Manchester City Council

Agenda item

Agenda item

Sprinkler and fire safety works update

Further to the printed published agenda issued 30 October 2018 attached is a revised report front sheet that details the recommendations that Executive will be asked to approve at their meeting of the 14 November 2018.  

Minutes:

The Chair introduced this item of business by stating that the Committee condemned the recent deplorable actions of individuals on bonfire night. She said the Committee extended their solidarity and condolences to the victims and families of the Grenfell tragedy. This sentiment was supported by the Committee and all those present. 

The Committee then considered the report of the Strategic Director (Development) that described that following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Executive had considered reports at their June, September and December 2017 meetings. The Committee was advised that theCouncil had committed to installing sprinklers, subject to surveys, consultation and receiving updated costs, in all Council-owned tower blocks as well as to implement fire safety works recommended by Type 4 Fire Risk Assessments.

 

This report provided an update and recommended additional approvals in relation to the 24 Council-owned tower blocks managed byNorthwards Housing, 11 tower blocks managed by two PFI-funded contractors and Woodward Court managed by homelessness.

 

It did not cover in detail those blocks managed by PFI contractors in Miles Platting (7) and Brunswick (4), nor did it include privately owned blocks.

 

The Committee had been invited to comment on the report prior to its submission to the Executive on 14 November 2018.

 

Officers referred to the main points and themes within the report which included: -

 

·         The rationale for the decision previously taken by the Executive at their meeting of 13 December 2017;

·         A description of the budget approval, procurement, technical approval and risk assessments; and

·         Information on the consultation exercise undertaken by Northwards Housing.

 

Some of the key points that arose from the Committee’s discussions were: -

 

·         Welcoming the comprehensive report, noting that it demonstrated the ‘Our Manchester’ approach to engaging with residents;

·         Every effort should be taken to challenge the myths around sprinkler systems and encourage all residents to have sprinklers installed in their flats, including the use of communal spaces, social media, resident’s groups and one to one discussions with residents and experienced firefighters;

·         Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) needed to be undertaken, especially with the increase in second hand sales of appliances;

·         What was being done to influence owners of private blocks to introduce safety measures and reassure the tenants;

·         Would a sprinkler system be installed if a tenant who refused one subsequently moved out; and

·         What impact would the installation of sprinklers have on insurance premiums.

 

The Chief Executive Northwards Housing stated that if a tenant was to move out of a property a sprinkler system would be installed prior to the property being re-let. He said that he respected the decisions taken by individuals not to have a sprinkler system installed but wanted to ensure that this was an informed decision. He said that Manchester was pioneering in the approach taken to this issue.

 

The Greater Manchester Fire Service Officer commented that a lot of myths surrounded the issue of sprinkler systems, in particular the concern around faulty activation. She commented that the occurrence of such events were very low, stating that evidence had shown that the chances were 16m to 1, and the priority was to ensure all residents were safe and protected in their homes. She said awareness and engagement events had been arranged for residents and this had included 1 to 1 meetings. The Chief Executive Northwards Housing commented that a sprinkler system had been installed seven years ago in a block without failure, he further commented that ‘safe and well’ visits were all routinely undertaken with vulnerable residents.

 

The Executive Member for Housing and Regeneration stated that she recognised the concerns expressed by both Members and residents about the issue of safety in privately owned blocks. She informed the Committee that both herself and the Director of Housing and Residential Growth had been appointed to the Ministerial Task Force that had been established to influence the private sector. She said that she also worked closely with the Fire Service in Manchester to engage with and influence private owners for the benefit of residents. With regard to those tenants who opted not to have sprinklers installed she said that whilst every effort was taken to educate and inform people as to the benefits of these, ultimately the decision not have them would be respected.

 

The Head of Housing said that if sprinklers were installed in all apartment blocks the cost of the insurance premium to the Council would remain the same however the excess that would be charged would be dramatically reduced.

 

The Director of Housing and Residential Growth commented that he was fully aware of the safety concerns expressed by residents living in private blocks. He said that a moral position had been taken with developers and owners to influence them into taking action to address any issues. He said he remained committed to working with apartment block owners to influence change and would update the Committee at a future date.

