Greenwich Council

Agenda item

Motion "Assistance with resources for Councils to implement fire safety measures to its housing stock"

Motion proposed by Councillors Chris Kirby and Denise Hyland

Decision:

Resolved -

 

This Council notes with great sadness the tragedy that has taken place at Grenfell Tower and extends its sincere condolences to the all those who have been affected by this disaster.

 

Council calls upon the Government to commit to assisting with resources for Councils to implement any fire safety measures to its housing stock as recommended by the official report.

 

Council praises the bravery and the work of emergency services in dealing with this disaster, probably the most significant civil emergency since 1945.

 

Minutes:

Councillor Chris Kirby moved the motion, reserving the right to speak.

 

In seconding the motion, Councillor Averil Lekau noted that the Council had established a fire safety team some years ago, and had implemented an ongoing programme of improvements to the Council's housing stock, to meet fire safety requirements. However, following the Grenfell tragedy the Council, and other local authorities, would need to significantly increase their investment in fire safety improvements in order to provide assurance for their residents given their heightened concern. The Council's core finances and ring-fenced housing revenue account were already under extreme pressures which were exacerbated by the Government's policy or inaction.

 

Therefore, Councillor Lekau suggested that the Council request the Government to scrap the 1% annual rent reduction which had resulted in a £33 million loss of income for investment, and to provide dedicated funding to support the Council's essential programmes for fire safety improvements, and increase the proportion of right to buy receipts from the existing 30% so that the Council could use that to develop or build new affordable housing, and that would decrease the Council’s match funding requirement freeing up resources for investment. It was requested that the Government require the private rented sector to provide local authorities with information in pursuit of their roles to lead and co-ordinate housing provision in their areas in keeping with their democratic mandate. The Government was urged to enable local authorities to establish HMO saturation zones which would restrict numbers of HMOs permitted in given areas. The Council should be given full mandatory licensing of the whole private rented sector or require landlords to register their let properties with the local authority. The Government should amend emergency prohibition orders to deal with private rented sector properties that provided a health and safety hazard to tenants. This would involve extending local authority powers so that they could require tenants to leave a property with immediate effect, rather than leave it to landlords to find alternative accommodation in their own time. This would have an associated power to require landlords to reimburse the local authority for any costs it incurred as a result of those tenants being deemed homeless. The time limit to prosecute landlords for Housing Act offences should be extended from the current six months to two years in line with food safety and health and safety offences. They needed more clarity within building regulations making them less vague and open to interpretation, by levelling the playing field for competition from approved building inspectors. At present the local authority has to do regularisations and set fees which were then undercut by approved inspectors.

 

Given a ‘shopping list’, Councillor Lekau added that a problem had arisen given that some blocks were privately owned and yet had RP tenants within them. Securing information and remedial action was complex and needed to be simplified. She proposed that a building registration programme for buildings over 6 storeys was developed. Developers, whether private or otherwise should lodge with the Council the building specifications, annual fire risk assessments, and the fire prevention measures employed. In addition, they should have to register and lodge with the Council any modifications to buildings, and at that point provide an updated fire risk. There should be a duty to co-operate imposed on building owners whereby they are obliged to provide information to local and national Government about the extent of any problems and what remedial actions they were taking and the timeframe within which they were to act. All these measures would ensure the safety of all their residents.

 

Councillor Matt Hartley said this motion afforded them the opportunity to reiterate that their thoughts were with everyone affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy. He supported the Council's response in reassuring Greenwich residents of what is being done to ensure their safety. He repeated their gratitude to RBG Officers who had assisted the relief effort, and he hoped their hard work and public service was being recognised in some way. He commented that Councillor Averil Lekau had put down a small motion but had then come armed with an enormous ‘shopping list’ of policy ideas that they were not actually voting on; he was sure the shopping list was well considered but felt she was prejudging the independent enquiry and official report that the motion mentioned. They would be voting on the motion as written. He queried if the motion was strictly necessary as the Government had said it would assist with resources to allow Councils to implement changes arising.

 

Councillors Jackie Smith and David Gardner spoke in support of the motion and in support of Councillor Lekau’s ‘shopping list’.  It was noted that the Coalition Government after 2010 had engaged in extensive deregulation, and that it could have included things about safety.  It meant that the Council had to now rely on the good will of contractors and employers with regard to safety. It was noted that recommendations were not done following the investigation into the Lakanal House fire. They had to ask the Government to act on building regulations and the deregulation of building regulations, noting that Councillors received numerous complaints from constituents on the matter. It was not felt that building inspectors were effectively independently regulated, and either they should be or the local authority should resume that role for all new developments. The Council was doing a robust job with private landlords but had finite resources. They had already taken a decision in terms of registration of HMOs, to start in October, and it was HMOs where there are most fires. The call for saturation zones was supported. It was noted that RBG was fortunate in that it still had fire team and a civil emergencies team, despite reductions.

 

The Council needed replacements for cut funding streams if they were to meet any of the ambitions on the ‘shopping list’, they needed more money from central government to keep tenants safe in the Borough. They had a duty of care to their residents. There would be significant costs involved at a time when they had reached the ceiling of borrowing limits. They needed cross party agreement in Council to ask the Government to fund the necessary investment that would be needed to upgrade Council and Housing Association properties.

 

Councillor Mark Elliott felt that as an authority they had to be careful. There was an independent review going on and they should wait to see what the report said. Councillor Lekau’s ‘shopping list’ was well considered but it was important to be conciliatory and consider what came out in due course rather than make too many pre-judgements about why things had happened and what needed to happen going forward.

 

Councillor Chris Kirby closed the debate. He said the motion was necessary because they had heard from the Government before that money would be available so address a problem, for example with Syrian refugees. He said there had been reports from some Housing Associations that the Government testers had refused to test some samples of cladding which was obviously not a situation that the Council wanted to continue. It was important that the Council spoke with one voice on the very specific motion before them. Councillor Kirby commented on the work of RBG staff who had been in Kensington and Chelsea, and on their work in the Royal Borough of Greenwich reassuring residents.

 

The motion was put to the vote and it was unanimously

 

Resolved -

 

This Council notes with great sadness the tragedy that has taken place at Grenfell Tower and extends its sincere condolences to all those who have been affected by this disaster.

 

Council calls upon the Government to commit to assisting with resources for Councils to implement any fire safety measures to its housing stock as recommended by the official report.

 

Council praises the bravery and the work of emergency services in dealing with this disaster, probably the most significant civil emergency since 1945.

 

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