Agenda and minutes

Scrutiny Review Group - Fire Safety - Wednesday, 6th February, 2019 10.00 am

Venue: Civic Centre Ground Floor - Committee Room 5

Contact: Martin Stevens 

No. Item


Apologies for Absence

[To receive any apologies for absence]. 


Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Simon Bennett, Cllr Paul Singh, Barry Appleby and Ann Deacon. 


Declarations of Interest

[To receive any declarations of interest]. 


There were no declarations of interest.  The Chair referred to the tragic house fire in Stafford, where four children had lost their lives on the 5 February 2019.  He added that this was an example of the importance of Fire Safety and it was even more critical where there were vulnerable people. 


Minutes pdf icon PDF 125 KB

[To approve the minutes of the previous meeting].


The minutes of the meeting held on 21 June 2018 were approved as a correct record.


As a matter arising, the Chair referred to the reference about emergency planning.  Wolverhampton had been the first authority in the West Midlands to transfer some of its emergency planning functions to the West Midlands Fire Service.  He was awaiting to hear if any of the authorities in the region would follow suit. 


On the matter of the Joint Competent Authority (JCA), conversations were still ongoing nationally.  The key issue was that each authority was arguing that they should take the lead.  Clearly this matter needed to be resolved, he understood progress was being made.  He was in favour of the overall concept of the JCA. 


The Chair reported that he had attended a meeting of the Council’s, Equalities Advisory Group on 4 December 2018, to talk about the concerns of people with disabilities and special needs regarding fire safety.  There had been some very positive feedback from the meeting.  He was looking to pursue the equalities agenda.  He was of the view that national legislation needed to change. 


Feedback from the Chair from the Presentations to the Tenant Management Organisations

[Cllr Greg Brackenridge will provide feedback to the Group on the presentations he has given to the Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs)]. 


The Chair remarked that he had given a presentation on the work of the Fire Safety Scrutiny Group to the following Tenant Management Organisations: -


Bushbury Hill Estate Management Board

Dovecotes Tenant Management Organisation

New Park Village

Springfield Horseshoe Housing Co-operative


He had also given a presentation to the Wolverhampton Homes Board and would soon be presenting to the Wolverhampton Federation of Tenants Associations.  


The Chair was pleased to report that there been very positive feedback from the presentations he had given.  There was clearly some outstanding work taking place by a number of organisations to improve fire safety across the City.    Some of the Tenant Management Organisations had been making contact with local fire stations and arranging safe and well visits, which had been an excellent way of identifying vulnerable people.  


Wolverhampton Homes - Update on Projects

[Officers from Wolverhampton Homes will give an update on the progress of their projects which seek to improve fire safety as an outcome]. 


The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment – Wolverhampton Homes gave a presentation on the work they were undertaking to improve fire safety.  He referred to two key projects, the Infrastructure Programme to the tower blocks and the Fire Safety Programme.  The Infrastructure Programme was taking place over five years.  Phase 1 at Chetton Green was now completed, which had involved the renewal of landlord supplies and the renewal of passive fire protection measures.   He showed some example pictures of the fire stopping work and the passive fire protection measures that had been completed.  A full photographic library auditing the material used in each location during the works for the Infrastructure Programme had been established. 


The Chair was pleased to see the fire stopping work had been completed, as it was vitally important to prevent the spread of fire.  He was also pleased to see the use of Rockwool which crumbled to dust during a fire, rather than giving off a toxic gas, such as the material that had been on Grenfell Tower.  There was a general discussion about fire doors and walls and the differing fire resistance requirements.  It was noted that new regulations could well change the fire resistance requirements.  The Chair commented that the Dame Hackitt enquiry had concluded that the current building regulations were not fit for purpose.  He was therefore expecting significant changes in the future.  He did not want minimal fire safety standards he wanted the Council and Wolverhampton Homes to go above and beyond, where appropriate.       