 

The Director of Housing and Residential Growth further paid tribute to the resident who had contacted the council to raise their concerns regarding the installation of sprinkler systems.

 

In response to the issues raised regarding white goods and PAT testing the Executive Member for Housing and Regeneration acknowledged the concerns expressed and noted the cost to families of replacing broken or faulty white goods and the potential dangers of purchasing second hand white goods. She stated that Northwards were currently reviewing their options for offering an affordable scheme to tenants to purchase white goods. The Chief Executive Northwards Housing stated that currently they did not offer a PAT testing service however he was mindful that the Grenfell enquiry may consider recommendations around this issue following conclusion on their investigation.

 

Decisions

 

The Committee endorse the recommendations contained within the report that the Executive:

 

      Is requested to note the progress made since December 2017.

 

      Is requested to note that the consultation undertaken demonstrated significant support for sprinklers but also that a minority of residents were strongly opposed.

 

      Is requested to note the support for sprinklers from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and National Fire Chiefs Council. The Prime Minister has also recently endorsed retrospective fitting of sprinklers to publicly-owned tower blocks.

 

      Is recommended to continue to proceed with fitting sprinklers, but give residents the ability to decline having sprinklers installed in their flat as long as they have first been given the opportunity to understand the benefits and risks as outlined in paragraph 3.8.

 

      Is requested to note that the overall budget for sprinkler installation across 35 tower blocks (Whitebeck Court extra care scheme already has a sprinkler system) remains, as estimated, £10.5m approved by Executive in December 2017 and that these systems will have a 30-year life.  These costs are being met within the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) through the rephrasing of the Public Sector Capital Programme.

 

      Is recommended to approve that the initial installation of sprinklers is offered to leaseholders free of charge at an estimated cost of £240k (to include Miles Platting and Brunswick PFI leaseholders) from the Council’s General Fund Housing Private Sector Capital Programme as detailed in paragraph 4.4. This is in addition to the £10.5m sprinkler budget identified above, and will require an increase of £240k to the Private Sector Housing capital budget.  However, leaseholders will be required to meet the estimated £167 annual repair and maintenance costs.

 

      Is requested to note that the fire safety works recommended by the fire risk assessor, Savills, are mandatory and is asked to recommend to Council that the budget for these fire safety works should be increased from £4.0m to £5.2m as the budget request to Executive in February 2018 did not include the tower blocks managed by PFI contractors in Miles Platting and Brunswick and Woodward Court.  This will require an increase of £1.2m to the Public Sector Capital Programme from revenue contributions from the HRA.

 

      Is requested to note that the contracts for sprinklers and fire safety works (plus the other works included in those contracts) include contingency but otherwise place cost risk on the Council, with Northwards Housing managing these contracts on the Council’s behalf to mitigate against further costs. Further costs are, however, possible as the sample surveys undertaken may not have identified the full extent of works.

 

      Is recommended to approve the revenue costs associated with maintaining sprinkler systems as outlined in the revenue consequences section of this report and in paragraph 4.3.  Negotiations will be held with Northwards and the PFI providers with regard to the additional revenue funding required, and any subsequent increase in the budget will be met from the Housing Revenue Account.

 

      Is requested, where access is denied by tenants or leaseholders to implement fire safety works, to delegate authority to take legal action, where required, to the City Solicitor in discussion with the City Treasurer, Director of Housing and Residential Growth, Executive Member for Housing and Regeneration and Executive Member for Finance and Human Resources.

 

And note that Executive recommend that Council

 

      is asked to approve a capital budget increase for these fire safety works of £1.2m (from £4.0m to £5.2m) to include the tower blocks managed by PFI contractors in Miles Platting and Brunswick and Woodward Court in the capital programme.  This will require an increase of £1.2m to the Public Sector Housing Capital Programme funded from revenue contributions from the HRA.

 

[Councillor Hassan declared a personal and non-prejudicial interest in this item as he is a member of the Northwards Housing board.]

 

Supporting documents: