[Lesley Roberts – Chief Executive
Simon Bamfield – Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment.]
The chair introduced all of those present and thanked everyone for attending.
It was noted that after the last meeting clear that there was some very good work going on in Wolverhampton Homes. The Group were aware that there had been a flooding incident recently which had also been dealt with very well. The Group noted that the Fire Service and the City Council had been very complimentary in relation to the relationship they had with Wolverhampton Homes.
The Chair questioned those present as to their roles and input into Fire Safety.
Mr Simon Bamfield (Head of Stock investments):
Mr Bamfield pulled together fire safety within the organisation inclusing areas such as compliance and delivery of capital programmes and ensuring that any new works were compliant with regulations.
Mr Myk Kozuba (Stock Investment Manager):
Mr kazuba was responsible for fire risk assessments and dealt with any issues relating to these including monitoring any actions that may have arisen. Mr Kazuba was also responsible for ensuring that all fire risk assessments were up to date.
Mr Darren Baggs (Assistant Director – Housing):
This role had grown over time and Mr Baggs was a member of the Fire Safety Committee. Mr Baggs managed the concierge service and all communications that dealt with the flats.
The Fire Safety Committee was responsible for reviewing all fire safety measures and lessons learnt, the Committee met regularly and was chaired by the Director of Operations Mr Shaun Aldis. The Committee fed back the Mrs Lesley Roberts (Chief Executive) and to the Board. .
The Chair requested an example of a change that had been made following feedback from the Fire Safety Committee. Mr Kazuba referred to the fact that cables in communal areas had now been strapped up and that work was being carried out in relation to flat entrance doors with some having now been replaced.
The Chair queried how Wolverhampton Homes would deal with a front door that opened onto a communal area?
Mr Baggs stated that the leaseholder would take on responsibility and that over time some residents had changed their doors and they had to comply with the fire regulations. When a door was found not to be compliant with regulations following a fire safety inspection then contact was made with the owner and a certificate requested. Mr Baggs stated that there had been legal challenges on this and injunctive action had been carried out. At the moment out of 70 leaseholders only one door was outstanding that required changing or a certificate of compliance.
The Panel queried whether Wolverhampton Homes also checked the door surrounds. Mr Bamfield stated that yes it would be the full door suite which included the frame. This was checked with all new installs and a form had to be filled in with photographic evidence as to the work being done. It was confirmed that leaseholders also had to prove that the work was compliant or enforcement action would be taken.
The point was raised that the full lease was still with Wolverhampton Homes and only with the leaseholder for an agreed time so why didn’t Wolverhampton Homes just change the door for them. Mr Baggs stated that the leaseholder had chosen to change the door and that it was their responsibility but that to change it for them could be a last resort.
The Panel noted that injunctive action was expensive so in some cased this might be the most efficient course of action.
Mrs Roberts stated that Wolverhampton Homes had looked into this but that the recovery of money was not easy and that the leases are not explicit as to this area. The Chair agreed and stated that the format and content of leases needed to be looked into.
The Group were very impressed that there was just one door outstanding and considered that Wolverhampton Homes could do more to publicise this good news and make it clear that this was a safety issue for them and for the flats.
The Chair queried whether an Annual inspection was sufficient as someone could have a non-compliant door for a while before it was spotted. The Chair also queried whether something could be added to the lease to say if you have a non-compliant door you have a certain amount of time to sort it or Wolverhampton Homes will charge you for replacing it.
Mrs Roberts explained that the subject of leases was complicated and that at the moment there were 3 different leases in existence. Mrs Roberts stated that it would be possible to create a new lease but that it would only apply going forward and there would then be 4 leases coexisting which could lead to the Council having to pay for resident’s legal costs and a situation where there were different terms and conditions for different people.
The Panel considered that there might be a possibility to help tenants understanding, that whilst consideration was given to making this a matter for the lease that a leaflet could be distributed to emphasise the importance of compliance with the fire regulations.
Mrs Roberts confirmed that this was detailed in newsletters and during the initial briefing to new leaseholders.
The Group considered that the issue around different types of leases was worrying and that there was a need for consistency and queried whether something could be phased in to help tenants understand the huge complexity of the issue.
Mr Baggs stated that at the moment there were 2200 leaseholders with some on a 125 year lease. If someone wanted to change a door regardless of what lease they were on they had to change it to meet current regulationss. Mr Baggs also confirmed that concierge staff carried out daily inspections and quarterly inspections so if they picked up that a leaseholder had a new door then it could be addressed quickly.
Mrs S Roberts confirmed that she attended the leaseholders’ forum and that all the issues raised here about doors were raised at the meetings too. What also needed to come from this group was a recommendation to the Government to say that when there was a new leaseholder in a low rise block checks needed to be made in relation to gas safety certificates, hard wired smoke detectors and internal compartmentation.
Mr Bamfield stated that each flat would often have a fire door within the dwelling so it was also important to ensure that this door had not been taken out and welcomed the suggestions of greater powers to check these areas.
A Group Member stated that many of the fire safety doors were not suitable for people with a disability as locks and handles were hard to use. Wolverhampton Homes did not seem to have any alternative doors to offer which would fall within the requirements of a reasonable adjustment.
Mr Bamfield stated that he could understand this and that Wolverhampton Homes were trying to get the balance right but that security and fire safety were paramount and those doors needed some physical force as that provided the security and it was hard to reduce this. In other areas, such as bungalows then there could be more options and he would look at this again.
The Group questioned what mechanisms were in place for fire safety, who was on the fire safety committee, what it did and whether there was any resident/tenant involvement? It was also considered that Wolverhampton Homes needed to look at other ways in which tenants could put their views across and participate and that the annual fire safety inspections could possibly linked with this.
Mr Bamfield confirmed that the fire Safety Committee was led by Shaun Aldis and brought together all the different facets of fire safety and ensured that they were communicated. The Committee also looked at sharing good practice amongst officers. Members of the Committee attend Wolverhampton Homes Board to feedback and people from all different sections were present (concierge, repairs, designers etc.).
The Group queried whether Mr Kazuba carried out a disability assessment as well as the risk assessment. Mr Kazuba stated that he had recently carried out an inspection in a flat and noticed that there was no evac chair or notice as to what to do and that this was worrying for them and action would be taken and that there was disability access auditing of the fire risk assessment.
Mr Kazuba also stated that Wolverhampton Homes had a 5 year programme in place to look at access issues for disabled people but that this was not part of the fire risk assessment.
Mr Bamfield stated that he was aware that there were areas that needed to be improved in communal areas of tower blocks and that this was why Wolverhampton Homes had introduced the infrastructure programme looking to entirely replace areas in lobby areas, around lifts etc. to make them as compliant as they could given the structure of the building.
It was also confirmed that all dry risers and doors were now accessible with one key that the fire service had.
Mr Baggs stated that the second tranche of training for the concierge staff would be carried out by government approved group and would include areas such as fire doors, dry riser cupboards, combustible items and would also cover areas such as what to do with equipment left behind by contractors. Staff would also be trained to check seals around dry risers and that wheels and washers were in place.
The Chair stated that this was impressive and queried whether there was also an opportunity to check flat doors whilst doing this?
Mr Baggs stated that yes they would also check doors at this time and they would know straight away if a door had been changed and would report it along with any other areas that needed repairs.
The Group queried whether anything had changed since the last meeting the testing or cladding and the concern expressed regarding the conflicting opinions as to how the testing should be carried. The Group also queried what the latest advice was regarding sprinklers.
Mr Bamfield stated that in relation to the cladding, they had tested Graisley and Heathtown which had some similarities to Grenfell as they had rainscreen cladding but that it was made out of very different materials. Graisley was pure aluminium and had a top safety rating. Heathtown was meeting the building regulations and the cladding there was made from non-combustible materials. Mr Bamfield stated that there were no problems and that he was satisfied that there was was no risk
The Chair queried whether during testing actual panels had been removed from the flats as he was not content with new panels being tested.
Mr Bamfield stated that yes, Panels had been removed from both blocks and confirmed that fire breaks were in place. Only difference with Graisley was that there had been no need to take a panel away for further testing as the cladding was pure aluminium with nothing inside. Other blocks with cladding were all rendered solution which was fixed directly to the wall and all the regulations and certificates confirmed that these metand exceed standards. The latest government guidance was only focused on aluminium composite materials with a polystyrene core and these would never have met building regulations in the first instance.
The Chair noted that the Government advice was not always in line with the advice from the Fire Service such as the recommendations to have sprinklers in all schools.
The Cahir made it clear that there are other cladding systems that had failed nationally including rendered systems and asked Officers to keep this in mind.
The Group requested an update on the situation with the student blocks that had been evacuated
Mrs Roberts confirmed that she had been liaising with the owners of Libertine Heights and the position had not changed and the blocks were still evacuated whilst arrangements were made for the cladding to be replaced. Mrs Roberts was confident that the tall block had no concerns and had been checked by the Fire Service. Plans would be in place for the next academic year starting in September 2018. Government were now requesting information about every private block of which we haa five plus Sanctuary at Heath Town and on the Hickman Estate that the Council had disposed of which was original with no cladding. Wolverhampton Homes would continue to work with Sanctuary when they came to update their blocks and they would work together.
A group member stated that one block in Hampton View had been cladded in 1991 but that the east and west sides were done later in about 1994 and he had been informed that the same material was used but queried whether there was evidence of this.
Mr Bamfield stated that the person who designed both systems had designed them at the same time and they had just been installed at different times. And that the person now worked for Mr Bamfield.
Mr Bamfield confirmed that there would be drawings if written evidence was required but confirmed that they were constructed out of exactly the same materials.
The Chair noted the continued use of Mr Sam Bunch and queried whether we were struggling to get this expertise in house.
Mr Bamfield stated that at the moment every landlord in the country was looking to employ staff with experience in fire safety and that Wolverhampton Homes were looking to improve their levels of staff.
It was noted that the University had a fire service degree and graduate trainees already there.