on how it intends to proceed with regard to the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) looking into the lawfulness or otherwise of imposing sprinklers on 10+ storey blocks and charging residents for the privilege. See http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/info/200570/safety_in_your_council_home/2294/fire_safety/9. As has sadly become normal it is a dreadfully biased summary of the true situation, designed to help the Council in railroading this through against residents’ wishes. There is a very tight deadline of September 7 for comments: whatever the motive for this, the effect is that many people will be on holiday or otherwise unable to respond in time. The Council should have circulated the relevant papers to all leaseholders by now but I am hearing from several of you who have not received them.

TIMETABLE

September 7 – comments on the proposals and requests to be involved in the proceedings have to be with the FTT. This involves filling in a one-page Reply Form and sending it to both the First Tier Tribunal Property Chamber (Residential Property), 10 Alfred Place, London WC1E 7LR – email rplondon@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk – and sending a copy to the Council’s representative, Mark Cooper, South London Legal Partnership, Gifford House, 67c St Heller Avenue, Morden SM4 6HY, mark.cooper@merton.gov.uk. I attach the Preliminary Directions for those of you that have not seen them – the form is on the fourth page. Although a number of Residents’ Associations are putting together responses from their residents, which is excellent, again it cannot do any harm if every leaseholder who opposes this writes to the Tribunal asking to be ‘involved in the proceedings’ and, if available on the 27th of September (see below), asks to be allowed to attend in person.

September 13, 6.30 for 7.30pm – Housing Committee meeting at the Town Hall (at the junction of Wandsworth High Street and Fairfield Street), a chance to express your opposition in person. I’d suggest meeting outside the Town Hall from 6.30 onwards: the Committee meeting itself is open to the public and Councillor Paul White, Labour Party spokesman on Housing and I will be putting a paper on the matter to the Committee (see below). If any residents wish to make a ‘deputation’ to the Committee (perhaps from the east of the Borough as we have already had excellent presentations from West Hill and Roehampton) to express your views then please let me know as soon as possible.

September 27, 10am – case management hearing in London, at 10 Alfred Place WC1E 7LR if there is little interest or at another venue if a lot of people wish to come. If you want to take part in this you must fill out the Reply Form and submit it in time. Technically this is only for leaseholders but it can do the case no harm if Council tenants who oppose this imposition also write to Mr Cooper and the Tribunal.

If any of you cannot get along but would like to nominate me (or anyone else) to speak on your behalf please include my name and address on the form – i.e. Councillor Malcolm Grimston, Town Hall, Wandsworth High Street, London SW18 2PU (and let me know!).

HOUSING COMMITTEE, SEPTEMBER 13

Councillor Paul White and I will make three suggestions in our Paper on September 13.

  1. It is against natural justice that the Council is using residents’ money on legal advice and representation without making a similar sum available to residents to defend themselves. This is wrong and should be changed. Tribunal to ensure that it has the authority to undertake and charge for the works.(I have personally asked the Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor Kim Caddy, kcaddy@wandsworth.gov.uk, as a matter of natural justice she will make funds available to residents up to the level of your money that the Council is going to use against you. Understandably she did not sound keen but is going to ‘look into it’.)
  2. The Council should work with residents to find a third party who can carry out a block-by-block fire risk assessment to determine for which if any of our blocks a reasonable case might be made for sprinklers. Many residents do not trust the Council to do this fairly without simply coming up with a blanket support for its policies.
  3. A binding ballot be held on a block by block basis: only if a majority of residents support the installation of sprinklers should the work go ahead.

If any more petitions are available by the beginning of September we can submit them and refer to them at this meeting.

SAMPLE LETTER

For interest, you can read a letter to the FTT from the Battersea Park Estate RA here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OMVG2r8W4txKEuzJOZ2vO1opfhMq7LdI5nG8JJSSrfw/edit?usp=sharing.

THE COUNCIL’S CASE

  1. One interesting point struck me on reading the Council’s case. The ‘Type 1’ Leases refer to the Council being allowed to recover service charges to “do such things as the Council may decide are necessary to ensure the efficient maintenance and administration of the Block.” (The dictionary definition of ‘administration’ is ‘the process or activity of running a business, organisation etc.’ and of ‘maintenance’ is the process of preserving a condition or situation or the state of being preserved’.) Only Type 2 leases also refer to the ‘security’ of the block in addition. This is annoying for the Council as in effect they cannot argue that the forced imposition of sprinklers improves the security of the blocks, as even if successful this would leave them unable to recharge the work to those with Type 1 leases and even for this Council that might be found to be unacceptably unfair. So they are arguing the following:

“The installation of sprinkler systems are [sic] necessary for the efficient maintenance of each Block because in the absence of a sprinkler system there is a risk that any Block may sustain fire damage and in the worst case burn down and hence require the rebuilding or other repair and maintenance’.

The installation of sprinkler systems are necessary for the efficient administration of each Block because in the absence of a sprinkler system there is a risk that any Block may sustain fire damage and in the worst case burn down and hence require the rebuilding or other repair and maintenance which has an impact on the following matters of administration:

  • the amount of the insurance premium. That is payable in respect of the Block;
  • the rehousing of the tenants and lessees resident in the Block whilst the Block is rebuilt.”

