Ahead of the second reading of the Fire Safety Bill today, Chair of the Greater Manchester High Rise Taskforce, Salford Mayor Paul Dennett, has written to GM MPs calling on the government to urgently provide funding for remediation work to all regulated buildings regardless of height and to pay for the cost of interim fire safety measures residents are currently financially burdened with. The concern for residents’ safety has been exacerbated by the current coronavirus ‘stay at home’ restrictions where residents are spending even more time in unsafe buildings.
The purpose and scope of the Bill is to ensure that those responsible for residential buildings containing flats consider the risk of external fire spread. It aims to clarify the scope of the Fire Safety Order (FSO) to remove beyond doubt that it applies to the external walls and front doors to flats. The FSO is the main piece of legislation that fire and rescue services use to inspect buildings for fire safety and enforce if necessary. The new Bill confirms that the FSO extends to balconies, cladding, front doors, and common parts – something which Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service (GMFRS), supported by the High Rise Task Force, has consistently called for.
However, significant concerns remain about the government only funding remediation work on buildings over 18m despite their recent consolidated advice note on building fire safety confirming that owners of all multi-storey multi-occupied buildings have a statutory duty to ensure that any unsafe construction materials are removed and replaced, regardless of the height of the building. There have been a number of recent severe fires in buildings below 18m – the Beechmere Care Home, the Brentford Travelodge, the Worcester Park flats, the Barking flats, and the Cube in Bolton.
Also, the £1billion Building Safety Fund announced as part of the budget to cover the cost of remediating dangerous cladding in high rise buildings only applies to remediation work and does not cover the ongoing cost of interim fire safety measures such as a waking watch or installation of fire alarms.
These costs are primarily falling on leaseholders. The High Rise Task Force recent residents’ survey found that over half of owner occupiers said they’ve been landed with increased service charge costs. One resident reported an increase from £90 to £400 a month, and another faces an increase to £1000 a month to cover the cost of remediation. Residents feel that fire safety risks and the associated financial costs are having a significant impact on their mental health and wellbeing and financial wellbeing on top of the impact of the coronavirus crisis.
Mayor Paul Dennett said: “While I welcome the certainty that the Fire Safety Bill will create for residents and housing providers, I remain concerned that government is not doing enough to protect residents from life changing bills. We have already seen how the broken regulatory system which has created an industrial crisis has impacted on high rise residents in Greater Manchester and we will no doubt see this expand to affect residents in smaller blocks of flats.
“It’s unacceptable that no government funding has been made available for remediation work on buildings below 18m despite their own advice that action should be taken in all blocks of flats.
“The £1bn fund for high rise buildings announced in March does not go far enough to protect our high rise residents, who, as they spend more time ‘staying at home’ to protect the NHS and save lives, continue to face the anxiety of living in a dangerous building and meeting the costs of interim measures and increased insurance costs.
“I’m calling on the government to urgently address our concerns and make sure the removal of unsafe cladding is paid for on all buildings and that residents are not crippled with exorbitant costs just to keep themselves safe.”