All change on the fire front
Amazing what publicising a cock-up can do. Because things have started to happen across a number of London Boroughs since we reported there was a backlog of several hundred Fire Risk Assessments for tower blocks across the capital.
One of those was on the Ethelred Estate after fire had broken out. We featured that block on the evening news and showed how nearly a year on from the fire, the damage had not been seen to.
LFB went back to remind them of the enforcement order they had issued to keep the common areas clear. It seems our report alerted them to too much combustible material being stacked up in the common parts of the two tower blocks.
Despite the fact that tenants and residents are living through upheaval as a result of major works, teams of workers were sent in to clear the combustible material without warning. Some people came home to find their personal belongings dumped in Council rubbish vans.
So they got rid of the fire hazard but residents say, failed to give them adequate time to remove their own belongings.
I went in to one flat a few weeks ago that was in the midst of having major works done. It was covered in works dust and it beggars belief that more provision was not made to help people to store valuables with so much filthy work going on.
It's a curious thing when a local authority responds to an enforcement order saying they have got things wrong, by saying that they are spending millions to put things right. That's the point isn't it? Turning it into positive marketing is a bit of a cheek.
Then I got sent a lot of paperwork from a blogger from Southwark responding to last week's Barling's London. It turns out that he and his fellow leaseholders are going to pay through the nose themselves for a sizeable chunk of the remedial action in their block of flats.
The estimate for his block is around half a million pounds for leaseholder costs, around half the total; so much for council investment.
Then there is Hounslow Council. They got the hump that we had pointed out, using the information they gave us, that they had not carried out Fire Risk Assessments on a number of high rises in Brentford.
Despite complaining about our intervention they told us about a catalogue of works they have now commissioned on the block after we visited.
Repair to a broken fireman's lock on a fire door. Filling in holes made through the concrete floors, to allow television cables to pass through, restoring the compartmentation between floors. Making sure there is better illumination of the emergency fire exits and the buttons to release the doors.
Putting up better signage around the block to aid evacuation in the event of fire. The council will now write to leaseholders who have replaced their fire retardant doors to remind them how important it is to have the correct doors. Oh and the Council has decided to approach the National Grid to stop supplying mains gas to the block.
According to them these were just "odds and sods and minor issues" to be addressed. Glad we pointed them out and clearly made the blocks safer to live in for tenants and residents, although the council did confirm that they keep a fire door locked for security reasons.
And then there was the final refusenik council, Bexley. After failing to provide information for over two months they finally sent us data about high rises and their FRAs.
Curiously Bexley, like a number of other Councils, seem blissfully unaware of the law that's been in place since 2006. Either that or they are willing law-breakers.
Sixteen high rise blocks have had refurbishment works, but Bexley list them as having FRAs long before the works were carried out. The law requires that new FRAs are carried out to ensure that refurbished blocks comply with the fire regulations. They cannot be serious.
Sixteen other blocks they have given us information for had fire risk assessments in the same month as we requested the information. Funny that.
So, all in all, quite a busy week for fire officials and council housing departments starting to try and clear up the mess of their own doing.
I'm still trying to work out how an enforcement agency, the London Fire Brigade in this instance, can make sure the law is complied with if they have no obligation to check if Fire Risk Assessments are being carried out.
That, to my journalist's brain, looks like a major oversight in the law. A huge black hole into which absent Fire Risk Assessments disappear at whim.
Surely there are enough officials lurking around the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority to devise a system where it's easy to check off whether each tower block in the capital has an FRA. After all it only took two journalists (me and Ed Davey) eight weeks to find out.
At least then, tenants and residents would know that the law is being complied with. Moreover the LFB would know when a Council didn't give a stuff about ignoring their obligations and could get busy enforcing.
We do now have a full inventory of all 32 London Boroughs, so there is no excuse for not having access to the information. In the fullness of time the LFB could even put the naughty ones up on their own website.