Communities Department breaks own fire safety rules

By Ed Davey
BBC News, London

image captionThe department has admitted it should be following its own standards

The government ministry charged with ensuring fire safety has admitted failing to abide by its own fire safety laws at its headquarters.

Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) legislation compels landlords to carry out proper fire risk assessments on their properties.

But it has now emerged the DCLG failed to do so at its Whitehall base.

Fire Minister Bob Neill said the department should be following its own standards.

The regulations are set out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

The law says regular fire risk assessments must be carried out and a "responsible person" nominated.

But an inspection by the the Crown Premises Inspection Group found this had not happened at the DCLG offices in Westminster.

It then served an enforcement notice on the ministry.

Inspectors also warned that a new cafeteria compromised fire protection, threatening "uncontrolled fire spread throughout the building".

Thirteen out of 15 clauses of the 2005 order were found by inspectors to have been breached.

Mr Neill said: "We expect the enforcement notice, which we inherited from the previous administration, to be closed next week when one final measure is signed off.

"We expect to follow our own high standards and, since learning of the notice, we have taken this issue extremely seriously."

Ron Alalouff, of fire safety website, said: "This is undoubtedly an embarrassment for the department, given they oversee fire safety policy.

"The comments of the inspector suggest the breaches are serious, and fire safety is inadequate in the department that deals with fire safety legislation for the rest of us."

image captionSix died in the Lakanal House fire

In July 2009 six people died when a fire broke out Lakanal House, which was among more than 300 London blocks then discovered to have no valid assessment.

Following the deaths, BBC London found confusion as to which organisation was responsible for ensuring fire risk assessments are carried out.

In the aftermath many councils admitted they were unaware they had no fire risk assessments on their housing stock.

A London Fire Brigade (LFB) spokesman said at the time: "The LFB cannot and has not visited every building in London or seen every assessment."

But a DCLG spokesman said that it was for fire services to enforce legislation regarding fire risk assessments.

The inspection of DCLG premises was carried out in February - while BBC London sought the ministry's clarification over who was responsible for enforcing the law.

The then communities minister turned down an interview request on the subject.

An investigation into the Lakanal fire continues.

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