The Council has (inevitably in my view given the wording of the leases) not said that it is doing this to save lives, just to save money and inconvenience in the vanishingly unlikely events both that a fire would consume an entire Block (which has never happened in any block without cladding or, in one case, wooden balconies) and that if fire did break out in such a way sprinklers would prevent its spread (which we know they wouldn’t because of the fire e.g. at the Address Downtown Hotel in Dubai in 2015). However, the leases, remember, say that recharging is only allowable if the work in question is necessary to ensure the efficient maintenance and administration of the Block – not that it might under some extremely unlikely circumstances make it a bit easier. So on the face of it the Council needs to show that without imposing sprinklers on you all it will be unable to administer the Blocks (i.e. send out bills, charge the rent, put letters round asking you not to throw rubbish out of your windows or leave bikes in the stairwell) or to maintain them (e.g. carry out programmes of redecoration, mop the floors. However, it is precisely points like this which need a professional legal viewpoint.

Incidentally, the Prime Minister made the Government’s position clear in October 2017 (see https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-sprinklers-money-grenfell-promise-broken-accusations-a8007501.html). “It is not the case that sprinklers are the only issue that needs to be looked at or addressed, nor is it the only solution to ensuring the safety [of tower blocks]. In specific rejection of Wandsworth’s request for £30 million funding the Prime Minister said: “[Government financial] support will not include general improvement and enhancements to buildings.”

WHERE WOULD THE MONEY GO?

I am concerned about the cost of the programme and especially the management fees that would go on top of the actual costs of installing the sprinkler systems. Mr Ian Stewart, Assistant Director of Housing Management, tells me: “We will employ a consultant to put the programme together and prepare specifications and then run the contracts. This work will be fee tendered so I’d expect fees of 3-4.5%. Council officer time is a percentage on top of the consultants fees and will reflect the additional work that various officers will have to put in around consultation and billing costs for example. The fee structure is transparent and also challengeable but generally the fees for Wandsworth major works projects fall below the industry average of around 10%. We aren’t intending to employ more staff or pay bonuses in relation to this programme of works.

So the Council will be charging something like 5% to leaseholders and the HRA for its own time but will not be paying anything extra as there won’t be any more staff employed or bonuses paid. So where will it go? (Mr Stewart did not know.) As I understand it the programme will take £24 million from the Housing Revenue Account (I am not sure if leaseholder contributions are on top of this), presuming no big problems with asbestos etc.. 5% of £24 million is a tidy £1.2 million, or £300,000 a year over the four years of the programme. That would buy a huge amount of officer time – if any extra officer time were needed. But we are told it isn’t. Obviously if officers are going to devote time to this instead of doing what they would otherwise be doing then you should all get a rebate of exactly the same amount as the surcharge to reflect the fact that you weren’t getting what you would otherwise be paying for.

THE LETTER TO LEASEHOLDERS

A few comments on the Council’s propaganda letter which has also been published on the website:

Fire safety

Proposal to fit sprinkler systems to high-rise residential blocks

Following the fire at Grenfell Tower last June, we proposed that sprinklers should be fitted to all properties in blocks of 10 storeys or more – bringing fire safety up to the same standard that would be found in a similar newly built block. (If you lived in a private block of the same age as the Council ones you would have nobody coming to impose this on you – the Council is not comparing like with like.) Fire safety experts including the London Fire Brigade Commissioner, the Royal Institute of British Architects and, most recently, a cross-party select committee of MPs have supported the retro-fitting of sprinklers to high rise residential buildings. (The Select Committee says sprinklers should be fitted and paid for by the government. The Fire Brigade, coming under a lot of criticism for its response to Grenfell, is arguing that sprinklers should be fitted in all 6+ storey blocks. I have seen nobody who supports the Council position as it stands.)

How sprinklers can help 

High rise buildings are built to ensure that fire is contained within an individual compartment but there remains a risk that fire can spread and there are recent examples of this happening. (In almost every case that the Council has been able to provide where fire has spread the problem was with flammable cladding, except for one where wooden balconies were involved. There is no evidence at all that fire can spread if there is nothing to spread it and many examples in Wandsworth blocks and elsewhere where fires have indeed been restricted to the property of origin.) Sprinklers are considered the single most effective method of suppressing a fire at the point of origin. It is a matter of fact that sprinklers protect buildings (the many fires in multi-storey hotels, such as the Address Downtown in Dubai, show that the presence of sprinklers does not prevent fire spreading throughout a building when it has flammable cladding) and save lives (the clear evidence is that, with the unique exception of Grenfell, you are least likely to die as a result of a fire breaking out in your property if you live in a 10+ storey block compared to lower properties, and that the imposed sprinklers may save one life in Wandsworth in the next 25 years. By contrast, spending the same sum say dealing with the chronic damp and mould that residents have to put up with would have huge health benefits) and we believe that these works are necessary to ensure that the risk to residents from fire is kept to a minimum. (If you live in a private house or block the Council thinks you are clever enough to be able to take a decision over how best to use your money, but if you are a Council tenant or leaseholder you are too stupid and need the Council to protect you from yourselves.)

