Agenda and minutes

Scrutiny Review Group - Fire Safety - Thursday, 21st June, 2018 2.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 3 - 3rd Floor - Civic Centre. View directions

Contact: Martin Stevens 

No. Item


Welcome and Introductions from the Chair


The Chair welcomed everyone to the meeting.  The Chair stated he had called the meeting for two reasons, those being the final publication of the Dame Hackitt Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety and to assess progress on the initial recommendations of the group. 



Emergency Planning Update


The Senior Resilience Officer said there had been one main recommendation relating to Emergency Planning in the recommendations from the Fire Safety Scrutiny Group’s initial report.   The recommendation was related to supporting the regional co-ordination of emergency planning.  She reported that the department was already doing this through the local resilience forum.  The resilience forum consisted of all category one services and category two responders.  They worked together on the risk profile for the whole of the West Midlands and then Wolverhampton was assessed as a standalone City.  Emergency Plans were developed following the risk profiling.  The current works programme consisted of recovery, flooding and working with the Fire Service on Tower Blocks. 


The Chair asked how the planning was progressing in relation to the move of responsibility for the Emergency Planning Service to the Fire Authority and the effectiveness of the communications on this project.  He had also noted that there had been an issue recently during some localised flooding in Wolverhampton where Councillors had been unable to contact people on the emergency Council numbers.  The Senior Resilience Officer responded that contracts and collaboration agreements were currently being agreed, regarding the change in responsibilities.  Information would be shared at the appropriate time and there would be a full public launch plan to make people aware of the changes.  There would not be a change to service delivery.  There was a separate scrutiny review taking place on the recent flooding within Wolverhampton. 


The representative from One Voice asked for an update on the recommendation contained within the initial Fire Scrutiny report regarding the accessibility of the tactical control room.  The Senior Resilience Officer responded that they were looking into whether the location of the control room could be moved. 


Cllr Bateman stated his past experiences had led him to believe that there needed to be a second command centre held in reserve.  This was because the command centre could potentially fall within the area requiring evacuation.  He thought it was wise to have a secondary centre outside the City Centre.  The appropriate people also needed the ability to re-charge their mobile phones from a portable device.  The Senior Resilience Officer responded that there was currently a secondary control room, which was in Bilston at the Stowlawn CCTV Control Centre, in partnership with Wolverhampton Homes.  There was also scope for a third.  Legally the Council only had to have one live emergency planning exercise every three years.  There had to be a desktop scenario every year and a communication test every six months.  The next live exercise was currently being planned with a planning meeting scheduled to take place in July 2018. 


The Chair stated that whilst he understood that a live emergency planning exercise was legally only required every three years it did not mean the Council could not go above and beyond the minimum requirements.  The Council needed to move away from only doing what was legally required. 



Response to Dame Hackitt's Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety pdf icon PDF 1 MB


The Chair remarked it was important to read in full the recommendations and the Executive Summary of Dame Hackitt’s final report.  He had spoken direct with the lead Officers of the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Local Government Association Fire Commission.  The report was being broadly welcomed by these groups.  There were some omissions which they were displeased with, including the fact that sprinklers were not prescribed and not calling for an outright ban on flammable materials on high rise buildings.  These points had been made with Government Minister, The Rt. Hon Nick Hurd MP.  It was also felt that some of the overlapping legislation regarding different responsibilities for authorities was not dealt with sufficiently within the report.  He welcomed the JCA (Joint Competent Authority) which would be involved in the processes for building compliance.  Dame Hackitt’s interim report finding, that the current building regulations were not fit for purpose, had also been well supported.  The overall analysis of the Hackitt report was excellent but some of the recommendations needed to be more robust. 


