Council apologises over ‘drafting error’ in document on fire safety for tower blocks after Grenfell tragedy

Katherine Johnston (09 August, 2018) Housing

'These sorts of mistakes are very serious indeed'

17832The Ledbury Estate, off Old Kent Road

Southwark Council is seeking to reassure residents living in high rise tower blocks that a rolling programme of ‘above-and-beyond’ fire risk assessments are being conducted, after incorrect papers errors caused confusion.

In the aftermath of last May’s Grenfell fire disaster, Southwark Council committed to conducting the ‘gold standard’ type of fire risk assessment – the highest level – on all 174 of its residential tower blocks, on top of an already in place programme of regular fire safety assessments.

Type 4 assessments involve comprehensively looking at individual flats as well as communal areas, and are more thorough than the statutory work the council is legally required to conduct.

Cabinet papers said: “Notwithstanding the substantial investment in fire safety that has already been made since 2009, the council has re-doubled its efforts in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and has undertaken intrusive type 4 fire risk assessments of all 174 high rise blocks and investigated cladding panels on all blocks that were potentially at risk.”

But after a Freedom of Information Request from the Ledbury Action Group the council admitted only eight of these ‘most comprehensive’ had taken place since Grenfell – with none ever done beforehand.

The council has since apologised for incorrectly stating that all type 4 assessments had been completed, saying the report included a genuine typing error.

Councillor Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for housing management and modernisation, said: “As stated in our FOI response, our fire risk assessment programme goes above and beyond requirements.

“The wording used in the capital monitoring report included a drafting error and should have read ‘is undertaking’ rather than ‘has undertaken’. I apologise if this was confusing.

“All the council’s housing has live, up to date fire risk assessments in place, and a rolling programme of updating them continues.

“Furthermore, we have committed to carry out type 4 FRAs – the highest level of intrusive fire risk assessment on all 174 tower blocks, and over time on all our blocks. However, this work does and will take time.

“We include fire risk work as part of major works programme in order to cause the least disruption and expense as possible to tenants and leaseholders.

“The extra type 4 FRA work, which is not a statutory requirement and which needs to be ongoing as a live project, has already begun.”

The type 4 risk assessments will continue to take place on a case by case basis with some postponed to coincide with planed major works.

Long-term, the council intends to conduct the type 4 assessments across all its low rise housing, too.

In the meantime, usual fire safety work continues as normal, with residents able to read the assessments for their own blocks online, or by contacting the council.

But Danielle Gregory, from the Ledbury Action Group, was nonplussed by the explanation, telling the News: “I find it difficult to digest their response that this is due to an administration error.

“The information is being presented as factual to the cabinet and councillors and these sorts of mistakes are very serious indeed.

“I think Southwark now have a responsibility to formally correct the document and to make it publicly clear that they are still working through these intensive fire risk assessments.”

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