Undertaking the works 

For a building to be fully protected, sprinklers must be fitted in every property (the Council’s view is that if you live in private housing you are clever enough to make decisions and we have taken legal advice to establish if the standard lease will allow us to undertake these works to leasehold properties. Our advice (paid from out of the Housing revenue Account – i.e. with residents’ money – but which the Council is still refusing to allow the residents to see) is that we can proceed but before we commit funds to developing a sprinkler programme we have chosen to make an application to the First Tier Property Our advice is that we can proceed but before we commit funds to developing a sprinkler programme we have chosen to make an application to the First Tier Property Tribunal to ensure that it has the authority to undertake and charge for the works.

Best wishes,

MALCOLM GRIMSTON

Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward

Attached – http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/downloads/file/13625/preliminary_directions

____________

From: Malcolm Grimston <malcolmgrimston@btconnect.com>

To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston <mgrimston@wandsworth.gov.uk>

Sent: ‎Monday‎, ‎August‎ ‎20‎, ‎2018‎ ‎12‎:‎40‎:‎54‎ ‎AM‎ ‎BST

Subject: Tribunal special – extra

Sorry to contact you again but I have had several expressions of concern about the way the document the Council sent out (and which I attached to the newsletter yesterday).

The document has been presented in such a way as to cause confusion and to worry people that they are being charged up to £300 to take part. I do not know if this was deliberate or just thoughtless. However, to be clear, you do not have to pay anything to be registered as being ‘involved’ in the process or to attend on September 27th.

Pages 1-3 of the document are the Tribunal’s preliminary directions.

The fourth page (not numbered as such) is the Reply Form – it is only one page and that is all that you have to return to be registered – you do not have to pay anything.

Page 5-16 (numbered 1-12) are a copy of the application form that the Council has already submitted to the Tribunal. It contains practically nothing of any value to residents. The £100 and £200 sums mentioned on numbered page 9 are the one-off sums the Council has already paid to set the judgment process going (using your money of course). This was a separate document from the First Tier Tribunal and did not have to be put side-by-side with the Reply Form.

Best wishes,

MALCOLM

_______________

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.

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

The latest update from Councillor Malcolm Grimston was received on 10 August 2018 with regards to the proposed retro-fitting of water sprinklers in 10+ storey blocks in the Wandsworth Borough Council ward.

 ______

From: Grimston, Malcolm (Cllr)

To: Grimston, Malcolm (Cllr)

Sent: ‎Friday‎, ‎August‎ ‎10‎, ‎2018‎ ‎02‎:‎55‎:‎05‎ ‎PM‎ ‎BST

Subject: 10+storey news update August 10 2018

Dear All,

Please pass this on to anyone who might be interested. If you wish to unsubscribe please drop me an email.

CONTENTS

  • Tribunal on the sprinklers – latest information.
  • Cross-Borough opposition.
  • Legal advice.
  • What it means for Council tenants.
  • A range of views.
  • More petitions needed – the Council says that only 18 of the 99 blocks affected have lodged an objection, either directly or through a Residents’ Association.
  • Potential protest – Council committee meeting at the Town Hall, Thursday September 13 2018.

LEASEHOLD TRIBUNAL

Wandsworth submitted its application to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (now known as the First Tier Tribunal or FTT) a couple of weeks ago. The Tribunal has written back with directions and the Council has to write out to all affected leaseholders by 17th August with a copy of these directions, the council’s application and the response form. A case management hearing is to be held on September 27th and the full hearing may be in November. I have asked the Council to copy me in on the letter to leaseholders so I can also keep Council tenants and others informed but am not sure if they will do so.

A CROSS-BOROUGH CAMPAIGN

I went to a meeting of Residents’ Associations from the east of the Borough that was held in Battersea on Tuesday, which was also attended by one of the Labour councillors for that area, Maurice McLeod. There is similar anger there to that which I have seen in West Hill and Roehampton. The same six general areas of concern arose there as over here, viz.:

  • the need – when those fires which have spread in high rise blocks have almost all been because of cladding tiles (the only exception the Council has managed to come up with involved wooden balconies, not a common feature of our blocks) then why do we need sprinklers in blocks without cladding?
  • the cost – directly to leaseholders and indirectly to tenants (through the Housing Revenue Account) – the Council estimates the cost to the HRA will be a whopping £24 million though it could be higher if the sprinkler trade cashes in and if asbestos is an issue in any of the blocks;
  • possible problems with accidental or vandalistic triggering of the sprinklers;
  • the disruption the works will cause – both while they are being carried out and to the decoration in the properties – and the poor track record of the Council in doing major works properly;
  • the sense of homes being ‘invaded’ against residents’ wishes – one person told me they felt like they were going to be ‘burgled’ (not literally);
  • the right to choose – why are Council estate residents regarded as being too stupid to take decisions like this for themselves when the Council would never dream of retreating people in private houses or properties in this way even if they had the powers to do so.

Battersea Park Estate is starting up which should be worth a look and present a chance to share ideas. See https://sites.google.com/view/wandsworth-ra-forum/.

