Council and Fire Service Working Together for Home Safety

FOLLOWING the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 the Council and Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) have been working together to ensure the safety of residents living in high-rise properties within the borough.

Reading, along with the five other Berkshire councils, signed up to an agreement with RBFRS to carry out inspections and enforcement of all high rise buildings in their areas.

The partnership has resulted in comprehensive inspections being carried out in 32 residential premises that had the highest potential fire risk. Where any issues have been identified, the team are following these up with the persons responsible for the buildings. This work will continue until all these buildings meet the required standards.

Three high rise residential buildings were identified in Reading which have Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding which failed the required fire safety standards. This is the type of cladding installed on Grenfell Tower.

Interim measures have been installed and are being monitored in accordance with the latest Government and expert guidance at the properties at St Lawrence House in Abbey Square, Queen’s Court in Queen’s Walk and Hanover House in King’s Road. The Council and RBFRS have been working closely with stakeholders of the buildings to ensure the safety of residents and compliance with the government’s guidance regarding the removal and/or replacement of the cladding where necessary.

Council and fire officers are now proposing to continue with checks on properties such as care homes, sheltered accommodation and other specialist housing where the occupants may be more vulnerable and less mobile. Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) could also be targeted.

In the Council’s own housing stock, an independent fire safety specialist was brought in to audit high rise blocks of flats. This included inspecting some block types below the Government’s guidance of 18 metres in height where a higher level of risk was identified. None of the Council’s buildings contained cladding of the type used on Grenfell Tower.

The independent review of fire precautions did not identify any major concerns. The Council was found to have a proactive approach to fire safety but the independent specialist was asked to make recommendations about how the Council could go further to improve fire safety. A number of recommendations were made and an action plan drawn up.

As a result a number of works are taking place:

·         external and internal doors to each flat within high-rise blocks are being inspected

·         a new ‘break glass’ fire alarm system is to be installed in the Coley high rise blocks in January as an interim measure until a sprinkler system is introduced

·        fire alarms to communal areas will be installed in blocks identified as higher risk

·        improved smoke detection and, in some cases, sprinkler systems are being installed in some higher risk flats

·        cladding on Coley high rise flats is programmed to be replaced within three to five years to coincide with a window replacement programme. This is not due to any identified fire risk but the outcome of any new guidance and government policy which may influence materials used in cladding.

·        new Council homes being built in Conwy Close, Tilehurst, are being fitted with upgraded fire doors and each flat, buggy and bin store will contain a sprinkler system.

All fire risk assessments at corporate buildings and schools have been completed and any priority works have been carried out.

Cllr John Ennis, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Housing, said:

“I am sure it will be reassuring to council tenants and residents in private accommodation to know that the Council and the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service have been working closely to ensure their safety in tall building.

“A review of the Council’s high rise blocks found that effective fire prevention measures were already in place and work is being done to make them even more secure.

“I am pleased the partnership between the Council and RBFRS has been successful and look forward to further discussions on how this important work can continue.”

An update report on Fire Safety in Tall Buildings will be presented to the Housing, Neighbourhoods and Leisure Committee on 14th November and can be found here: A report on the installation of fire sprinkler systems to council housing properties is going to the same committee:

David Millward

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