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 Investment at Wolverhampton Homes endorsed the Chair’s view, particularly as there could be people with disabilities visiting the block.
A Panel Member asked if Wolverhampton Homes had a timetable for their working group. The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment responded that the first meeting would scope out the requirements in relation to social housing. He expected it to be two months before he could be clear how long the process would take.
A Panel Member asked what action Wolverhampton Homes were taking on the privately leased properties which were managed by them. The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment said the review would cover those dwellings. He was pleased to report that there was no ACM (Aluminium Composite Material) cladding on any of the blocks managed by Wolverhampton Homes. Eighteen of their blocks had some element of external wall insultation, the majority of which used rockwool, which was non-flammable. The blocks that did not use rockwool, had all passed the BS8414 full height test for flammability. There were other risks in some of the buildings which they were not satisfied with and required remedial action. There was an investment programme across all the tower blocks which would be making improvements in fire safety over several years.
The representative from DAGLA commented that signage was an important element of fire safety. The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment at Wolverhampton Homes agreed it was an important element of consideration and they would be looking to Keren Ryder for support and wanted to encourage active participation from disabled groups.
In response to questions from the representative of One Voice, in relation to the ongoing testing of building materials, the Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment at Wolverhampton Homes said they were moving towards using only non-flammable materials to eliminate any ongoing risks. The Chair stated he wanted Wolverhampton to lead the way in fire safety and not to just meet legal requirements. He wanted to share best practice with other authorities. He welcomed the fact that sprinklers would be retro fitted in the residential tower blocks managed by Wolverhampton Homes.
The Chair commented that the Government had allocated £400 million out of the affordable housing budget to assist with the removal of aluminium composite materials off high rise buildings. The money would not be of any benefit to the Wolverhampton Council owned housing blocks as they did not have ACM Cladding. He acknowledged it was hard to estimate the total costs of fire safety improvement as the process was still in its early stages.