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Leader issues fire safety update

Published: Wednesday, 21st June 2017

The Leader of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has issued a further update on behalf of the Council and South Essex Homes following the devastating Grenfell Tower flat fire last week.

In relation to council owned tower blocks, Cllr John Lamb, said: “Given the number of high rise and tower blocks in Southend, fire safety has always been an absolute priority and a main feature in our approach to complying with all health & safety and legislative requirements.


“Every Council owned high rise block, none of which have cladding, along with sheltered housing schemes across the borough have an annual fire risk assessment carried out by a qualified assessor.  Essex Fire and Rescue Service (EFRS) also carry out their own annual audits and the results are recorded.

“Any actions recommended are carried out by South Essex Homes as a matter of urgency.  Through this comprehensive approach we ensure we remain compliant with the most up to date regulatory and legislative requirements and also good practice as advised by EFRS.


“In addition to the formal annual risk assessment, our compliance officer carries out interim visits to inspect the blocks during the year, in order to ensure compliance is maintained.


“Furthermore South Essex Homes caretaking and estate staff attend all high rise blocks seven days a week and as part of those visit they ensure that all lifts, stairs and communal areas are clean and clear of any dumped objects or materials.  When items are dumped, they are removed as promptly as possible so as to avoid any risk of fire in communal areas.

“Following the tragic incident which occurred on the Balmoral estate in 2016, a housing officer and a fire officer visited every property in all 13 high rise blocks to give safety advice and reassurance.


“In terms of fire safety installations in high rise blocks, South Essex Homes have been carrying out a programme of replacing all front entrance doors and frames, along with all communal doors and panels, with the highest specification products available on the market.  These have proved to be completely effective in preventing the transmission of smoke and fire where fire has occurred.  They enable the fire service recommended policy, for tenants to remain in their home in the event of a fire outside, to be fully effective in protecting residents. 


“Of the 13 high rise blocks in Southend, 10 have had these works completed, one block is currently in the process of having this work carried out and the remaining two blocks are planned to have the work carried out in this financial year following cabinet’s approval on 20th June to bring forward £2m of capital funding.  In addition, each high rise block has a sprinkler system installed in the ground floor refuse chamber as these are areas where low level fires have occurred in the past.  They have proved to be very effective.


“Every property also has an individual hard wired smoke detector which is checked and serviced on an annual basis and we are currently in the process of installing individual reminder signs to the back of each property’s entrance door, to further remind residents of fire safety action in the event of a fire.


“Following the serious fire at Lakanal House in London in 2009, like all authorities, we reviewed and updated our fire safety procedures and the incident at the Balmoral estate in 2016 led to a further review of processes.


“Following this, and during subsequent public meetings, residents did ask whether sprinklers and fire alarms should be installed throughout the blocks.  The clear advice from the fire service at the time was that they did not recommend such actions.


“However, following the recent tragic events we are reviewing current fire risk assessments and fire audits, and will carry out a further tri-partite review of fire safety between the Council, SEH and EFRS. This will involve inspections that will be taking place in the next month and all recommendations will be considered and acted upon as a matter of priority. The installation of sprinkler systems will form part of this review with EFRS and the outcomes subsequently communicated to residents.


“Further to this, as lessons and outcomes arise following the devastating and tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, the Council and South Essex Homes will continue to review our fire safety policies and procedures on an on-going basis.”


In relation to other high-rise buildings in the Borough not owned by the Council, Cllr Lamb, said: “There are many other tower blocks in Southend that are not owned by the council. It is important that as the community leader we grasp this issue and coordinate any responses or actions that need to be taken. Whilst none of our own tower blocks have the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower, our building control team are exhaustively searching records to ensure that we identify any other tower blocks that may have this cladding and can act accordingly with developers and building owners.  We are also in contact with our public sector colleagues to seek assurances that their buildings are safe, and we will work with them to ensure any necessary actions are undertaken.”