Fire safety update

This guest blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard,
Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes,
and Labour Councillor for Horfield ward.

Since 2012, we’ve invested around £2.5 million each year in actions across our council housing estate aimed at improving building safety for our tenants. That investment has seen us replace fire doors, carry out works in flats to improve barriers between walls and floors to prevent the spread of fire, and work to provide better information to tenants on safety arrangements.

During the past seven years we’ve prioritised practical efforts to minimise the risk from dangers posed by fire, and other threats that buildings face. Throughout this period, we’ve followed the advice and guidance from various sources including national regulations and fire service expertise, and feedback from tenants.

Since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we’ve seen changes in this advice with the introduction of new regulations in relation to inspections and new advice from fire services on building safety. This changing picture has required us to act to keep pace and ensure that council homes remain safe and the risk from threats is minimised.

In response to this changing regulatory environment, we committed to invest around £96 million over the coming years to introduce new safety measures into our high-rise blocks, alongside the 24-hour safety patrols already put in place across the blocks that need it. This investment includes installing new sprinkler systems and temporary fire alarm systems, which will be getting underway next month. 

We are also proceeding with the removal of expanded polystyrene cladding (EPS) from blocks with it installed, following new advice given by Avon Fire and Rescue in the wake of the fire at Ecclestone House last year.

Residents of seven blocks* will receive letters this week, informing them of the imminent works about to begin in their properties to install sprinklers and fire alarms. This work will begin in October, with a second batch of blocks to follow later in 2023**.

Further planned programmes are in the diary for the spring months of 2024, and by the end of this financial year we expect to see most blocks in the city fitted with fire alarm systems, and the sprinkler programme moving into phase two. These programmes are being prioritised on a risk basis, depending on the needs of their block.

During that time, we expect to complete another set of cladding removals, with four more EPS removal projects commencing in early January 2024 to have their EPS cladding removed. This follows the recent removal of cladding from Gilton House and Rowan House, in addition to Ecclestone House and Phoenix House earlier this year.

This new investment into safety measures sits alongside that commitment to annual investment in safety measures and a regular cycle of inspections to keep sight of any additional measures we may need to fund in future. This also includes a £2 million investment being made to carry out stock condition surveys of over 20,000 council homes by end of 2025.

Those living in council housing can also expect to see further information on building safety sent to them and a chance to feedback their views, in the latter months of the year. Tenants can also expect to see council officers going from door to door, seeking out views and feedback as we step up our work to inform our investment.

Our aim is to ensure that every person living in a council housing block has access to the right information, in a way they can understand, about what to do in an emergency and what action they can take to maximise the safety of their household.

As the anniversaries of the fires at Twinnell House and Ecclestone House approach, I look back on the past twelve months and recognise the difficult journey many of our tenants have been on with us. There’s been lots of passionate discussion, all of it listened to and heard as part of shaping this next phase of our building safety programme.

*The seven blocks that will form part of the first phase of the work are:

  • Croydon House – fire alarm
  • Hayleigh House – sprinklers
  • Lansdowne Court – fire alarm
  • Middleford House – sprinklers
  • Millmead House – sprinklers
  • Rawnsley House – fire alarm
  • Twinnell House – fire alarm

**The second batch of blocks are:

  • Barlands House – fire alarm
  • Barwick House – fire alarm
  • Brookridge House – fire alarm
  • Sedgewick House – fire alarm
  • Southbow house – sprinklers
  • Whitemead House – sprinklers
  • Winterstoke House – sprinklers