Since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower I have been seeking answers to key questions on behalf of residents of High Rise buildings in Middlesbrough and speaking and writing to constituents to keep them informed of the latest information.
Last week I met with the Executive Member for Economic Development and Infrastructure, with responsibility for housing, at Middlesbrough Council and representatives from Thirteen Group and Cleveland Fire Authority. This is an update from that meeting to keep you as well-informed as possible.
Thirteen Group Update-
Thirteen are looking at installing misting or sprinkler systems in their high-rise blocks. Flats in Middlesbrough are ‘compartmentised’ which ensure that fires are contained and this design has been proved to work as in the recent tragic fire in Anson House in Thornaby which was contained to one flat.
All Communal areas of high-rises are monitored by fire alarms and smoke detectors with smoke detectors in individual flats and an intercom system which allows contact to be made if the smoke alarms are triggered. This is beyond the legal requirements but clearly eminently sensible and hopefully reassuring. In addition fire escapes have vents to prevent smoke building up. Issues such the removal of door closers and damaged letterboxes are being actioned as Priority One issues.
All necessary fire assessments are in place and in date, including Personal Emergency Evacuation Processes (PEEPs) in which all tenants’ individual circumstances are kept in a fire box accessible to the fire service. Every high-rise is being visited three times a day and each tenant is being called on and given information and asked if they have any issues. At the time of our meeting 65% of tenants in high-rises had been contacted but Thirteen are to continue with that process until every single tenant has been personally contacted.
Signage in the properties is being reviewed and is to be made clearer and more ‘graphical.’ Testing arrangements have been shared with others such as Teesside University who also have high-rise buildings. Currently Thirteen are focusing on buildings that are over four storeys high but that will extend to medium and low-rise buildings.
Cleveland Fire Authority Update-
Cleveland Fire Authority are continuing to assess and monitor all high rise buildings in the Cleveland area and I would urge everyone concerned to familiarise themselves with the advice of the Brigade on their website at www.clevelandfire.gov.uk
I was pleased to learn from my discussions with the Fire Brigade that they have purchased new aerial appliances which can reach up to 31 metres in height. However, I shared their concerns over current legislation which only requires building contractors to give the Fire Authority seven days’ notice before completion of a building. That simply is not good enough and it is imperative that changes are made to the regulations to allow fire officers better and earlier opportunities to inspect premises under construction. The Government has to look at these regulations urgently and it is also vital that the Judge led enquiry considers this important aspect.
Middlesbrough Council Update-
The government have asked Councils to assess any building of 18 metres or higher and to focus on those owned by local authorities or housing associations. However Middlesbrough Council has decided to assess any building over 4 storeys high, which will include many more properties in the town, and compile a list of private and public buildings and developments in Middlesbrough and what the nature of any cladding is at those properties.
Thermal cladding to terraced properties and others in Middlesbrough, which was installed through Go Warm and British Gas initiatives, is safe but anyone who still has concerns and had their home cladded by a private provider is advised to speak to the company that carried out the work.
I will continue to monitor and review the position and I expect to post further updates in due course as and when appropriate but in the meantime should any Middlesbrough residents have any concerns or simply wish to raise issues with me then do please contact my office, details of which are set out below:
Unit 4 Broadcasting House, Newport Road, Middlesbrough, TS1 5JA