Housing 2017, day three: How are landlords making tower blocks safer?

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Grenfell Tower was often the only subject on everyone’s lips at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual event in Manchester this week. Yet, it was striking how little common direction existed in efforts to make homes safe in the wake of the tragedy in London.

It was unfortunate that Alok Sharma, the new housing minister, decided not to join colleagues at Housing 2017 and in so doing missed the opportunity to engage with the sector and begin to chart a post-Grenfell Tower path (more on this from my colleague Jenny Riddell here).

Here is my take on the most common elements of responses to Grenfell Tower by landlords with high-rise blocks.

Immediate measures:
– 24/7 fire warden on patrol
– Put a plan in place and communicate this to residents for them to ‘get out’ as opposed to ‘stay put’ in the event of a fire
– Conduct level four Fire Risk Assessments in all blocks and then put an investment programme in place accordingly, in line with maintenance plans

Medium-term steps:
– Retrofit a sprinkler system in all communal areas
– Conduct an invasive check of the integrity of fire stopping and compartmentalisation in every void; repair immediately if fire stopping is compromised
– Provide a 24/7 concierge with regular patrols, supported by CCTV

A further step that I discussed with only one landlord, but which I think merits wider consideration is offering all residents – tenants and leaseholders – a free annual test of their electric appliances.

The issue to be resolved here is who pays for any repairs identified? This problem can be addressed for new tenants by writing the tenancy agreement accordingly.

Clearly there is a long way to go before we can confidently say all tower blocks are safe places to live compared to other forms of residential construction. But the sooner the housing sector can start to agree on effective fire safety measures the better.

The last thing we need now is a plethora of policies that mean the fabric of some tower blocks is safer than others.

See Media is attending the three days of Housing 2017 in Manchester. We will blog each day on our take on the highlights at www.see-media.co.uk