LEGAL ADVICE

All the above are good points around which to develop a publicity and political campaign but the issue for the Tribunal will be a legal one. Does the Council have legal powers to recharge leaseholders for the works under the clause in the lease that talks about ‘the security of the block’ as in effect an excuse for imposing whatever costs it chooses on leaseholders. I have already raised the request for the Council to fund residents to the same level that it will fund its own case to the FTT and been rebuffed but the Labour Party at the Town Hall takes the same view as I do and we will be bringing a paper to the Thursday September 13 Housing Committee meeting to that effect. However, if we fail – and we should remember for example that the Council used your money to get legal advice in the first place and then refused to let me or any resident even see the questions which were asked despite my Freedom of Information request – it may be necessary to crowd fund some legal advice. If it comes to that I will let you know details.

COUNCIL TENANTS

Inevitably, since the law gives better protection to leaseholders than to Council tenants the focus will be on the FTT case. However, in a real sense the leaseholders are going in to bat for the many tenants who are equally opposed to this imposition. I have had it confirmed by the Assistant Director of Housing that if the residents’ interests are supported by the Tribunal then the whole scheme will be abandoned.

DIFFERENT VIEWS

Although the impression I get is of an overwhelming opposition to these proposals among leaseholders and tenants alike, it is important bear in mind that there may well be people with the opposite view and their voices need to be heard and respected as well. My position, which I believe is now shared by the Labour Party, is that each block should have its own fire risk assessment done based on whether or not any cladding was used and other factors and then should be consulted (I mean proper consultation, not the Council’s version of the word, i.e. the result will matter) as to whether it wants sprinklers, with residents having the final say.

ACTIONS

Three proposed actions came from Tuesday’s meeting.

  • More petitions from those blocks which have not yet expressed a view – the Council says that only 18 of the 99 blocks affected have lodged an objection, either directly or through a Residents’ Association –but I am waiting for conformation from the Town Hall. Either way, the Council still seems to believe objections are just coming from a few leaseholders and we need evidence to challenge this if it is indeed wrong.
  • A cross-Borough protest outside the Town Hall on THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 13, the date of the next Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting – a chance for members of the Committee to see if it is indeed just a small number of leaseholders who are opposed to this project. This could serve as a springboard to a publicity campaign (it may be an issue which attracts national interest as we seem to be ‘in the lead’ – or first in the firing line, depending on how you look at it – with this type of policy).
  • Feelers on what appropriate legal advice might cost, who might provide it and how it could be funded.

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.

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.

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

Councillor Malcolm Grimston’s 10+ storey block update (28 July 2018)

The latest update from Councillor Malcolm Grimston was received on 28 July 2018 with regards to the proposed retro-fitting of water sprinklers in 10+ storey blocks in the Wandsworth Borough Council ward.

 ________

From: Malcolm Grimston

To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston

Sent: ‎Saturday‎, ‎July‎ ‎28‎, ‎2018‎ ‎05‎:‎31‎:‎13‎ ‎PM‎ ‎BST

Subject: 10+ storey sprinkler news update July 28 2018

Dear All,

Please pass this on to anyone who might be interested. If you wish to unsubscribe please drop me an email. It is quite detailed this time, especially the extended correspondence with the Assistant Director of Housing – forgive me but I found some of the replies illuminating.

CONTENTS

  • Mortgage scare story.
  • Council question – Cabinet Member refuses to agree to offer residents financial help with any legal costs associated with the forthcoming Tribunal.
  • Tribunal finding on Oxford City Council imposition of sprinklers on its residents (attached) – the Tribunal found for the residents.
  • A reflection that the presence of sprinklers did not prevent the spread of fire at a number of hotel fires, notably the Address Downtown in Dubai at the end of 2015.
  • Correspondence on various issues with the Assistant Director of Housing Management – quite detailed but culminating in an admission that the Council, a year after Grenfell and nine years after Lakanal, has made no attempt to identify which high rise blocks may have had some cladding fitted, despite the clear reports blaming cladding in each case (and others).
  • Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government report – the Council gives a very slanted interpretation. Far from endorsing Wandsworth’s intention to impose sprinklers on residents and make them pay for it (as the Council claims), the Select Committee calls for the scheme to funded by the Government.

MORTGAGES

There have been some inaccurate claims that mortgage companies are refusing to mortgage tower blocks without sprinklers. This does not seem to be the case, however. The usually cited example is Richmond House in Southend – a seven storey building which would not have sprinklers forced on it anyway under the Wandsworth scheme – but in fact the main issue there was commercial space in the lower floors and fears about security as its use had not been confirmed. Leeds Building Society, the lender in question, made its position very clear. “For every mortgage application we rely on an independent expert valuation as to whether a property has suitable security for a mortgage. We reviewed our criteria following the Grenfell Tower fire and concluded no changes were required.” (See FT, January 12 2018, https://www.ftadviser.com/mortgages/2018/01/12/borrowers-refused-mortgages-over-grenfell-type-safety-fears/).

COUNCIL QUESTION

I asked the following question at the Council meeting on July 11. The officers placed it at number 70 to make sure it would not be asked on the night and I would not have a chance to follow it up through a ‘supplementary’. Nevertheless the answer is illuminating.

