Agenda and draft minutes

Scrutiny Review Group - Fire Safety
Wednesday, 29th January, 2020 1.30 pm

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

Contact: Martin Stevens 

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for Absence

[To receive any apologies for absence]. 

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Phil Bateman MBE, Cllr Jacqueline Sweetman and Mr Barry Appleby.   

2.

Declarations of Interest

[To receive any declarations of interest]. 

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest. 

3.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 345 KB

[To approve the minutes of the Fire Safety Scrutiny Group meeting held on 17 July 2019]. 

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 17 July 2019 were approved as a correct record.

 

There were no matters arising. 

4.

Update from the Chair

[The Chair to give a verbal update on fire safety matters relating to Wolverhampton and the West Midlands Region]. 

Minutes:

The Chair of the Panel remarked that he saw Wolverhampton as one of the leading authorities in England on Fire Safety.  In his role as Chair of the West Midlands Fire Authority he had facilitated a regional Fire Safety Conference.  Leaders, Cabinet Members and Senior Officers from Council’s across the West Midlands had been invited to the meeting.  The Chair had shared with the conference attendees some of the work that had been carried out in Wolverhampton.  They had also received a presentation from a Professor of Toxicology and presentations from other fire safety experts.  He was very pleased how the conference had gone.  Kate Martin, the Director of Housing and City Assets had attended on behalf of the Senior Management Team of City of Wolverhampton Council.  Most authorities were represented by either their Leader or a Cabinet Member.  

 

The Chair of the Panel stated as a positive outcome from the Conference, there had been many conversations across the region and they were looking to emulate Wolverhampton.  Coventry City Council had started to fit sprinklers into their high rise blocks, Birmingham had already committed and Dudley were very keen to do so.  He had spoken to the Cabinet Member for Walsall and Sandwell who also seemed very keen.  Solihull had the lowest number of high rises in the region.  He was speaking regularly to their leading member on the Fire Authority to bring them on board.  The work of City of Wolverhampton Council had clearly had a regional impact.  

 

The Chair of the Panel stated that he had recently attended a national Local Government Association Fire Commission - Fire Services Management Committee meeting in London.   They had been lobbying intensively on a national level.   It seemed like there was some movement by Government, one of the key things was placing restrictions on buildings 11m or above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

5.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry - Phase 1 Report pdf icon PDF 421 KB

[To consider the Executive Summary of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry – Phase 1 Report]. 

Minutes:

The Chair remarked that Phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Report had been published and the Executive Summary of the report had been included within the agenda pack.  He believed that the inquiry should have first looked at the time before the fire, rather than starting first with investigating the night of the fire.  Had the remits of Phases 1 and 2 been reversed, it would have fed into the new legislation which was coming out as a consequence of the Hackitt review.  The Fire Safety Scrutiny Review Group needed to see the newly awaited legislation before making its final recommendations to the Council’s Cabinet Committee.

 

The Joint Competent Authority recommended by the Hackitt review would be led by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive).  He could assure the Panel that the Fire Service were addressing the issues raised in the Phase 1 Grenfell Tower Inquiry Report.  He had been speaking regularly to the West Midlands Fire Service Chief Officer and the Scrutiny Officer to the Panel had also raised a matter directly with them regarding EDBA (Extended Duration Breathing Apparatus).

 

The Chair raised the issue of Premises Boxes, which was a recommendation from the Phase 1 report.  This was a box with accurate up to date information on the building, residents and contingency plans.  The report also recommended that the Fire Service should have a hard copy and an electronic copy of the plans of the building.  He asked the representatives from Wolverhampton Homes, how they would respond to the Phase 1 report recommendation on Premises Boxes.  The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment of Wolverhampton Homes responded that they were trying to initiate regional discussions with the Fire Service and Landlords about whether premises boxes were the best way to respond.  Experience and reviews of premises boxes in the past had shown they were a challenge.  There were issues such as keeping the information up to date and data security issues for residents.  There was clearly a willingness and desire to share information with the Fire Service, it was ensuring that the format and structure met the appropriate requirements of the Fire Service.

 

The representative from the West Midlands Fire Service remarked that in the interim it was important to utilise the site-specific risk inspections.  They asked to have a meeting with Wolverhampton Homes to discuss some of the generic information that would be helpful to them and some more of the detailed information about vulnerable residents.  The Assistant Director for Property at Wolverhampton Homes responded that he would welcome the dialogue with the West Midlands Fire Service.  He thought ongoing electronic access to information relating to fire safety was far more important than a premises box.  The Chair commented that this was clearly an issues which needed to be addressed very carefully.

