Planning and Housing

11.09.17

Just eight council housing buildings pass key fire safety tests

Just eight social housing buildings in England that are over 18 metres tall have passed a key safety cladding systems test – in contrast with the stark 165 towers that were deemed not to comply with proper fire regulations.

In a statement to Parliament, communities secretary Sajid Javid said the Building Research Establishment (BRE) began a series of large-scale fire safety tests on ACM cladding systems back in July, looking at both visible cladding and internal insulation, in order to determine if each system complied with building regulations.

Three of the seven claddings tested were found to meet the criteria set out in the regulations, with the other four falling short. However, these three types of cladding are only in use on eight social housing towers in the country; systems that failed are in use in a whopping 165 buildings.

The owners of affected buildings have been given detailed advice drawn up by our independent expert advisory panel, covering steps to ensure the safety of residents, including, where necessary, the removal of cladding,” explained Javid. “We have also held weekly update calls with local authorities, housing associations and other building owner groups.

“We have today published further advice that brings together all the results and the views of the expert panel on the implications for building owners, and we will shortly meet local authorities and housing associations to discuss further steps. That will include the process by which we will ensure that remedial work is carried out.”

The government has also made the BRE test facilities available to all private residential building owners, all of whom are being urged to submit samples for testing.

Inspections carried out since the fire also highlighted other safety issues related to design, with engineering studying Southwark’s Ledbury estate revealing strengthening work may be needed on blocks built using a specific concrete panel system, for example.

“They also raised concerns about cracks that appeared cosmetic but could compromise fire safety and compartmentalisation. We have been in contact with Southwark Council and the engineers to discuss those issues and have engaged the Standing Committee on Structural Safety to advise on their implications,” he continued.

“Meanwhile, all local authorities that own similar buildings have been advised to review their designs and check whether any strengthening work was carried out properly.”

Slow rehousing process

In his speech, the secretary of state also admitted that although the number of people who have moved into temporary or permanent homes since the tragic Grenfell Tower fire continues to increase, the total figure is “still low”.

So far just 10 households have accepted offers of permanent homes, while the 21 that accepted offers of temporary accommodation with housing associations have requested their tenancies to be made permanent. A total of 61 households have accepted an offer of a temporary home, with 29 moving in.

“One reason for the low take-up of temporary home offers is that some residents simply do not want to move twice and have said that their preference is to stay where they are until a permanent home becomes available,” said the communities secretary.

“Meanwhile, residents who have accepted an offer of a permanent home have been given the opportunity to make choices about furniture and so on before they move in. That obviously takes a little time too.​

“We are talking here about people’s homes and lives, and what matters to us is not ticking boxes but working at the pace that suits the needs and circumstances of individual residents. We do not want to rush anyone.”

But Labour’s shadow housing secretary John Healey did not accept Javid’s justifications.

“Twelve weeks on, how on earth can it be that only 29 households of the 196 from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk have been rehoused?” he questioned. “What is the secretary of state doing to speed this up and when will all the survivors be offered permanent rehousing? A hotel room is no home and temporary housing is no place to rebuild shattered lives.​

“On the government’s fire testing programme, 12 weeks on the secretary of state still cannot answer the question: how many of the country’s 4,000 tower blocks are safe or not fire safe? He tells us today that 173 high-rise blocks with aluminium-based cladding have now been tested.

“When will the many more with non-aluminium cladding be tested, so residents will know whether their homes are safe? His testing programme is still too slow, too narrow and too confused to do the job that is needed.”

(Top image c. Ik Aldama, DPA, PA Images)

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