(70) Use of Housing Revenue Account Funds for legal action: Question raised by Councillor Grimston to the Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration:

What is the estimated cost to the Housing Revenue Account of bringing a test case regarding the imposition of sprinklers in 10+ storey blocks to the Leasehold Tribunal, including lawyer fees and officer time?

Given that HRA money is provided by residents but is now being used against their interests (as they see it), will the Cabinet Member guarantee that a similar level of resources (lawyer fees and officer time) will be made available to residents from the HRA so they can defend those interests at that Tribunal?

Answer:

The cost of the application to the First Tier Property Tribunal is fixed at £300, however, there will be legal fees to be added which cannot at this point be estimated as we do not have a clear indication on the length of time the Tribunal will take to consider this application. Council’s concerns are to ensure the safety of all who reside in properties it owns and manages. I am aware that a relatively small number of leaseholders have objected to the planned retro-fitting of sprinklers and the Tribunal will no doubt ensure they along with all other affected leaseholders will have the opportunity to be heard on the matter; we await directions as to how the Tribunal wishes to proceed on this point.

Leaseholders have challenged the Council through what was originally the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal and is now the First Tier Property Tribunal on occasions in the past and the Tribunal are expert at receiving evidence from individuals who are not legally represented, but in any event the Council I’m sure Councillor Grimston would agree that it would seem counter intuitive to allocate funds to assist leaseholders in mounting a legal challenge to a Council policy which received unanimous support from both main parties.

Note both the persistent myth that it is just ‘a relatively small number of leaseholders’ who are unhappy at the scheme – I thought the many petitions which have been submitted had put this to bed. (At the same meeting I submitted a petition from Bisley House signed by residents in no fewer than 43 of the 50 occupied flats.) The overall position is clear though – the Council will use as much of your money as it needs to persuade the Tribunal to follow a path which the vast majority of residents I have spoken to believe is against their interests, but will not even provide similar funds to residents to make it a ‘fair fight’. It is the starkest example I have seen of a Council that has no interest at all in the views of its residents.

CORRESPONDENCE WITH MR IAN STEWART

I have been in correspondence with the Assistant Director of Housing Management on a number of issues and the responses may be of interest. The Leasehold Tribunal recently found against Oxford City Council for trying to recharge for sprinklers which it had imposed on residents of five blocks (attached). Though this does not of itself mean that the Wandsworth case will come to the same conclusion, it does seem relevant.

Here is the exchange.

ME TO MR STEWART, JUNE 20

You will be aware of the attached [the Tribunal finding] I presume – is it as relevant as it appears to be to any attempt Wandsworth might make to recharge leaseholders over the costs of imposing sprinklers on them? The statement on page 30 looks pretty conclusive: “This Tribunal has determined that the new sprinkler system is an improvement. The same applies to [decorations associated with redecoration sprinkler works] the cost of which is therefore not recoverable as a service charge.” I suspect however that the Oxford leases may not have the catch-all clause about the ‘security’ of the block which may give Wandsworth an extra weapon to use against leaseholders that was not the case in Oxford? I would also appreciate some further information.

  • From where will the costs of going to the Tribunal (legal advice, legal representation, officer time etc.) be met?
  • Roughly how much might those costs be expected to be?
  • When will submissions be made to the Tribunal (if at all) and will residents be allowed to see them at any point?
  • If the Tribunal were to find that the costs to leaseholders cannot be recharged, how much of an extra burden would this represent for the HRA? (How many leaseholders are there in 10+ storey Council block in Wandsworth, presuming the cost is £3-4k per property?)

MR STEWART’S REPLY, JUNE 22

We are aware of the Oxford decision but it seems to relate to a wholly different situation from that that applies in Wandsworth in that Oxford City Homes undertook what were identified as a comprehensive package of improvement works, which included works associated with fire safety, and attempted to recharge leaseholders their contribution towards the cost of the whole programme. Clearly the lease contained no covenant allowing the landlord to charge for the bulk of these works. [I suppose this refers to the ‘security of the block’ clause.] The other important distinction between ourselves and Oxford is that we are seeking clarification from a tribunal in advance of any works being undertaken or charges levied which I’m sure you will agree is a more sensible approach.

With respect to the application to the Tribunal the costs will be met from the Housing Revenue Account. I don’t yet have details of the likely costs but the application itself is a few hundred pounds but legal representation will be some thousands but I can give you a better idea once we have had directions from the Tribunal. Our solicitor , Mark Cooper, has been in recent contact with the Tribunal official covering Wandsworth and we should have more information in a few weeks. The Tribunal will give directions as to how it will want the Council to notify affected leaseholders, how it will wish to receive and deal with responses and the venue for the hearing.  I am assuming that the Council’s application would be widely distributed as part of this process. The Council believes that sprinklers need to be fitted to all properties in a block to provide full fire safety cover but it also recognises that it will not be able to proceed with sprinkler installation if the Tribunal rules that the works cannot be required (and charged) under the terms of the lease. [My emphasis.]

ME TO MR STEWART JULY 1

I am not sure I entirely follow your reasoning – your second point is clear enough (presumably it would not affect the ruling about the lawfulness of such recharging if the challenge was made before or after the work was done but I agree it is much better to do it beforehand) but the former is less clear as the ruling stated very clearly that the sprinklers (albeit alongside other measures as you say) could not be recharged as they represented an “improvement”.

You will I presume be aware of the debate on this in Birmingham. In February of this year, then Birmingham City Councillor Dr Barry Henley, formerly Chief Executive of Chubb Fire Engineering who worked on designing safety systems in buildings around the world (some up to 60 storeys high), advised on British and European fire regulations and developed new safety warning systems for escalators following the Kings Cross fire, made a number of interesting points on which I would like your comments (see https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/sprinklers-protect-city-tower-block-14293030). Specifically he says that: “A complication is the lack of water pressure, meaning extra tanks and pumps would need to be installed – creating havoc for tenants and increasing the likelihood of water damage from leaks, burst pipes and vandalism.”

Can you comment please and also confirm:

  • that the inquiries into both the Lakenal House (“the fire spread unexpectedly fast, both laterally and vertically, trapping people in their homes, with the exterior cladding panels burning through in just four and a half minutes”) and Shepherd’s Court (“external insulation panels which were attached below the windows on Shepherd’s Court were the prime cause of the spread of the fire”  – see https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/a-stark-warning-the-shepherds-bush-tower-block-fire-50566) fires implicated flammable cladding as a major cause of the spread – in other words that there is no evidence from those events that the ‘security’ of buildings which were not fitted with such cladding is under any danger from flat fires;
  • that the Address Downtown Hotel fire in Dubai in December 2015, for example, which spread over 40 storeys of the (2008) building, happened despite the fact that there were sprinklers throughout the building which operated as they were designed to do – in other words that sprinklers are not effective in preventing the spread of fire where cladding is in place, demonstrably do not present a (significant) improvement to the ‘security’ of such (clad) buildings (let alone unclad ones) and indeed could be counterproductive if they persuaded residents to remain in their homes;
  • that if (as I suspect) stay-put is in any case dead as a policy as many residents would not ‘take the risk’ once they heard of a flat fire in their block, the presence of water on their shoes and feet or coming through the door of possibly several flats where sprinklers had been activated would represent a considerable hazard as it would make the stairwells wet and more of a slip hazard.

For interest, what does the Council make of the statement in the BRE Global report for the Met which says the fire would not have spread beyond Flat 16 – the flat of origin – and would not have claimed a single life if the original facade of the building had not been reclad (see https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/shock-grenfell-dossier-reveals-disastrous-refurbishment-turned-tower-into-a-tinderbox-a3814866.html)? Again prima facie this suggests that Grenfell has no implications for any block which does not have such cladding.

MR STEWART, JULY 16

The Tribunal ruling in the Oxford case relates to the clauses within their leases and has indeed confirmed that works classed as pure improvements may not be recharged. Viewing that case in isolation may not be entirely helpful as the nature and scale of the improvements works resulted in leaseholders being charged in the region of £50k each and was very different to the programme of works Wandsworth has supported.  As has been said on many occasions leases differ and the advice we have received suggests that retro-fitting sprinklers can be undertaken and charged for in leasehold units. This is as you know the issue on which we have asked the Tribunal to rule so I think we need to be patient and wait for that decision and hopefully the clarity it will bring.

It is worth noting that having listened to Cllr Dr Barry Henley Birmingham Council voted overwhelmingly to support retro-fitting sprinklers across its housing stock. You might be aware that we have already fitted sprinklers in Nightingale Square and have had no issues to date with the installation either from leaks, burst pipes or vandalism.

The Council’s position on sprinklers remains that they are the single most effective measure of suppressing a fire at source. We do know that fires spread in high rise blocks, irrespective of whether cladding has been fitted and there are regular examples of fires breaching the compartmentation of the flat and spreading to other floors. The presence of sprinklers minimises the risk of the fire spreading before the fire services are able to attend. It is interesting in the Dubai 40 storey block fire that you quote that not one person died in that fire and that has to a large part been explained by the effectiveness of the internal safety measures which included a full sprinkler system . The sprinkler heads will only activate in the room where the fire originates and it is unlikely that there will be multiple activations in different dwellings but we are aware that a sprinkler head will discharge considerably less water than would be used by the brigade in tackling a well-developed flat fire. Whilst the precise cause of the fire at Grenfell has yet to be conclusively established the BRE report you refer to makes it clear that the disaster could only have been averted if the fire had been prevented from leaving flat 16 by putting it out at source and that is precisely what sprinkler systems are intended to do.

[This seems to be bizarre. If the sprinklers do not stop the fire spreading round the outside of the clad building then obviously they will have to go off in many floors at once. And if it is thought impossible that a fire could spread outside unclad blocks – correctly, as all the evidence shows – then there is no case for imposing sprinklers on such Council tower blocks but not on any other kind of property.]

ME TO MR STEWART, JULY 16

Thanks – can you give some examples of fires spreading throughout blocks which do not have cladding please.

