Government’s new Waking Watch Relief Fund will make little difference to spiralling costs faced by London leaseholders in unsafe buildings
Thousands of London leaseholders in unsafe buildings are still likely to be hit by the costs of ‘waking watch’ fire patrols, despite the Government’s announcement of a new £30 million national Waking Watch Relief Fund, Labour’s London Assembly Fire and Resilience Spokesperson, Andrew Dismore AM, has warned. Mr Dismore has said that the name given to the fund, which is targeted at fitting fire alarms systems in high rises is “fundamentally misleading”. With thousands of leaseholders in the capital being made to fork out an average of £500 per month to pay for a waking watch service as they wait for building remediation works, he is now urging the Government to step forward to cover fully these costs.
Last week, the Government announced the Waking Watch Relief Fund targeted at fitting fire alarms in high rise buildings across the country to reduce reliance upon costly waking watch patrols. However, Mr Dismore is raising concerns about the effectiveness of the fire alarm systems, highlighting evidence gathered by the London Assembly’s Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee, that they will not be enough to rule out completely the need for waking watches.
In October, Ritu Saha, a founding member of the UK Cladding Action Group, informed the Committee that a waking watch service was still needed in her residential block in Bromley, despite the fact that a fire alarm system was previously installed at the cost of £120,000 to the leaseholders. Mr Dismore is warning that this is likely to be the case for many other buildings.
He has also criticised the insufficient size of the funding pot announced by the Government. Taking into account the fact that around 700 buildings in the capital are now reliant upon a waking watch service, alongside this £120,000 cost as an example, Mr Dismore has estimated that the national £30 million fund would only cover the installation of fire alarm systems in just over a third of these dangerous buildings.
He has now written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, to ask for his realistic assessment of what the Waking Watch Relief Fund will achieve in terms of addressing the safety concerns and spiralling debts of leaseholders.
Labour’s London Assembly Fire and Resilience Spokesperson, Andrew Dismore AM, said:
“The name the Government has given to this new fund is fundamentally misleading as it does not fund a single waking watch anywhere. Whilst I welcome any contribution towards dealing with fire safety, it has to be said that this £30 million barely covers the cost of fire alarm installation in only a third of London’s high rises with unsafe cladding. Even then there is no guarantee that fire alarms will remove the need for waking watches in these buildings, as waking watches may well have to remain until the permanent solution of the removal of dangerous cladding is completed.
“The Government must stop giving London’s beleaguered leaseholders false hopes and instead commit to covering the costs of waking watches until cladding remediation works have been completed.
“As ever more buildings with dangerous cladding and other structural fire risks are identified in the capital, the debt burden for leaseholders will continue to spiral unless swift action is taken by Ministers. This is why I am asking the Secretary of State to clarify exactly what he plans to achieve with this insufficient funding”.
- A copy of Andrew Dismore AM’s letter to the Secretary of State for Communities, Housing and Local Government, Robert Jenrick,can be found attached here:201222 SoS WWRF 1
- More information about the Government’s new £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund, announced on 17th December, can be found here;
- In the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) recommended the deployment of personnel to patrol high rise buildings as part of a ‘waking watch’ service to detect signs of fire and evacuate residents if necessary;
- According to Government figures, the mean monthly waking watch cost to leaseholders in London is £499;
- In October, Ritu Saha, a founding member of the UK Cladding Action Group, informed the London Assembly Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee that a waking watch service was still needed in her building despite the fact that a fire alarm system was previously installed at the cost of £120,000 to the leaseholders. The minutes from this meeting can be found here;
- At a London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee that took place earlier this month (10th December), the London Fire Commissioner, Andy Roe, told the London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee that there are now over 700 waking watches in London. The minutes have not yet been published from this meeting, but it can be watched back here;
- Using the cost of £120,000 for fire alarm installation as an example and dividing this by the £30m made available by the Government, Mr Dismore has estimated that up to 250 buildings in the capital with a waking watch in place could be covered by the Waking Watch Relief Fund. This represents just over a third of the buildings in London with a waking watch patrol in place;
- Andrew Dismore AM is the London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden.