Author : Maryanne Bowring
Just before Christmas, the Government announced an extension to its building safety fund and allocated £30M in funding to pay for alarm systems in blocks where leaseholders are paying out huge sums of money for a waking watch.
Good news – in part. The fund is still inadequate. But what about all the blocks that don’t even qualify for ACM removal funding? It is nothing short of scandalous that leaseholders in blocks with a whole range of other safety problems are being left completely out in the cold.
The use of EWS1 forms, as well as being detrimental to leaseholders finances, their chances of moving and their mental health, has also opened a can of worms that reveals a vast array of potentially catastrophic building failures. These include internal compartmentation failures caused by installation of services such as broadband; inadequate fire stopping; non fire-retardant foam fillers; fire alarms of the wrong grade; smoke vents requiring manual operation; fire doors not fit for purpose – and even the wrong colour plasterboard. All these issues are being seen on blocks below six storeys as well as on high rise buildings.
The new building safety measures announced in January 2020 and included in the Building Safety Bill last July, state that anything on the external facade of a residential building that would assist a fire to spread must be removed. However, practitioners are now being expected to disregard the Housing Secretary's letter issued in January 2020 (which is delegated legislation), to take responsibility (and fall back on their PI insurance) and to water down this advice on the grounds of proportionality – or to suggest management strategies to mitigate risk, thereby allowing potentially dangerous materials and building defects to remain in place. But what failsafe management strategy could possibly guarantee a resident won’t smoke or barbeque on their balcony, or stop an external wall light from developing a fault or emitting a spark?
If the Government wants to remove thousands of buildings of six storeys or less from the Regulations then it should publish the chances of surviving a jump from a fire-engulfed four-story building and see if the public finds the results acceptable.
Have we not learned the lessons of the past? Building managers must work on the assumption that if it can happen, it will. How many more lives need to be lost to ensure that cost and convenience are not always the first consideration?
Mary-Anne Bowring FIRPM FRICS FARLA FCABE Founder/Head of Asset Management
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