The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment – Wolverhampton Homes commented that phase 2 of the Infrastructure Programme would commence in April 2019 at Boscobel Estate.  The delivery would include sprinkler installation.  Phase 3 would start in the third quarter of 2019/20 at Lakefield Estate, where sprinklers would be installed as an integral part of the work. 


As part of the fire safety programme work, they had planned to retro fit door closers where they hadn’t been installed to flat entrance doors.  Due to MHCLG advice note 17, the work had been put on hold.  MHCLG Advice Note 17 had highlighted systemic issues within the composite fire door industry.  In summary neither the test houses or the manufacturers were following the British standard in terms of the testing requirements.  The Ministry had conducted an exercise but had not shared the findings as to why the doors had failed, other than with the manufacturers.  The Ministry had said that they should speak directly with the manufacturer.  It was unfortunate that 80% of fire doors installed were made by companies that no longer existed.  The industry had block booked all the test houses for the next nine months, meaning they were unable to test the fire doors independently.  The Chair responded that he would raise the issue at the next LGA Fire Commission meeting and National Fire Chiefs Council.  The Chief Executive of Wolverhampton Homes asked the Head of Commercial Service and Stock Investment to provide the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.


Financing of the Sprinkler Systems in the Publicly Owned Tower Blocks in Wolverhampton

[The Service Director of Housing will outline the financial plans for the funding of the sprinkler systems in the publicly owned tower blocks in Wolverhampton]. 


The Council’s Service Director for Housing stated that the Cabinet Resources Panel had agreed the budget for the Housing Revenue Account.  An extra £15 million had been allocated for the funding of electrical and mechanical work as part of the Safer High-Rise programme.  This was alongside the £20 million already set aside as part of the planning phase for the sprinkler programme.  She was anticipating that the sprinkler programme would commence in the 2019/20 financial year.    


The Chief Executive of Wolverhampton Homes confirmed that the sprinkler programme would be on a phased approach across the City.  The Chief Executive reiterated the offer for Councillors to see a demo of the work that would be taking place in their ward, when work was about to commence.  The Chair stated that he thought Councillors would welcome the opportunity.  The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment – Wolverhampton Homes commented that he thought the first installations would be of greatest interest to the Councillors.  The representative from the Wolverhampton Federation of Tenants Associations asked for tenant representatives to be invited to any demos or site visits.   


A Member of the Panel asked for some indicative timescales as to when the sprinklers programme would commence and be completed.  The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment – Wolverhampton Homes commented that it would be several years before the sprinkler installation was completed at Chetton Green.  He predicted the best-case scenario would be for the sprinklers at Chetton Green to be fitted within three years but potentially it could be up to five years.  At the Boscobel estate the sprinklers would be installed within a matter of months.  It was important to not overstretch the local supply chains.  Residential sprinklers were a new industry in the region, there was no significant volume of previous installations.  The Merry Hill blocks were complicated and consequently the sprinkler installation would be a logistical challenge. The Chief Executive of Wolverhampton Homes confirmed that the first phase of the sprinkler programme would be delivered through a sub-contracting arrangement.  As the programme progressed, he wanted to potentially train Wolverhampton Homes staff in sprinkler installation and to use his own staff for installation. 


The Chair stated that whilst the Hackitt Inquiry did not recommend that sprinklers be mandatory in residential housing, he thought it was inevitable that it would be introduced in the future, as was already the case in Wales and Scotland.  The Moore-Bick Inquiry was still to publish its final report.  He wanted Wolverhampton to be ahead of the game.  He was really pleased with the work that had taken place to date since the Grenfell disaster.  He thought communication from Wolverhampton Homes had been excellent and in particular with the tenants.  Councillor Alan Butt and Cllr Sweetman asked for a briefing note from Wolverhampton Homes on the works that would be taking place in their wards.  The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment confirmed he would compile a briefing note and that he would be happy to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.


Safer High Rise Programme - Progress

[The Service Director of Housing will give an update on the “Safer High Rise Programme]. 


The Service Director of Housing gave a presentation on the Safer High Rise Programme.   In May 2018 the MHCLG had issued a directive to Councils to take actions to provide assurance with regard to fire safety in privately owned blocks over 18m.  Six privately owned high rise blocks had been identified across the City.  These were: -


Liberty Living Blocks A, B & C (Student accommodation)


Hampton View (Heath Town)


Sanctuary Group (Housing Association) – Property freehold held by City of Wolverhampton Council but leased to Sanctuary Group


St Cecelia’s (Wednesfield)

The Studios (City Centre)

An inspection programme was in progress which was overseen by the Safer High Rise Group which had been established in May 2018.  In reference to Hampton View, City of Wolverhampton Council – Health and Safety Officers had undertaken reassurance inspections in conjunction with West Midlands Fire Service.  Several areas of improvement had been notified to the responsible person.  Sanctuary Housing had developed an action plan and were providing the Council with progress updates.  She was pleased with the positive response from Sanctuary Housing.  The Service Director of Housing in reference to St Cecelia’s remarked that the Council had inspected a sample of 14 dwellings (behind the door) with agreement of tenants/ leaseholdersand the Safer High Rise Group were planning the next steps. 

The West Midlands Fire Service had inspected the communal areas and had sent the responsible person a letter, identifying areas where improvements were required and stipulated a timescale to progress remedial work. The Fire Safety Inspector Officer commented that there was no government guidance on what constituted a “communal area.”  There was therefore no consistency nationwide as to how the term was applied.  The Chair responded that he would raise the issue with the Fire Authority.       

The Service Director of Housing in reference to Liberty Living stated that two of the three blocks had seen the removal of external cladding and it had been replaced with non-ACM Cladding.  An inspection visit was due to be arranged. 







WV Living

[Directors of WV Living will outline the type of construction methods being used by the Company, which are applicable to the subject of Fire Safety].


The Service Director for Housing and Director of WV Living explained that WV Living was a Council owned commercial housing company which had been set up to make a profit and bring forward new and different types of homes.  The Shareholder Board was made up of Members who represented the Council as sole shareholder.  It operated on commercial terms and had been established in 2016.  It set out a three-year starting business plan to build one thousand homes.  Most of those homes were planned to be for sale.  It was a way of bringing forward homes not only to provide more for the City, but also to stimulate the housing market and show how commercial development could actually bring forward new housing products of a high quality design.  The housing developments could provide new residential opportunities in areas that hadn’t seen new houses for some time. 


The Service Director for Housing and Director of WV Living explained that WV Living was also creating jobs, apprenticeships and establishing new partnerships.  WV Living had their own website, if Members wanted to pursue further background information on the company.  The website had two videos, which were worth viewing to learn more about the ongoing work of the company.  The programme was currently on track and they were now working on a new commercial plan – 2019-2026, which would mark ten years of the company.  The Chair commented that in his Ward of Wednesfield South, one quarter of the new homes being built by WV Living would be classed as affordable homes.    


The Service Manager for Housing Development and WV Living remarked that the first phase of the WV Living programme was around 400 units, which included the site in Wednesfield.  All of the WV Living developments had to be designed to meet highways and planning requirements.  This included provision for adequate access to emergency vehicles.  There was also a detailed design stage.  At this stage there was a Fire Strategy which was put in place to ensure the construction met all building regulations and Approved Document Part B, which was for fire safety specifically.  The Principal Designer, a legally required position, had responsibility to design in, health and safety into construction.  All of the WV Living Projects had a Principal Designer Role allocated to them. 


The Service Manager for Housing Development and WV Living stated that the detailed design included a form of construction and compartmentalisation, as well as ensuring that the design was compliant or beyond with building regulations and NHBC (National House Building Council) standards.  Formal approval of the design plans was required by building regulations and NHBC before construction could commence.  Throughout the build programme inspections took place by building regulations and NHBC before the formal sign off at the end of the construction. 


The Service Manager for Housing Development and WV Living remarked that they used a Clerk of Works, who was a Council employee who worked for WV Living, through a Service Level Agreement.  The Clerk of Works  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.


Regeneration Projects Moving Forward

[To discuss Fire Safety for the Council’s regeneration projects moving forward].


The Director of Place confirmed that he was the Senior Responsible Officer for the Civic Hall.  Following an informal meeting he had attended with the Chair of the Fire Safety Scrutiny Group, he had gone back to the Project Director of the Civic Hall, to ask about certain points the Chair had raised about fire safety, which had included the installation of sprinklers.  As a result an independent fire safety report had been commissioned on the most appropriate fire safety measures to implement at the Civic Hall.  One of the specific questions he had asked the report to cover was over the issue of sprinklers.  They had made some enquiries with other areas which included Colston Hall in Bristol, New Halls in Bradford and a venue in Hull.  His understanding was that none of them had fitted sprinklers.  It was important that consideration was given to the stage area and the age of the building.  Wet surfaces in old buildings could lead to problems.  The Projects Directors were expected to report back to the Project Team in the next month.  The Project Timetable meant that decisions needed to be made in a matter of weeks. 


The Director of Place commented that he accepted the Chair’s general principal view that it was important to have the best possible fire strategy that was available for the Civic Hall, which included access/regress, evacuation procedures and the type of materials used.  The Chair commented that refurbishment made it an ideal opportunity for the installation of sprinklers and the hard wiring of fire alarms.  He agreed that there had to be a holistic approach to fire safety at the Civic Hall.  He commented that sprinklers not all used water, with some utilising a gas system.  The House of Commons, which was a listed building, were having sprinklers fitted as part of the refurbishment works. 


The Chair made reference to a number of buildings that had not had sprinklers fitted during refurbishment works and had since been destroyed by fire, citing the example of the Glasgow School of Art.  It had been severely damaged by fire in May 2014 and had been destroyed by a second fire in June 2018.   When the national motorcycle museum had been burnt down in Birmingham, sprinklers were fitted during the rebuilding of the museum.  He was of the view that sprinklers should be fitted as standard unless in certain circumstances, which needed to be justified.


The Chair expressed disappointment that over 18 months into the Civic Hall project, Officers were only now commissioning an expert report on fire safety.  A Member of the Group echoed this view, commenting that it seemed there had been a lack of generic organic thinking about fire safety for the building.  It was suggested that the group should receive an update on fire safety matters for the Civic Hall at the next meeting.  The Director of Place commented that the Council were having to manage an existing building which was listed, which inevitably put some  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.


School Engagement including Academies

[The Interim Compliance Officer will detail the ongoing work with schools to improve fire safety]. 


The Interim Compliance Officer gave an update on the Council’s engagement with schools on the matter of fire safety.  He stated that there were approximately 50 community schools.  Until recently, the fire risk assessments had been done on an ad hoc basis.  There was now a fire risk assessment programme in place, to ensure suitable and competent fire risks assessments were completed across all the community schools.  The programme was set to end by the end of March.  Following the assessments, a number of actions needed to be undertaken.  Some of those actions would rest with the Council and others with the school.  Schools had devolved budgets and so much of the cost would fall on them.  The Council would be working with the schools to ensure that the actions were correctly implemented. 


The Interim Compliance Officer remarked that the next key area was to ensure that the buildings were being used and managed in a safe way. Schools were being asked on a twice termly basis to return a form to the Council, with their certification that they were undertaking the necessary fire safety checks.  For example, ensuring the fire alarm was working correctly, that evacuation drills were undertaken and making sure someone was checking the escape routes.  Responsibility for fire safety collectively fell with the Headteacher, the Governors and the Council. 


The Interim Compliance Officer commented that there was a member of the Council’s Health and Safety Team who as part of her audit of schools was undertaking compliance checks when she visited schools.  A large part of these compliance checks was regarding the matter of fire safety.  The fire risk assessments being completed would report back on the type of materials the schools were constructed with, including whether any ACM cladding had been used.  Corporate Landlord had also completed a desk top exercise and had visited a number of schools, where they couldn’t determine beyond any reasonable doubt that there was no ACM cladding material used.  The desktop exercise would be superseded by the more detailed fire risk assessments which were due to be completed by the end of March 2019. 