The representative from One Voice said the Dame Hackitt report referred to new regulations applying to ten storey plus buildings except where it was a residential building such as a hospital or a residential care home.  She felt this misunderstood the nature of where disabled people lived.  There was now an increased focus on independent living, she cited Sunbeam in Wolverhampton as an example, where there were people with multiple impairments.  There was only one staff person on duty at Sunbeam during night-time hours.  She felt the Dame Hackitt report was weak on accessibility issues and in particular communication with disabled groups.  The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment at Wolverhampton Homes concurred with the representative from One Voice points on the weakness in the report on issues such as process and instruction for people with disabilities.  He had commissioned an internal review at Wolverhampton Homes in response to the Hackitt report.  There would be a detailed cross functional working group addressing the issues from the Hackitt report.  The work from the group could be reported back to the Council’s Fire Safety Scrutiny Group.  The Chair asked for the working group to feed back to the Council’s Equalities Fire Safety Group which was being setup later in the year. 


The representative from DAGLA stated it was important to understand the disabilities that people possessed, to be able to cater for their safety.  The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment at Wolverhampton Homes responded that due to data protection laws, people did not have to inform them about any disabilities.  When disabilities were known, they could evaluate their fire safety needs, draw up a risk profile and take appropriate action where necessary.


A Panel Member commented it was important not to let data protection laws inhibit fire safety.  The Chair responded that if buildings planned for all types of disabilities there would not be so many issues.  The Head of Commercial Services and Stock  ...  view the full minutes text for item 3.


The JCA (Joint Competent Authority)

N.B - This authority is to include Local Authority Building Standards, Fire and Rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive in order to oversee better management.



The Chair stated there were a number of details still to be revealed about the JCA.  These included who would take the lead and how it would be funded. 


The Fire Safety Inspector commented that they were awaiting the legislative framework to understand how exactly the JCA would work in practice.  Buildings needed to be assessed as a whole rather than in small parts.  It was also key to have inspections throughout the construction process, during any refurbishment and throughout the general life of the building. 


The Chair referred to the Dame Hackitt report which listed gateway building inspection points, these were prebuild, during construction or major refurbishment and at completion.  The JCA would be responsible for awarding a certificate to the building to ensure it was safe.  He wanted to ensure Wolverhampton would be fully prepared in anticipation of the legislation being introduced.  The Compliance Officer remarked that buildings changed over time.  Changes which were made during the installation of systems sometimes did not have adequate sealing and then there were potentially breaches in compartmentation.  Corporate Landlord had a rolling programme for the higher risk buildings which commenced with adult residential care.  West Midlands Fire service were being invited to audit the Council owned buildings which was in addition to the standard maintenance of them, which included their own fire risk assessments.  The findings were proving to be very useful. 


The Fire Safety Inspection Officer for West Midlands Fire Service commented that for high rise residential blocks the Fire Service was only legally required to complete risk assessments for the common areas.  The new JCA would hopefully change the process and introduce invasive Level 4 risk assessments to identify any problems.  In Wolverhampton many of the issues were found outside of common areas.  He was only aware of two privately owned residential blocks in the Wolverhampton area which had Grenfell style cladding, which had now been removed.  There was one NHS building which had flammable cladding, which was being dealt with by NHS England.


The Head of Commercial Services and Stock investment for Wolverhampton homes stated that many of the homes they managed had been built in the 1960s and 1970s.  The mechanical and electrical infrastructure which supplied the dwellings was starting to fail or had already done so in certain cases.  Some fire doors were coming to the end of their life and there were electrical issues in several of the blocks.  A programme had been put in place for the high-rise estate and this was helping to uncover problematic areas within the estate.  Remedial work in relation to fire stopping and fire safety was not being charged to the leaseholders.  To date they had not had any access issues to carry out works and under the lease agreement they had the right to gain access to the dwellings to inspect.   The Chair praised the work of Wolverhampton Homes for their work to improve fire safety. 


The Senior Building Surveyor stated that on the whole Building Control welcomed  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.


MHCLG Statutory Notice (17 May 2018) pdf icon PDF 186 KB


The Service Director for Housing stated, that included within the agenda pack was a copy of the letter received from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.  The first part of the letter reminded the Council of its responsibilities on reporting issues with buildings to the department, especially those with ACM cladding.  The second part of the letter which was key to the Panel’s deliberations was regarding the need for all Local Authorities to monitor and manage the housing conditions in their area.  There was specific mention in the letter of the need for the Council to take all appropriate steps to identify and notify the MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) of all high rise residential buildings over 18 metres, including the private sector in their area. The MHCLG expected the Council to identify any appropriate steps to be taken with the legal framework, which included inspections and assessment of hazards.  The letter reminded and expected the Council to take enforcement action against private bodies and landlords when required and that risks should be continued to be monitored on an ongoing basis which included the monitoring of partners who ran the blocks. 


The Service Director for Housing remarked that the directive from the MHCLG meant the Council was now required to create and keep records on all high rise buildings above 18 metres and to continue to notify the MHCLG of any changes to the buildings, which included those falling within the private sector.  In light of the letter, a review had been carried out by the Council which had identified 6 blocks in private ownership which fell within the scope.  The first round of the Safer High Rise Programme had commenced at Hampton View on Woden Road, which was owned by the Council and leased to Sanctuary Housing Group on a long-term lease.  An Inspection Notice had been served on the block on the 15 June 2018.  Informal inspections had taken place in conjunction with the Fire Service in the previous week and further inspections were being carried out on the present day.  Inspections would also be taking place at, The Studio in Birch Street.  The Council was continuing to work with, The University of Wolverhampton on their residential blocks. St Cecilia’s Block in Wednesfield also fell within the scope of the new directive issued by the MHCLG. 


The Service Director for Housing proposed that the findings, progress, actions and outcomes of the Safer High-Rise Programme be reported back to the Fire Safety Scrutiny Group.  She stated a comprehensive update on the private high rise residential blocks could be provided at the next meeting of the Fire Safety Scrutiny Group.  The Chair agreed this was a sensible approach and asked for any significant development to be raised with him directly in between meetings and he would notify Panel Members by email.  The Chair spoke positively of the new programme and he was pleased inspection notices had already been issued.  In the report to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


Expanding Role of the Fire Authority and Working with others


The Compliance Office for City of Wolverhampton Council stated the Council had invited West Midlands Fire Service to inspect higher risk residential accommodation and to ensure Fire crews knew where all the access points were to the higher risk sites.  The Fire Safety Inspector stated the Fire Service were legally required to visit a premise once it had been identified as being at high risk.  This enabled them to obtain a full understanding of the building and Fire crews would have access to valuable information on route to the site in the event of a fire in the future.  The Chair welcomed the visits as they allowed valuable familiarisation for Fire crews.


A Member of the Panel asked if the Fire Service had full knowledge of the people living in Housing Association properties.  The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment -  Wolverhampton Homes responded that they were prohibited from sharing residents’ information with the Fire Service at the present time, due to legal advice received on a number of issues such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).  The Fire Service completed a live assessment in the event of a fire, of the people known to be in the building, this was partly due to the potential for people to have visitors. The Chair recommended the promotion of the Safe and Well visits which were conducted by the West Midlands Fire Service. He requested that people advertise them on their social media accounts and internet pages.  Vulnerable groups were particularly targeted for the visits.  Over 200,000 people with vulnerabilities had been visited in the West Midlands area. 







Wolverhampton Homes/Corporate Landlord

N.B: -


·       To Include asking about - AFD – Hardwiring Fire alarm

·       The Fire alarms systems for Kitchen use

·       Sprinkler Systems Design and Installation

·       The type and age of wiring currently in the buildings

·       Carbon Monoxide Alarms Expiry and Batteries



The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment – Wolverhampton Homes, in reference to AFD (Automatic Fire Detection) and the hard wiring of fire alarms stated, that currently within the tower block dwellings there were hard wired smoke and heat detectors. These were always in the kitchen and normally within the living room. In some dwellings there was a third area. The current detectors had a backup Lithium-ion battery and some of them were reaching the end of their life.   As part of the new infrastructure programme the detectors were being replaced with new alarms which included a new battery for the backup system. 