 

The Chair commented that the Phase 1 Report had highlighted issues with fire doors and door closing mechanisms.  He asked for Wolverhampton Homes to comment on this issue in relation to the homes  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Full List of Phase 2 Grenfell Tower Inquiry Issues pdf icon PDF 197 KB

[Attached is a full list of Phase 2 Grenfell Tower Inquiry Issues for the Panel’s consideration]. 

Minutes:

The Panel discussed the full list of Phase 2 Grenfell Tower Inquiry issues.  The Head of Stock Investment and Commercial Services at Wolverhampton Homes remarked that one of the biggest challenges for the Phase 2 Inquiry was addressing how flammable materials, namely ACM cladding, came to be attached to the building.  He was confident that Wolverhampton Homes did not manage any tower blocks with flammable materials on the outside of buildings.   They were working hard to ensure all refurbishment work was correctly installed.

 

The Assistant Director for Property commented that building control legislation would change and most likely over the coming months.  This would give them a better idea of any changes that were required and they would be trying to stay ahead of the legislation. 

 

The Chair commented on the importance of communication with residents which was one of the areas Phase 2 would be addressing. 

7.

Private Tower Blocks in Wolverhampton pdf icon PDF 304 KB

[To receive a briefing note on fire safety matters relating to the privately owned tower blocks in Wolverhampton]. 

Minutes:

The Programme Manager gave a short presentation on the latest information relating to the private tower blocks in Wolverhampton.  In May 2018 the MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) had directed Local Authorities to use their Housing Act Powers to address any issues in the area, predominately focusing on ACM cladding, but there were other stipulations relating to addressing other fire safety hazards.  The scope of the work related to buildings of 18 metres and above.  There were 7 private housing blocks at 18m or above.  An additional building had just been identified as coming into scope, which was the Market Square apartments located a short distance from the Civic Centre.

 

The Programme Manager commented that the Liberty Heights Blocks, the three student accommodation blocks off the Wednesfield Road, had recently changed ownership and had been purchased by a large national organisation called Unite.  He had so far had one conversation with them.  A fire safety inspection report had been issued in August 2019.  The Property Services Team of the Freeholder had carried out a site visit to consider the inspection findings and was awaiting the action plan for carrying out remedial work.  Due to the change in ownership the remedial work had not been completed as quickly as he would have liked. 

 

The Programme Manager with reference to the Studios in Birch Street advised that a fire safety inspection report had been issued in April 2019.  The Business Manager had been advised that all the remedial work had been carried out.  They would be arranging a follow up visit to check all the required work had been completed to a high standard.

 

The Programme Manager remarked that Hampton View on Woden Road, whilst owned by the Council, was on long-term lease to Sanctuary Housing.  They were in the process of carrying out extensive refurbishment works which had included the replacement of fire doors.  The installation of a sprinkler system was planned.  A review of the works carried out to date would occur in the Spring. 

 

The Programme Manager with reference to St. Cecelia’s in Heath Town remarked that the fire safety report issued in December 2018 had identified a number of issues.  The Temporary Service Manager for Private Sector Housing added that St. Cecelia’s had been identified as one of the highest risks due to the age of the building, its nature of ownership and problems discovered following inspections by the Fire Service.  The Council had been liaising closely with West Midlands Fire Service to plan remedial works, which had included meetings with the managing agent.  The Council had also commissioned specialist legal guidance to identify liability for costs for fire safety works between the building freeholder, leaseholders and the Right to Manage Company.  The remedial works would commence soon.

 

The Programme Manager commented that the Fire Service and officials from the Council had visited the Market Square Apartments on the 28 January 2020 to carry out an initial fire safety audit.  He was awaiting the publication  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Wolverhampton Homes / WV Living Update on Projects

[To receive a presentation on Wolverhampton Homes / WV Living projects relating to fire safety]. 

Minutes:

The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment gave an update on the Wolverhampton Homes projects which related to fire safety.  In relation to the Wolverhampton Homes Tower Infrastructure Programme they were now in Phase 2 which involved the replacement of fire doors, replacement of all the incoming services, improving emergency lighting and escape signage, upgrading smoke ventilation and dealing with compartmentalisation issues.  In addition to this programme they were also retro fitting sprinkler systems in all the tower blocks they managed, which had been designed in accordance with the British Standard.  The sprinklers would cover all the internal areas of the dwellings and the principle communal areas. 

 

The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment commented that prior to the Grenfell tragedy there was only one residential tower block which had sprinklers fitted in England.  So as a consequence, there were not many companies which had experience in this area, which made it a challenging experience.  

