Sunday, 16 July 2017

Update on fire safety in Reading following Grenfell

Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower Green councillor Brenda McGonigle asked for an update on fire safety in Reading at a recent council committee. Response below:

In the last six months there have been two major fires in high rise blocks of flats in other areas - one in Shepherds Bush and most recently the tragic incident at Grenfell Tower, Kensington.  The Grenfell Tower investigation is underway, but it will be some time before we fully understand how the fire started or why it took hold in the way it did.

Reading Borough Council has three 14-storey blocks of flats in Coley and four eight-storey blocks in Granville Road, Southcote, and we are confident they meet high levels of fire safety standards.

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Services has audited 90 per cent of the Council’s blocks of flats, including our high rise blocks, with communal areas and have not raised any significant issues.  Where fires have broken out inside flats, none of them have spread outside the flat.

Formal fire risk assessments are carried out in our high rise blocks every other year by the Council using a qualified fire risk assessor.  A block inspector regularly checks all blocks and housing officers are on site most days to ensure constant monitoring.  From this year every flat within the blocks will have their smoke alarm tested every year and tenants are encouraged to check them weekly.

There has been much public concern and comment about potential flaws in the cladding that was on Grenfell Tower.  The Council can confirm that none of Reading Borough Council’s blocks have cladding systems comparable to those in the blocks where these fires occurred nor are any of the Council’s homes clad with the material which was used in the exterior refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.

The Coley high rise flats have very few cavities between any external cladding panels and the main concrete construction but on the limited elevations where they do occur fire breaks are in place to stop the spread of fire. None of the other flatted blocks have cavities.

The Coley high rise flats have fire exits at both ends of the blocks and have a call-point alarm system in communal areas which can be heard throughout the building when activated.  The Granville Road flats each have two communal staircases accessed via external balconies.  All flats have their own alarms which sound internally.  Smoke seals and intumescent strips are fitted on communal doors and the front doors of flats in all of our blocks to protect tenants from fire and reduce the risk of fire inside a flat spreading outside.

Fire risk is taken very seriously and the Council operates a zero-tolerance policy regarding items left in communal areas by tenants, as this poses a fire risk.  The Council enforces this policy strictly.

Every block of flats also has a fire notice board with an evacuation plan and factsheet giving advice regarding what to do in the event of a fire.  Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the Council wrote to all tenants in our high rise flats to reassure them of the fire safety measures in place and to urge them to regularly check their flat’s alarms and provide guidance on how to reduce the risk of a fire occurring and what to do if a fire does occur.  If any resident had any health and safety concerns about electrical appliances inside their flat, the Council also offered to visit and carry out testing to check that there were no issues. A fire safety briefing was also provided to all Councillors.

The Council takes fire safety extremely seriously and reviews measures as new information arises or updated guidance is issued.  This includes learning from major incidents in other areas, including the findings which will come out of the investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire.  Despite Reading Council’s blocks differing in design to Grenfell Tower, in order to provide residents with complete confidence and assurance, the Council is appointing an external organisation with specific expertise on fire safety in high rise blocks.  The organisation will carry out a review of our practice in the areas of management, fire safety measures and safety advice to tenants.


John & Sue said...

Apart from the specific problem related to the cladding of the Grenfell tower that led to the rapid spread of the fire it showed up another problem with the council that should be considered. The emergency response by the council was so inadequate that after it failed to provide an adequate response the government took over the role.

A catastrophic event like the Grenfell fire is a rare event but it illustrates that catastrophes do happen and when they occur and what form they take are difficult to predict.

this raises the question just how good are Reading's emergency plans, when were they last reviewed or tested and are there any lessons that can be learnt be reviewing the Kensington and Chelsea response to the Grenfell Tower fire.

Who would be part of an emergency response team? Where would they meet? is there a second location in the event that the emergency had effected the initial planned location? do these locations have generator power supplies in the event of a major power loss? and resilient communications links? how would Reading deal with the need to re-house a large number of families potentially permanently whilst still enabling their children to continue their education at their existing schools?

These are a few of the kinds of questions that should be used to test the preparedness of the Reading emergency response plans.

Reading may also need to consider specific events related to its location between two rivers and down wind of nuclear weapons establishments.

Rob White said...

Thanks for your thoughts, you make some good points.