MR STEWART, JULY 16

We may be at cross purposes. Sudbury House and Castlemaine are blocks that we would class as being clad. Lakanal and  Shepherd’s Court were not over-clad but were traditional concrete blocks which had various building components replaced as part of improvement works, which certainly contributed to the fire spread in the case of Lakanal and may have done so in Shepherds Court, although an open window will just as easily allow fire to spread from one floor to another than a failing infill panel. More recently the Orwell Building in West Hampstead saw fire spread over a number of floors as a result of timber balconies catching fire and this was a new, private sector block.

[For background, Orwell Building is a five-storey block which would not have been affected by Wandsworth’s plans – it is correct to say that fire risks are higher in 4-9 storey blocks than in 10+ storey blocks but there were no casualties in the incident. But we should certainly look carefully at all our tower blocks that have timber balconies – I don’t think it will take long.]

ME TO MR STEWART, JULY 25

Which Council blocks in Wandsworth have had flammable cladding installed but not to the extent of ‘over-cladding’ as you use the word?

MR STEWART, JULY 26

We cannot move to collecting that information while the debate still continues about what should and should not be permitted to be fitted on buildings of various heights and should this apply to existing buildings as well as new. It is something we are conscious may need doing but it is a large piece of work and we are choosing to wait until matters become clearer.

[I have to say I found this startling and disturbing. Over a year after Grenfell and nine years since Lakenal the Council still has done nothing to find out which of its blocks (if any) had cladding of this kind fitted (excepting the two which are known to have been entirely over-clad). Of course the Council’s case to impose sprinklers to any block which has no such cladding at all would be fatally undermined so one can understand why they don’t want that information, but it is also important that we know if any blocks might be at risk, however small, since presumably it would be much cheaper and less obtrusive to remove a small amount of cladding than to force unpopular sprinklers on resident against their wishes.]

HOUSING, COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT SELECT COMMITTEE

The Council has produced a press release saying “Wandsworth Council’s policy on sprinklers has been endorsed by a cross-party group of MPs.” In fact the report from the Housing. Communities and Local Government Select Committee (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/555/555.pdf) does not mention Wandsworth at all. However, para 68 says:

“Where structurally feasible, sprinklers should be retro-fitted to existing high-rise residential buildings to provide an extra layer of safety for residents. The Government should make funding available to fit sprinklers into council and housing association-owned residential buildings above 18 metres, and issue guidance to that effect to building owners in the private sector.”

In other words the Select Committee certainly did not endorse Wandsworth’s policy whereby residents, either leaseholders through their service charge or tenants through their rents, should be forced to pay for such an imposition themselves. The Committee report, unlike the Council, admits that the much more detailed report carried out by Dame Judith Hackett for the Government (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/707785/Building_a_Safer_Future_-_web.pdf) did not recommend this measure.

Best wishes,

MALCOLM GRIMSTON

Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward

Caveats

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Councillor Malcolm Grimston’s 10+ storey block update (10 June 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.

______

From: Malcolm Grimston
To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston
Sent: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 5:45 PM
Subject: 10+ storey news update June 10 2018

Dear All,Please pass this on to anyone who might be interested. If you wish to unsubscribe please drop me an email.

COUNCIL ACTIVITY

There doesn’t seem to be anything to report here – the Council kicked the whole issue of imposing sprinklers on residents into the post-election long grass but the new Cabinet Member, Kim Caddy, has not as yet made any pronouncements (that I am aware of).

ANNIVERSARY OF GRENFELL

The anniversary of Grenfell has been a sobering and distressing moment and I know all our thoughts remain with the survivors and the families of those lost. The Public Inquiry is now under way and the BBC is producing a podcast every day with key evidence – see https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p066rd9t/episodes/downloads. There is also an extraordinary investigation into the events leading up to and after the disaster by Andrew Hagan called The Tower in the London Review of Books – see https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n11/andrew-ohagan/the-tower?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgJ-d1ovg2wIVDeEbCh3hpwS4EAAYASAAEgI0GPD_BwE. It seems clear that much of the criticism of Kensington & Chelsea and the TMO was harsh but there are serious question to be asked about the regulatory system that allowed the flammable cladding to be fitted and the advice from organisations such as the Fire Brigade.

REMOVING CLADDING

Cladding is being removed at Sudbury House in Wandsworth and Castlemaine in Battersea and the Government is going to pick up the cost. This is clearly good news for the Housing Revenue Account as the bill will come to well over £10 million. The money (£400 million nationally) is to be taken out of the Affordable Housing Programme, the already modest government scheme to increase the supply of affordable and social housing (the whole programme outside London amounted to just less than £1 billion per year from 2015 to 2018). It is pretty clear though that there will be no central government money for sprinklers as the government’s view (quite rightly) is that this is not essential work.

WOULD SPINKLERS HAVE SAVED GRENFELL TOWER?

