21st Nov, 2018

Why are Coventry council tower block fire inspections so far NOT taking place at 17,000 homes after landlord 'assurances'?

Les Reid 21st Jun, 2017 Updated: 22nd Jun, 2017

THE Observer has raised questions with Coventry City Council after it said its initial emergency fire safety inspections of tower blocks will not include 17,000 homes – because of the landlord’s ‘assurances’.

The landlord is Whitefriars Housing Group – where 10 board members include four city councillors – and its parent company WM Housing Group.

We have also asked why all its tower blocks have not been fitted with sprinkler systems throughout.

Housing association Whitefriars has owned most of Coventry’s residential tower blocks – 24 – since it took over council housing in 2000.

A council statement says it will be carrying out inspections of all types of buildings above six floors following last week’s devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in London which has killed 79 people.

Yet the statement also says those inspections in the next two weeks will not include Whitefriars’ tower blocks.

We have asked Whitefriars/WM Housing when its Coventry homes were last fully independently inspected.

Council leader George Duggins, deputy Abdul Khan and city MPs met Whitefriars/WM Housing bosses last week to ‘seek assurances’ in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy – which prompted demands nationally for urgent safety inspections of the UK’s tower blocks.

The council’s statement reads: “The vast majority of high rise buildings are owned by Whitefriars who have provided assurances to both the council and local MPs that their buildings are fully compliant and they are clad in different materials to the Grenfell Tower in London.

“The remaining high rise stock is being inspected over the next two weeks by our housing and enforcement and building control team.

“We will either risk assess or inspect every building six floors or higher in the city. We are working on that programme and exact number now.”

Asked to clarify, the council responded: “We will produce a list of buildings, risk assess them and then visit in priority order, based on risk and regardless of ownership.”

WM Housing Group’s website sought to re-assure tenants last week.

It states Mercia House and William Batchelor House have been fitted with sprinkler systems throughout because of residents’ heightened vulnerability to fire. But this is not the case at all its tower blocks. All have sprinkler systems in bin areas, the group confirmed to us.

The statement adds “none of our blocks have cladding of the type used at Grenfell Tower”. The group has a ‘continuous programme of updating fire safety’. It includes ‘annual fire safety checks’ and ‘checking that measures to prevent fire spreading are in place’.

It adds: “West Midlands Fire Service also independently carries out checks from time-to-time and alerts us as to any further work identified by them, this is also undertaken rapidly.”

We have asked for further details of this.

The group says two of its 24 Coventry tower blocks – Mercia House and Alpha House – have full external insulation and cladding, and six have partial cladding.

WM Housing’s statement continues by saying Mercia House has non-combustible terracota tiles as overcladding and a non-flammable foam rainscreen and insulation board.

Alpha House’s rain screen is aluminium with mineral wool insulation, meeting ‘the highest available standards of fire resistance’, the group adds.

Partial cladding using the same insulation material as Mercia House is in place at Meadow House, Faulkener House and Longfield House. it adds.

Nauls Mill, William Batchelor and Sam Vale have corner insulation panels to each floor with mineral wool insulation behind, the group says.

In response to our questions, WM Housing released the following statement:

“The responsibility for fire risk assessments rests with us and we carry out annual assessments using qualified competent fire risk assessors, including former fire service personnel.

“The results of these inform what if any works are needed to improve fire safety. All of our assessments are up-to-date and following last Wednesday we carried out initial visits and investigation to all blocks.

“This week we are undertaking detailed re-inspections of all our blocks in the light of information coming from Grenfell Tower.

“We also took the opportunity to write to all of our residents in high-rise blocks to notify them of the fire safety measures in place in their blocks, basic fire safety advice and where to find instructions as to what to do if there is a fire. The fire service is also carrying out an audit of our high-rise blocks starting next week.

“The fire service also carries out its own inspections of high-rises around three times a year.

“The service does not notify us of these inspections but do tell us if there are works to be undertaken and these are acted upon and there is no work outstanding from these. We formally meet with the fire service every two months and discuss fire safety in our blocks.”

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