The Interim Compliance Officer stated that at one school, the fire assessor could not identify the type of cladding used, which had since been determined not to be ACM cladding.  At another school there was potentially ACM cladding at a very high level, but the fire assessors had concluded it was not a life safety matter.  Documentation about the school was not clear over the type of cladding used and so they would consider hiring a cherry picker or elevated platform to take samples of the cladding from the school.  A spreadsheet was being developed detailing the materials used at all of the community schools.


The Interim Compliance Officer stated that the Council did not have direct responsibility for academy schools.  The Head of School organisation had sent a letter to all academy trusts in January 2019 informing them about the actions the Council were taking  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.


i10 Building

[The Interim Compliance Office will outline the findings of the Independent Inspector’s Report on the i10 Building]. 


The Interim Compliance Officer gave an update on the Council owned, i10 building.  Fire safety Investigations had been undertaken by external consultants Aecom.  A draft report from Aecom had been made available.  There were three components to the investigations. The first being a review of the building manual and carrying out an on-site inspection to check that fire protection measures and other matters relating to fire safety had been installed correctly.  The second part of the investigation was a review of the fire strategy.  The final area was the commissioning of a new fire assessment. 


The Interim Compliance Officer stated that some of the information he had available was only at the current time based on preliminary findings.  The type of cladding installed on the building was Reynobond PE cladding.  The Chair added that this was very similar to the cladding used on Grenfell and gave off very toxic fumes when burnt. 


The Interim Compliance Officer commented that an area that they would look at further was whether fire breaks had been installed correctly behind the cladding.  They also needed to ensure that the fire stopping between the curtain walling and the concrete slab had been installed correctly.  They had photographs for one level but needed to take them for the rest. 


The Interim Compliance Officer stated that it was possible that the insulation on the building was not of the correct thickness, but this was not a fire safety issue.  Some of the fire stopping in one of the corridors was in place but had not been correctly installed.  This was not a risk to life but the Council wanted to rectify the problem.  Aecom whilst considering the fire strategy had discovered that the fire alarm was not working correctly within the building.  The i10 fire alarm was probably the most complex fire alarm system within the Local Authority.  This had now been fixed by electrical engineers.  The Council did need to ensure that when tenants moved in and installed their own fire alarm systems, that it did not impact on the main alarm for the building.  It was clear that regular drills were required to ensure the integrity of the systems.  A full test would be carried out in the next few weeks. 


The Chair raised the general point about the importance of fire marshals within buildings to ensure evacuation procedures were correctly followed.  There was a discussion about the use of a human voice in alarm systems.


The Interim Compliance Officer reported that Aecom had completed a new fire risk assessment for the i10 building.  They had assessed the risk as tolerable, whereas the previous fire risk assessment had been low risk.  There were some housekeeping activities which needed to improve and minor repairs and adjustment to fire doors.  There was also some further engagement required with the tenants.  


Resolved: That the Group go into exempt session by virtue of paragraph 3, information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority  ...  view the full minutes text for item 11.


Fire Alarm at the Civic Centre - Update

[The Interim Compliance Officer will give a status update on the fire alarm system at the Civic Centre].


The Interim Compliance Officer confirmed there was now only one fully operational fire alarm system in operation at the Civic Centre. 


The JCA (Joint Competent Authority) - Progress

[A discussion will be held on the plans for the Joint Competent Authority (JCA)]. 


The Chair advised an update on the JCA had been given as a matter arising from the minutes of the previous meeting.



Promotion of Fire Service Safe and Well Visits


The Chair reiterated the importance of the Fire Service Safe and Well Visits.  They were a very positive initiative which achieved excellent outcomes.  He encouraged all Councillors to get in contact with their local fire station if they knew of vulnerable residents. 


Next Meeting

[To agree the timeframe for the next meeting].


The Chair suggested that the next meeting of the group should be held after the publication of the phase 1 report from the Moore-Bick Inquiry.