Code Consultants International is a consultancy whose partners include Colorado State University and BAW Architecture. Their take on Grenfell and sprinklers is as follows (their emphasis):

“A sprinkler system may have prevented the spread of fire from the apartment of origin to the combustible facade. However, once the facade caught on fire the internal sprinkler system would not have prevented the spread of fire on the outside of the building. If you watch the video of the Grenfell Tower fire (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/video/2017/jun/14/grenfell-tower-blaze-video-explainer) it appears that fire spread within the floors involved, indicating that fire barriers were not preventing fire-spread from units to other parts of the floor. Had a sprinkler system been in place, the spread of fire within the floors themselves may have been prevented.  Contrary to what we see in the movies, sprinkler systems are not designed for simultaneous discharge from all sprinkler heads at once. With that many floors involved in the fire, water pressure would likely have reduced sprinkler discharge to a trickle.” (https://www.buildingcci.com/partners)

Conclusion – the real problem was the cladding, not the absence of sprinklers.

Incidentally for most of May residents in one of our 8-storey block were without water for washing or bathroom use owing to a pump failure.

OTHER TOWER BLOCK FIRES

The Council, as part of its attempts to justify imposing sprinklers on residents against their will, has pointed to other fires in tower blocks as evidence that Grenfell was not a one-off. However, the reports of these fires, notably those at Lakanal House in Southwark in 2009 and at Shepherd Court in Hammersmith & Fulham in 2016, reveal a common thread.

LAKANAL HOUSE

The Lakanal House fire occurred in a tower block in Camberwell on 3rd July 2009. Six people died and at least were 20 injured when a fire broke out in one of the flats and quickly spread (https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Lakanal_House_fire). The 14-storey block contains 98 flats and reaches a height of 42 metres. The inquest focused on the cladding panels that had been fitted as part of a refurbishment in 2006/07, which were found to offer less fire resistance than the panels they replaced. “The fire spread unexpectedly fast, both laterally and vertically, trapping people in their homes, with the exterior cladding panels burning through in just four and a half minutes”. According to the jury ‘This was due to a serious failure on the part of Southwark Council’s building design services, its contractors and its sub-contractors’. In 2017 Southwark Council pleaded guilty to four charges concerning breaches to safety regulations and was fined £270,000 plus £300,000 costs.

Conclusion – the real problem was the cladding.

SHEPHERDS COURT

A fire in Shepherd’s Court, by Shepherd’s Bush Green, on 19th August 2016 spread over five floors of the 18-storey block, though fortunately there were no deaths or serious injuries. As is usually the case officialdom tried to prevent information coming out (it is not just Wandsworth Council that tries to do this!) but Inside Housing magazine launched a Freedom of Information request against the London Fire Brigade, which was forced to admit that the external insulation panels which were attached below the windows on Shepherd’s Court were the prime cause of the spread of the fire. (https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/a-stark-warning-the-shepherds-bush-tower-block-fire-50566.) The panels were made of a 1mm stainless steel sheet mounted on blue foam plastic and a plywood board, the edges enclosed by plastic foil. When first exposed to flame nothing happened to the steel but if exposure continued the blue foam underneath would begin to melt, with serious consequences. LFB’s report on the panels found the following:

Conclusion – the real problem was the cladding.

THE STATUS OF ‘STAY PUT’ ADVICE

As long as a fire is guaranteed to be retained within the flat in which it started – as we have seen many times in our unclad (and even clad) high rise blocks – the ‘stay put’ advice made a lot of sense. It prevents the inevitable injuries caused by trips, falls and possibly trampling as people panic to get out and it leaves the stairwells free for the emergency services to get to the bed of the fire as quickly as possible. The question though is how realistic is it to imagine that residents will look at it that way after Grenfell and the failure of the Fire Brigade to reverse that advice when it was clear, very early after the fire broke out, that it spreading and that the advice needed to be abandoned in order to get as many people out as quickly as possible.

One question then is whether it would make it easier and safer for large numbers of people to leave a large block in a short period of time if the landings and stairwells were wet from water, either directly from sprinklers or from water carried out of the flats on people’s shoes or feet. There does not seem to be much research available on this.

SPRINKLERS IN ACTION

“Authorities say a guest broke a fire sprinkler, causing hundreds of people to be evacuated and thousands of dollars in damage at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Essington, Delaware County (near Philadelphia airport). It happened around 5am on Sunday April 27 (2014).  The hotel evacuated their 600 guests. Hotel staff had to work overtime to clean up the 50 rooms that sustained thousands of dollars in water damage. Several teams from the weekend’s Penn Relays were staying there.” (https://quickstoptool.com/blog/50-rooms-destroyed-single-fire-sprinkler-accident/) One guest reported the incident as follows: “My daughter and I stayed at the Wyndham for one night during a college visit in Philly. In the early morning, the fire alarm went off. First of all, we weren’t even sure it was the fire alarm – thought it was just a strange noise. We eventually left the room with most of our stuff. There were NO announcements or leadership at all. The front desk simply told people there was a malfunction with the sprinkler system. After waiting about a half hour, I went back up to get the rest of my stuff. The wing I was in was horribly damaged by water.” See https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g52610-d1090927-r203724363-Wyndham_Garden_Philadelphia_Airport-Essington_Pennsylvania.html

Best wishes,

MALCOLM GRIMSTON

Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward

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 Contact

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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

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

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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.

________________________________________________________________

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

________________________________________________________

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