Dismore questions Mayor over fire risks in the built environment
At today’s Mayor’s Question Time, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden Andrew Dismore AM questioned London Mayor Sadiq Khan over the over fire risks in the built environment and the demands on the London Fire Brigade as a result.
Mr Dismore asked the Mayor:
‘What has been the impact on the built environment of the Government’s inaction on Londoners’ safety and on the finances of the London Fire Brigade?
‘Do you agree that GTI phase 2 has laid bare the truly shocking accounts of what can only be described as deceit and criminal neglect by those building companies responsible for the cladding on Grenfell. They were utterly and arrogantly dismissive of such building regulations and controls as were in force at the time, and the consequences continue to grow, with thousands of residents trapped in dangerous homes and facing bills likely to bankrupt them?
‘And it’s not just dangerous cladding, is it? LFC Andy Roe said “we do not know the full limit of what has happened inside the built environment over the past 10 to 15 years.” The Deputy Mayor told yesterday’s FREP meeting that “we’re learning more about the problems with the built environment on an almost daily basis”.
‘Do you agree that the Conservative Government is increasingly exposed as having fallen down on the job. They not only voted down the Labour amendment to the Fire Safety Bill which would have brought all of the Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 recommendations into law, their post Grenfell record of inaction means there remains an unknown number of buildings with dangerous cladding, across London the DCLG estimate 62,000 of them.
‘It’s the case isn’t it that Conservative Government failure means that the burden on LFB, apart from the demands of Covid 19, has grown as they are now expected to monitor and keep safe a built environment with previously unidentified risks, including inspecting over 8,000 high rise buildings and an ever growing number of buildings with waking watches – now over 700- costing their residents £12 million per month, on what MHLG said was ‘an interim measure’ – still interim 3,5 years after Grenfell due to delays in remediation?
‘How much funding from Government has the LFB received for these post Grenfell extra demands? Is it fair that government is forcing LFB to shoulder the costs of monitoring the risks that poor building regulation have left?’.
The Mayor said that The Government had failed to grasp the scale of the Building safety crisis. The DHCLG had identified around 62,000 properties that fall with in the scope of the new fire safety regulations because of their high risk. Although the London Fire Safety Bill is making it’s way through Parliament, the implications for resourcing is still unknown. The LFB believe a more stringent duty on fire safety inspections will add to the amount of audit work that is done. Previous funding allocations were based on the fire safety regulations laid down prior to Grenfell and the Government should fund the LFB in line with the new requirements placed on it. The Mayor said he was protecting the budget as far as he could, by asking for the smallest savings from the LFB, and would continue his lobbying of the government.
He also said that the goalposts had moved on the demands on the LFB in relation to the built environment. He said that the Grenfell phase 2 inquiry was showing the extent to which the system favours profit over people.
The job of a fighter has never been harder, but the funding support from the Government has been limited thus far. The LFB has received £2.3 million the building review programme, and £3.2 million for the protection uplift programme, but this isn’t enough.
notes for editors:
Post-Grenfell building safety
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry (GTI) phase 1 found 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.”
The GTI phase 2 is currently hearing evidence that building regulations were not enforced, allowing companies like Kingspan and Celotex to sell unsafe cladding for use on buildings including Grenfell Tower.
Poor regulation means that Post-Grenfell there are an unknown number of buildings with dangerous cladding, including ACM cladding, across London. Andy Roe stated at a recent Budget and Performance meeting that “we do not know the full limit of what has happened inside the built environment over the past 10 to 15 years.” The DMFR told yesterday’s FREP meeting that “we’re learning more about the problems with the built environment on an almost daily basis through some of the Grenfell Inquiry questioning.”
During lockdown the Brigade increased its audits of buildings. In 2019 LFB carried out 5,511 audits and 3,206 high risk audits. In 2020, in spite of the challenges of Covid-19, 6,192 audits and 4,479 high risk audits took place. These represent an increase of 12% to audits and 39% to high rise audits from 2019-2020.
There is limited information on the numbers of buildings, particularly under 18m, which may pose a fire risk. At the October FREP committee meeting LFC said that MHCLG had informed the brigade that there may be as many as 72,000 buildings that pose a ‘high risk’ in London’s built environment. The current estimate is 62,000.
The lapses in building regulation have led to other issues within the housing industry. John Baguley of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors told FREP Committee that mortgage lenders were relying on EWS1 forms as there is no alternative for assessing external wall safety. Building regulations can no longer be relied on, as confirmation that a building is satisfactory and the current fire risk assessment does not include external walls.
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 involved updating equipment including radio systems for incident command, smoke hoods and 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 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 resolve 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 2019/20 LFB Budget Submission made in November 2019 records additional spending of nearly £100,000 to create posts that support the monitoring of high-rise buildings post-Grenfell. 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 62,000 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.
 BBC.co.uk, ‘Grenfell Tower: cladding firm ‘stretched the truth’ on fire safety’ [Date accessed 09.12.20]
 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 2’ [Date accessed 09.12.20]
 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]