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Statement on multi-storey fire safety in Stockport

Cllr Sheila Bailey, Stockport Council Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities.

Made before the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council Full Council meeting of 29th June 2017.

I have read that the Grenfell Tower fire, which started on June 14th 2017, was the deadliest fire in Great Britain since the Second World War, resulting in many casualties and severe damage to the building.

The death toll at the moment is 80 but it is likely to be much higher and some people will never be identified. It has left people traumatised, distraught, bereaved, homeless and scared. We need locally and nationally to take whatever action is required to prevent such a horror ever happening again.

On the 14th June, I requested a full briefing on the status of fire safety in all our 22 tower blocks. I met with officers from the council and from Stockport Homes (SH) on the 16th June and three actions were agreed:

  1. that general assessments (level 1) would be carried out on all blocks as a matter of urgency. These have commenced. What is included in a level 1 assessment is set out in a Fire Safety FAQs sheet (PDF 67Kb) that Stockport Homes have produced and I will arrange for this to be circulated to all Councillors as well as the timetable for the assessments. These assessments will be carried out every 3 years in future instead of every 5 years. The last one was carried out in 2013 and would not normally have been due until 2018.

  2. 6 of our 22 blocks are cladded. (the Mottram Street flats - 4 blocks, and the Lancashire Hill flats - 2 blocks). The cladding on these blocks is not of the same kind or similar to that used on the Grenfell Tower and the specification states it is non-combustible. However, Stockport Homes have arranged for samples to be taken and tested as a reassurance to tenants. This may take a few weeks as Stockport is not seen as a high priority for laboratory time because of the nature of the material.

  3. I asked SH to look at the practicalities and cost of retro-fitting sprinklers in all our tower blocks.

A leaflet has also been delivered to all flats by Stockport Homes and I have sent out a copy of this to all Councillors and MPs with my email of the 16th June. Leaflets have also been delivered by Stockport Homes to those flats where sampling of cladding has taken place so that tenants are aware of the process and have an explanation for it.

Stockport Homes already maintains a policy which significantly exceeds the legal requirements for Fire Risk Assessment. They have invested almost £5m in the last 5 years upgrading fire safety measures including fire doors, smoke alarms and door closers.

However, all perceived wisdom on fire safety in tower blocks that was acceptable on the 13th June was shattered by what happened on the 14th June and rethinking, reviewing and reconsidering is called for by every local authority and housing provider in all parts of the country.

This brings me on to where we go from here. As I have just mentioned, Stockport Homes are looking at proposals regarding the practicalities and cost of retro fitting sprinklers. It is my view and that of my colleagues that this has to be the way forward.

The Cheshire East Fire Service have a video on their website comparing a fire without sprinklers and the same fire scenario with sprinklers. The conclusion is without doubt. Two coroners have recommended sprinklers after deaths of residents and fire fighters in previous tower block fires.

The FBU have been campaigning for sprinklers for years. They save residents lives and fire fighter lives. GMFS has a Sprinkler Position Statement on their website saying that buildings should have sprinklers.

There is a wealth of evidence from fire services up and down the country supporting sprinklers. We may never know if sprinklers could have saved the 80+ people who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower, or even some of them, because of all the other factors.

What we do know is that all the evidence we have points to them saving lives and delaying the spread of fire. I think if we asked anyone living in a tower block if they would feel safer with a sprinkler system, the answer would be yes.

There are 3500 people living in our tower blocks, many, many of them children. There are people with mobility problems and other health issues. Has SH done an excellent job in providing fire safety? Yes it has. Is there anything else we can do? Yes there is.

It is our intention to bring forward proposals to retrofit our tower blocks with sprinklers. I sincerely hope that this will have the support of every Councillor. This is not a political issue. We are all responsible for residents living in our tower blocks. It's a time for concerted action and this is what we are proposing.

We will be lobbying government for funding but should this not be forthcoming, or not forthcoming in the short term, then details of how the programme is to be funded will be included in the proposals being brought forward.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank all those whose job it is to ensure our residents are safe, and to pay tribute to the heroic fire fighters and the magnificent army of volunteers who helped and supported those affected by the Grenfell tower tragedy.

A fitting legacy to those who lost their lives would be that we never, ever see such a horror again.