Dismore raises Government’s inadequate response to London fire risk
At today’s London Assembly Mayor’s Question Time Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden Andrew Dismore AM questioned the Mayor over the Government response to fire risk in London’s built environment.
Mr Dismore said:
‘Is the Government taking seriously the risks to ordinary Londoners in London’s built environment?
‘Of the 251 tall buildings in London with ACM cladding, 173 are still unremediated. The huge scale of the ACM cladding crisis is of course not the only the story. 430 buildings are operating a waking watch- which residents have to fund. And it’s not just other types of cladding, such as High Pressure Laminate or timber cladding, either- that’s at least another 1,587 buildings over 18m; and it’s not just buildings over 18m high, either. And it’s not just dangerous cladding. As LFC recently told us, the issue includes wider construction failings -“we do not know the full limit of what has happened inside the built environment over the past 10 to 15 years.” – for example inadequate compartmentalisation, vital to long term fire safety. MHCLG had informed LFB that there are 72,000 buildings that pose a ‘high risk’ in London’s built environment. Yet the Government is only funding remediation limited to over 18m ACM cladding- there is nothing for under 18m buildings or for other forms of cladding; and the funding available nationally is only a quarter of what London’s Housing Associations need for their properties alone. What can you do to get through to ministers, that much more is needed, and needed now?
‘Given the emerging evidence at the Grenfell inquiry part 2 of corner cutting and dodgy dealing by manufacturers and contractors in the interests of ever greater profits over residents’ safety as a matter of course, doesn’t it strike you as outrageous that the Conservative Government voted down Labour’s amendment to the Fire Safety Bill which would have brought all of the Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations into law; and what does this say about what may happen to any recommendations from phase 2 of the Inquiry?’
The Mayor said that London’s built environment is complex and the risks are high. He was concerned that the Government is failing to grasp the scale of the crisis, and he has repeatedly called on them to make sure people are safe in their homes. Many live in “death traps” that do not have ACM cladding and are not over 18 metres tall. More than three years on from the Grenfell Tower fire, thousands of Londoners continue to live in unsafe accommodation, so in September he wrote to the Government calling for action on external wall systems and for a training and accreditation system, to increase the number of competent professionals able to carry out inspections.
The LFB has responded to a number of high profile and serious fires where ACM cladding wasn’t a factor, such as Barking Riverside and Worcester Park. 490 buildings in London have a simultaneous evacuation strategy where normally a stay put policy would be in place due to a failure of fire resistant compartmentalisation. The Government’s own data shows that waking watches are extremely expensive, costing on average £256 per household in London, which is double the cost of the same measures outside the capital.
The Mayor added that one of the good things about having an LFB Commissioner who understands the challenges is that they can work together to lobby the Government, alongside campaigners and families, but it will be many years before the Government take the necessary action. In the meantime, firefighters are going into unsafe built environments, as are the families who live there.
The Mayor said that he was annoyed by the silence of some Assembly Members who are friends with MPs who could exert influence here, such as the new MP for Kensington who voted against legislating for the Grenfell Inquiry part 1 recommendations. He said some were crying “crocodile tears” whilst Grenfell families are still being denied justice, rather than stopping this from ever happening again.
Notes for editors
London’s built environment post-Grenfell
The Grenfell Tower fire brought into focus changes in building and construction practice and highlighted the danger of some of the materials being used. The most significant news to come from the Phase 1 report was that the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding on Grenfell Tower did not comply with building regulations. The report stated that ‘The principal reason why the flames spread so rapidly up, down and around the building was the presence of the aluminium composite material (ACM) rainscreen panels with polyethylene cores, which acted as a source of fuel.’ This finding, that the cladding fitted to the external walls of the tower fuelled the fire, highlighted potential dangers in building safety across the capital.
Cladding had been widely used on buildings across the capital, although there is still only a partial picture of the number of buildings affected by dangerous cladding. Examination of other external wall features has found that some high pressure laminates (HPL) and some types of timber cladding present a significant fire risk as well as ACM cladding. Of these only ACM cladding has since been banned for use on buildings above 18m.
Buildings in London with Dangerous cladding
The October building safety data release recorded: London has 251 of the buildings with ACM cladding. 78 of these have completed remediation works. Whilst 109 have started remediation works, there are still 173 that are unremediated.
Beyond this there is patchy information on the number of buildings in London’s built environment that pose a safety risk. However, data shows that in London:
- 430 buildings are operating a waking watch
- 1,587 buildings that have made applications to the Building Safety Fund for the remediation of other dangerous cladding other than ACM on buildings over 18m.
