Following on from my letter of 14 June 2017, I am writing to update you on the actions that the council has taken in response to the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower.
I attended a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee (a cross party group of councillors) together with senior council officers on Monday 19 June, to discuss fire safety in the borough and answer questions from councillors raising questions and concerns on behalf of residents. Following that meeting, I have ordered a full review of the council’s fire safety strategy, and asked officers to look again at whether we need a new approach to fitting sprinkler systems and other fire safety measures, in light of the Grenfell tragedy.
Council officers met with the borough commander of the London Fire Brigade on 20 June 2017. The LFB pledged to support the council as it conducts its review of fire safety strategy. The LFB and the council also agreed to jointly host a series of meetings for chairs of tenants and residents associations to be held at fire stations throughout the borough. We will publicise the dates of these meetings and locations as soon as possible. In the meantime, the LFB is continuing to carry out their routine community assurance meetings at individual high rise buildings throughout the borough.
The government has asked all council landlords, housing associations and private owners of high rise tower blocks to check all of their tower blocks for combustible cladding and to have it tested for fire safety where this exists. I want to reassure you that none of the 174 tower blocks in Southwark have combustible cladding. We have also asked for assurances regarding the newly built, privately owned high rise blocks in Southwark, although new high rise residential blocks are subject to strict regulation – materials in any buildings over 18m need to be fire retardant with sprinklers installed at over 30m.
We have checked all of our council owned blocks, whether they are high rise or not, and we have identified some cladding that we want to investigate further on four of our lower blocks. We have written to residents living in these lower blocks to let them know that their block has some aluminium or similar facing and we are arranging urgent checks to see whether any further action should be taken. We hope to have the results of the testing back within 2 weeks, but in the meantime we have reassured these residents that their building fully complies with the current building regulations and that these checks are being carried out purely as a precaution.
Some residents have asked us when their last fire drill was and where the fire assembly point is. All of our tower blocks have emergency information clearly labelled in all of the main communal areas, and we are rolling out new signage in lower blocks which includes a reminder not to smoke in communal areas. The LFB advises residents to adopt the stay put strategy, so the council does not undertake fire drills, except in our sheltered housing schemes and hostels. Evacuation is the decision of the emergency services.
We have also been asked about fire extinguishers and dry risers and how we can be sure that they are in working order. We do not have fire extinguishers in common areas as we cannot, and would not, expect residents to fight fires. Dry risers are inspected and tested every six months and records are kept by the Engineering Services team.
The council has a professional fire safety team made up of 15 officers including former firefighters, that works very closely with the LFB to ensure that fire risk assessments are up to date and that fire safety awareness information is readily available and reinforced regularly. Clearly the Grenfell Tower fire means that we need to urgently need to increase fire safety awareness as residents will understandably be very anxious. We are working with the LFB to agree information that can be sent to all of our council residents.
Kind regards, Stephanie Councillor Stephanie Cryan Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing