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Council offers reassurance on fire safety measures

Reassurance offered following Grenfell tower tragedy.

STOCK IMAGE: Emergency Exit Sign

"West Berkshire Council takes its fire safety responsibilities very seriously" - that's the message from one of West Berkshire Council's most senior councillors today (Monday 3 July).

Councillor Hilary Cole, Deputy Leader of West Berkshire Council, has spoken out to reassure local residents following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower last month. West Berkshire Council regularly reviews and improves its fire safety policies and procedures but following the fire last month has started some further work to further reassure itself that all practical measures are in place to reduce the risk of fires in council buildings. This work includes:

  • Reviewing all council building fire risk assessments
  • Liaising with the people responsible for individual council buildings - including schools - to assess whether cladding is used and, where it is, arranging for a survey to be undertaken
  • Writing to the providers of council services to seek assurances that they have appropriate fire safety measures in place

Councillor Hilary Cole, who is also the Executive member for Planning and Housing said: "The fire at Grenfell Tower was desperately sad and has, understandably, caused concern across the country that a similar tragedy could occur elsewhere. Here in West Berkshire we have plans in place to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident happening in our district.

"West Berkshire Council has always, and will continue, to take its responsibilities around fire safety very seriously. This includes both the occupants of, and visitors to, its own buildings and those of partner organisations and privately owned property. We are not complacent however and we have begun some specific activity to further reassure ourselves, and our communities, that our plans are as robust as they can be.

"The terrible incident at Grenfell Tower has shocked and saddened everyone at West Berkshire Council. Our thoughts are with those who died in the fire but we must also remember that a great many residents have been injured and left homeless and we wish them well as they recover."

West Berkshire Council has begun reviewing key areas including residential properties, schools and council buildings as well as its contingency planning.

Residential properties

West Berkshire Council has no high-rise residential blocks (classified as 18m, or six storeys, tall) and owns only a small number of residential properties. These are all low rise and low occupancy properties. In addition, Sovereign Housing Association has written to the council informing it that it has no high-rise accommodation in West Berkshire, holds up-to-date fire risk assessments and is conducting its own reassurance visits for tenants.

West Berkshire Council has also been liaising with partners including the Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service, Sovereign Housing Association and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The Environmental Health Team have also evaluated known houses of multiple occupation and no risks have been identified. The team also works with the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service where issues are identified.

Council buildings

West Berkshire Council has an ongoing rolling programme of reviewing and renewing its fire risk assessments which cover both school and non-school buildings. In addition, the council's Health and Safety Team undertake health and safety audits of all properties. This also covers fire risk and ensuring properties are managing this effectively.

The council has a fire safety improvement programme in which we've invested more than £1.5m over the past four years. This includes £400,000 allocated to be spent this financial year. The work programme has seen fire detection systems, emergency lighting systems and building fabric work undertaken on the majority of its properties ranging from schools, care homes, administrative buildings and libraries.

There are no high-rise school buildings in West Berkshire.

In addition, the council has a policy for its own buildings which requires that all new buildings and major refurbishments which meet the policy criteria will have a risk assessment undertaken. Where this risk assessment recommends it, sprinklers will be installed.

Building control

For the construction, alteration or extension of a building, and where this comes within the control of the council's Building Control Service the building regulations and associated legislation applicable at the time will be applied.

Preparing for emergencies

The council is prepared to respond to a broad range of civil emergencies and have plans in place which are regularly tested internally and also with other agencies. This includes a Major Incident Plan and a number of other plans associated with it including a Rest Centre Plan, Vulnerable People Plan, Major Incident Support Team Plan. These all relate to how people will be supported if they are involved in an emergency and have to be evacuated from their home. These plans not only involve council officers but voluntary agencies, other partner agencies and mutual aid support from other local authorities.

These plans have also been used for real incidents in recent times including for a Thames Water outage in June 2017 and the flooding in 2014. As a result of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, these plans will be reviewed and amended as necessary along with the Emergency Planning Training Programme.

The Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service has issued safety advice to residents living in high-rise buildings - you can read it here.