- 2000 buildings are estimated by the G15 to need remediation
London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe stated at a recent Assembly Budget and Performance meeting that “we do not know the full limit of what has happened inside the built environment over the past 10 to15 years.” There is limited information on the numbers of buildings under 18m which may pose a fire risk, although at October FREP committee meeting Roe said that MHCLG had informed LFB that there are 72,000 buildings that pose a ‘high risk’ in London’s built environment.
Leaseholders and EWS1 forms
Concerns about external wall safety led to a lack of confidence from lenders regarding the fire risk posed particularly by high-rise buildings. External wall safety (EWS)1 forms were introduced by the Government in conjunction with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in order to address the growing issue of people unable to move home due to this lack of confidence.
Originally designed solely for buildings over 18m, the Government consulted in January for EWS1 forms to applied to buildings over 11m. Leaseholders raise concerns that EWS1 forms are being demanded by lenders for buildings of all sizes.
The EWS1 process is slow:
- EWS1s can only be requested by a building owner;
- There are only 300 Chartered Fire Inspectors across the country qualified to complete the forms
- Many of these 300 Chartered Fire Safety Inspectors cannot get the Professional Indemnity Insurance to allow them sign off EWS1 forms, reducing the number of inspectors available.
There are currently an estimated 3million people across the UK waiting for EWS1 form completion. Without this they are unable to sell their homes.
Since Grenfell the LFB, supported by the Mayor, have worked to modernise the Brigade and to address those issues highlighted by the events of the fire. This has included updating equipment including taller aerial ladders. The Mayor has committed to implementing all of the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 report that relate to the work of LFB. These are being addressed through the LFB’s Transformation Project, which also seeks to address the weaknesses highlighted in last year’s HMICFRS inspection report.
The LFB’s transformation plan, sent to FREP on 29 January 2020, is based around four strategic pillars:
- The best people and the best place to work – focusing on: leadership; cultures and behaviours; and training and learning.
- Seizing the future – focussing on learning opportunities; challenge and transformation; and innovate and improve.
- Delivering excellence – focussing on constantly improving the effectiveness of LFB’s service; understand and communicate risk information to better deliver services; and improved execution.
- Outward facing – become more central to communities; increasing trust and confidence with all stakeholder groups; and leading excellence in the national service.
The Brigade is spending £3.5m on transformation. The Mayor has contributed an extra £2.2m to this. Another additional £2.2m on the training review and £3m on new staff has been budgeted for 2020/21.
LFB have received no additional government funding to help implement the changes. The government have previously refused to provide additional funding to LFB to address issues arising from Grenfell.
The work of the Brigade has stepped up to address the safety risks of London’s built environment, with LFB required by government to provide 7(2)(d) visits to 8000 buildings across the capital. 6000 of these visits have now taken place, with the work continuing during lockdown. The Brigade also undertakes monitoring of buildings where a waking watch is present, inspecting communal areas and fire safety doors to understand potential risks.
In contrast the Government, whilst aware that there are 72,000 buildings that pose a high risk in the capital, have:
- refused to provide additional funding for equipment. For example, in 2017 then Home Secretary Amber Rudd refused funding of £6m to address the need for new equipment
- reduced funding for the LFB’s work which includes monitoring the risk that these buildings pose
- voted down a Labour amendment to the Fire Safety Bill which would have brought all of the Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations into law
- Provided funding of £1bn to remediate dangerous cladding on buildings over 18m across the UK. The total cost for remediation of London’s buildings alone is estimated at £4bn, potentially leaving many leaseholders to foot the bill through rising service charges. There is no funding available for the remediation of buildings under 18m in height.
 Gov.uk, ‘Advice for building owners of multi-storey, multi-occupied residential buildings’ [Date accessed 10.11.20]
 Gov.uk, ‘Building safety programme: monthly data release October 2020’ [Date accessed 18.11.20]
 BBC.co.uk, ‘Replacing unsafe cladding in London ‘will cost £4bn’ ‘ [Date accessed 10.11.20]
 London. gov, ‘Budget and Performance Committee 22nd September 2020 appendix 2’ [Date accessed 14.10.20]
 London.gov, ‘London Assembly Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee 13th October 2020 Appendix 3’ [Date accessed 10.11.20]
 Evening Standard, ‘Mayor Sadiq Khan says London ‘let down’ by Government’s refusal to fund fire equipment’ [Date accessed 14.10.20]