Ensuring fire safety at all of our 62 high-rise tower blocks is a crucial responsibility. This is why we have invested £2.5 million every year to make fire safety improvements to our blocks. As new risks have come to light we have had to take an urgent decision in consultation with Avon Fire and Rescue Service to introduce further measures.
Fire safety has been especially high profile since the Grenfell tragedy in 2017, and we carried out numerous checks and reviews of our blocks to be sure they didn’t have the same cladding and were safe. We made sure to install fire breaks, improve compartmentation and replace fire doors in many locations. These improvements have helped on the occasions that they’ve been needed, to prevent the spread of a fire from one flat to another. At the fire at Twinnell House on 24th September, we saw the importance of these measures when a fire started by an Ebike battery was contained to one flat.
However, we must constantly remain vigilant about fire safety as research, testing and regulations change. We continually improve our approach to fire safety and had begun a pilot to roll out a sprinkler programme. New information in regarding fire safety in blocks has developed since those post-Grenfell checks took place and we are in a better place now to understand what is needed than before.
These changes, as well as new national PAS9980 standard inspection we have been conducting, gave us information on four blocks in Barton Hill (Longlands, Ashmead, Harwood and Barton) in May this year, and four more (Gilton, Croydon, Yeamans and Broughton) last month which meant we introduced a Waking Watch.
And now, Avon Fire and Rescue Service have reviewed the arson at Eccleston House on the 20th October and concluded that the EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) cladding contributed to the spread of the fire.
As a result, we have taken the decision to add new precautionary measures in all blocks that currently have EPS cladding. These measures are:
- – the introduction of simultaneous evacuation policies in all blocks clad with EPS, enabled by waking watch provision until evacuation alarms can be installed (this will be applied to 38 blocks in total)
- – the development of a new programme to remove all EPS cladding over the next eight to ten years
- – the acceleration of the sprinkler programme, with the need for sprinklers evaluated on a block-by-block basis.
This means that over the course of this week we will introduce Waking Watches to an additional 27 blocks (11 already have them: the eight listed above and three in response to the Eccleston house fire, Phoenix, Eccleston and Beaufort).
Letters will be hand delivered to residents on the day Waking Watch provision commences and text messages will be sent to make sure there is no confusion as to evacuation plans in the event of a fire. We will also be publishing our latest fire safety risk assessments from next week for each high-rise.
We are making sure that, as well as our residents, our partners in other Core Cities and national partners are updated on these changes. We have also written to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities regarding these important changes and are seeking financial support for these additional costs.
The new Waking Watch provision is an additional precautionary measure only but it is something we feel must be done to reassure our residents that their homes are protected until the works programme is complete.