MATT WRACK – the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) – has responded to the passing of the Building Safety Bill in Parliament and has warned that, in its present form, it is ‘vitally flawed’.
In part this is because, in its present form, the bill is set to see private sector firms turned to and called in if fire and rescue services are ‘not in a position to assist the new Building Safety Regulator with fire matters.’
But not only that: It is in that context – and of course in the context that the Building Safety Regulator, which the bill is set to introduce, will be a new statutory body responsible for building safety in higher-risk buildings.
The FBU fears that ‘safety will be weakened as profit is prioritised’ – if the Building Safety Regulator is allowed to turn to private firms – and that this policy might lead to further private sector involvement in ‘fire safety of new developments’.
The bill is the most substantial legislative response to the Grenfell Tower disaster to date, and aims to reform building safety with measures including a requirement to have an ‘accountable person’ for higher-risk buildings, as well as the new Building Safety Regulator.
The union has also criticised the bill on the grounds that it does not address the building safety crisis in existing buildings.
In the wake of Grenfell, hundreds of thousands of people’s homes have been discovered to be unsafe – with many facing huge costs to remedy their homes. The bill does nothing to address the need for these repairs nor their cost.
Other issues with the bill identified by the Fire Brigades Union include concerns around funding some of the work required from the fire and rescue service, and the need for residents to have a voice in decisions and processes concerning them.
Wrack has warned therefore: ‘This bill will be vitally flawed if it allows the new Building Safety Regulator to turn to private firms for assistance with fire matters.
‘The FBU has vigorously opposed this type of activity over the long term and will continue to do so. Building safety cannot be an opportunity for profiteering: this risks public safety, as history shows us.
‘The answer is to invest in the public fire and rescue service, by recruiting and training sufficient firefighters to carry out these duties.
‘Furthermore, whilst this bill puts in place some good protections for new buildings, we would like to see this bill resolve the building safety crisis in existing buildings.
‘Finally, there need to be provisions in the bill to fund the fire service properly for the extra work it mandates for, and protect residents’ voices in matters which concern them.’
- Meanwhile residents of flats in Ipswich have been complaining that cladding repairs are in certain instances affecting their health.
People living in a tower block wrapped in plastic as part of a procedure to remove cladding are warning that the lack of light is affecting their health.
The plastic has reduced light into the flats of St Francis Tower, Ipswich, and scaffold bars mean windows can only partially open. One resident said it felt like living in ‘a little dungeon’.
Block Management, which is behind the repairs, said work would be completed by 2022. The work to strip the flammable cladding from the 17-storey St Francis Tower, however, first began in August 2018.
Caroline Haydon-Knowell, who lives in a top-floor flat in the Tower, said: ‘You feel like you’re in a little dungeon. You can’t see anything, you don’t even know what the weather is like.
‘I know the work needs doing. It’ll be great when it’s done – but having to live 18 months to two years with this plastic sheet thing is just the worst.’
Tenant Rand Moore said he was wearing swimming shorts in his flat to try and stay cool in the hot temperatures, but that such living conditions were ‘uncomfortable.
‘I’ve got my windows open as much as they can. I’ve got no fresh air, no breeze. It’s quite depressing,’ was his description of it.
In a statement, Block Management said the plastic wrap was to protect contractors from the risk of injury at height, and that it also allowed the work to be carried out during the winter months.
The management company also said health and safety requirements meant window opening restrictors had to be installed.
Since the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, when 72 people lost their lives, tower blocks across the country have been inspected for flammable cladding and materials. And the government’s own response to the tragedy – the Building Safety Bill – was debated last Wednesday.
Ministers say it will deliver the biggest overhaul in building safety in 40 years (and that the particular project) has ‘put aside some £5bn’ to help those in the tallest unsafe blocks.
The government’s bill will allow leaseholders up to 15 years to legally challenge shoddy building work in light of the cladding crisis.
It is not clear what supported options are available to owners of older properties. But Alex Dickin, from the Ipswich Cladiators group, said the new proposals were useless.
‘It won’t make any difference,’ he said. ‘There are 19 blocks in Ipswich affected by the building safety crisis.
‘And fourteen of those have developers who have either gone bust or are facing administration.
‘And that means they won’t be able to take their developers to court.’
Dickin said he would prefer the government to cover the cost of the safety work and for them to pursue developers.
Claire Hamblion, a leaseholder facing safety repair costs to her flat at Cardinal Lofts on Ipswich Waterfront, said of the bill:
‘I just think it’s a headline solution for the government which doesn’t solve any problems for anybody.’