 

The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment stated that they had completed the tower infrastructure works at Chetton Green and were on site at Boscobel.  The works at Lakefields would be starting very shortly, followed by Merry Hill, Graiseley, Heath Town, Vauxhalls and then the rest of the estates.  He detailed some of the extensive work that was taking place at Boscobel, which included the installation of a sprinkler system.  

 

A Member of the Group asked if there was a scheduled date to fit sprinklers at Chetton Green.  The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment responded that there was a scheduled date and he would give the exact details following the meeting. 

 

A Member of the Group asked about water pressure at the Merry Hill Tower Block, as he had received information that the water supplier was turning down the pressure.  The Assistant Director for Property responded there were two issues, the pressure for domestic water, which had meant they were having to install different pumps to rectify the issue.  As a separate matter there was also the water pressure for the sprinkler system, where additional pumps would be required. 

 

The Chair and Members of the Group thanked Wolverhampton Homes for the works they were undertaking.  There was particular praise for the installation of sprinklers to date which were very inconspicuous and the attention to detail in using appropriate safe building materials for refurbishment works. 

 

The Chief Operating Officer gave an update on WV Living projects.  Fire suppression systems had been fitted in a range of properties built by WV Living.  There were 8 schemes where sprinklers had been applied.  There were two very large schemes where they were currently assessing the fire suppression options.  These were the former Northicote High School site which would have 196 units and the site of the former Wednesfield High School which would have 266 units.  The idea was to fit sprinklers or misting systems to these two housing development projects.  The Northicote site was currently going through the planning approval process, whereas the Wednesfield  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

Fire Safety at Schools

[To receive a verbal update on the initiatives to improve Fire Safety at Schools].

Minutes:

The Buildings and Safety Compliance Manager provided the Group with an update on fire safety at schools.  The Council commissioned fire risk assessments for all schools, irrespective of whether they commissioned their own. The purpose was to ensure constant and consistent high quality fire risk assessments to enable the Council to identify issues.  They provided support to schools when the fire risk assessments were received, which included advising on management arrangements.  They did support schools in implementing the range of recommendations arising from the assessments.  Representatives from the Fire Service had a current programme, where many schools were being visited. 

 

The Buildings and Safety Compliance Manager commented that schools had been asked to provide proof that they were undertaking the regular fire assessment checks, which were needed to keep schools safe.  He was positively surprised by the majority of schools he had visited with their focus on fire safety.  They had regular fire evacuation drills and the vast majority of schools in Wolverhampton were safe buildings.  The new school buildings were the safest, as they had multiple entrances at ground floor level, in compliance with regulations.  They were working closely with schools to achieve 100% compliance of proof of fire assessment checks. 

 

The Buildings and Safety Compliance Manager remarked that following the fire at the Cube in Bolton, a review had been carried out with community schools and academies assessing whether any schools had any HPL (High Pressure Laminate Cladding).  They had visited schools to establish its presence and also whether it would impact on the school’s fire safety arrangements.  Where HPL cladding had been found the school had been given advice on how to adapt their fire safety arrangements to mitigate for the presence of HPL cladding.  

 

The Buildings and Safety Compliance Manager with reference to sprinklers, commented that new schools and major refurbishment works commissioned by the Council were incorporating sprinklers, following the BB100 recommended standard.  In addition, where the school was being funded by the Department for Education, even though they could not directly control whether sprinklers were installed, they were making strong recommendations that sprinklers be incorporated.  Schools were frequently a focus for arson and he was acutely aware of the immense disruption that a school being burnt down would cause to parents and children. 

 

A Member of the Group asked what the current compliance rate was for schools returning proof of fire safety procedures.  The Buildings and Safety Compliance Manager responded that it was about 75% for community schools.  They were going to roll out training for the schools that weren’t responding.  A standard item was also going to be added to the quarterly Head Teachers Conferences.  This would enable them to determine how best to deliver the training support package.  Face to face training would be delivered to the schools that requested support. 

 

Members of the Group thanked the Officers for the work that they had undertaken to help improve fire safety at schools within Wolverhampton. 

10.

Exclusion of the Press and Public

[To pass the following resolution:

 

That in accordance with Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following items of business as they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information on the grounds shown below]

 

[By virtue of paragraph 3, information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information) under Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 as amended]. 

Minutes:

Resolved: That in accordance with Section 100A (4) of the Local Government Act 1972 the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the item on the i10 as they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information on the grounds shown below]

 

[By virtue of paragraph 3, information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information) under Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 as amended]. 

11.

i10 Update

[To receive a verbal update on the remedial work to the Council owned i10 building]. 

Minutes:

There was a confidential discussion about the i10 building.