The Compliance Officer said the standard was for AFD in all Council owned buildings except for low risk single storey buildings of a specific nature, such as park changing rooms.  Where there was sleeping in the building the standard was L1 classification otherwise it would be an L2 classification system.  The vast majority of Corporate Landlord buildings did have AFD systems installed.  In cases where it had not been installed, such as at Penn Library, the Council had insisted it be installed as part of the refurbishment project.  The Chair asked whether the two fire alarms at Civic Centre had been reconciled to one.  It was confirmed that there was now just one fire alarm system for the whole building.   


The Chair asked a number of questions with reference to the i10 building.  The Compliance Officer confirmed that an L2 Classification AFD system was installed in addition to a full compartmentalisation system.   The evacuation arrangements were, if an alarm was sounded on one of the ground floor commercial premises, there would not be an immediate evacuation of the offices straight away.  If an alarm was sounded in one of the offices, then the procedure was for the entire building to evacuate.  The Senior Building Surveyor commented that the i10 building had a very smart alarm system and would direct people in different directions depending on the location of the fire.  Due to the amount of glass in the i10 building there were extra precautions, including a concrete floor, which was designed to keep a fire contained for at least one hour. 


The Chair commented that he found the current i10 evacuation procedure confusing.  He asked what material had been used as cladding on the building.  In response, the Senior Building Surveyor said he understood the cladding to be a mixture of a curtain wall system, which was glass and part of it was similar material to that used on Grenfell known as Celotex.  Due to the height of the i10 building being below 18 metres, the material used complied with current regulations.  The Chair expressed concern about the cladding regardless of the fact that it met current regulations, which had been described as broken, following the Grenfell tragedy.


The Chair asked why a panel had recently been removed from the i10 building.  The Compliance Officer confirmed it had been removed to install a new sign  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.


Monitoring and Evaluating the Initial Recommendations from the Council's Fire Safety Review Group pdf icon PDF 229 KB

The Fire Safety Report which was considered at the Cabinet Resources Panel on 20 March 2018 is attached.  This report contains the initial recommendations of the Fire Safety Scoping Group and the Cabinet’s first response to the recommendations. 

Additional documents:


The Chair reported that a lot of changes had taken place since the first set of recommendations from the Fire Safety Scrutiny Group.  If Panel Members had any questions as to the status of the progress for any of the initial recommendations, he asked them to email him. 















Equalities Fire Group Scoping (Setup by Scrutiny Board)

To agree the terms of reference for the Fire Equalities Sub-Group


The Chair stated that a report on the setting up of the Equalities Fire Safety Group would be received by the Council’s Scrutiny Board at their meeting scheduled to take place on 3 July 2018.  He wanted the group to have a membership representing a broad range of disability groups.  He thought some of the key areas the group should cover as part of their remit were, accessibility and egress, signage and the use of technology.  The representative from One Voice asked for communications to be included as part of the remit, which was one of the key themes arising from Dame Hackitt’s Final report.  Communications with tenants and encouraging their active participation were important areas.  This included ensuring essential housing safety documents were accessible for people with disabilities.  It was raised by Panel Members that tenants needed to understand where they could raise a complaint.  The Chair asked for any further suggestions for the terms of reference to be emailed to him. 




a) That the remit of the Equalities Fire Safety Group should include accessibility and egress, signage, the use of technology, communications, the appropriate use of information/data and tenant’s voice. 


b) That the membership of the group should represent a broad range of disability groups as far as reasonably possible. 



Panel members thanked the Chair for his continued dedication to fire safety.  The Chair stated he was pleased the work of the group was being recognised nationally.


Meeting closed at 4:34pm.