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New high-rise fears

The majority of landlords are not convinced their tower blocks would contain fires in the way they should be designed to.

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An exclusive survey of 233 landlords carried out by Inside Housing with software company Nulogic reveals 35 per cent do not believe ‘compartmentation’ has been maintained by contractors working on their stock and 25 per cent are unsure. Nineteen per cent were not confident their organisation had undertaken suitable and sufficient fire risk assessments.

The revelations, which will be published in full next week, come in the wake of the verdict and rule 43 recommendations from coroner Judge Frances Kirkham last week after the 11-week Lakanal House inquest.

A failure of compartmentation - where a fire is contained in the flat in which it starts for up to an hour - contributed to the deaths of six people in a blaze which spread rapidly through the 14-storey Southwark Council block in Camberwell, south London, on 3 July 2009.

Judge Kirkham called for communities secretary Eric Pickles to produce clearer guidance on when ‘stay put’ or ‘get out and stay out’ advice is given to residents in case of fire, the scope of fire risk assessments and building regulations related to fire safety.

Judge Kirkham also called for the retrofitting of sprinkler systems. But tenants’ groups and Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party and MP for Camberwell, said her recommendations did not go far enough.

Ms Harman is calling for a change to the 2005 Fire Safety Order so fire risk assessments are carried out independently, rather than by landlords. She is examining ways to amend the law, which was passed by the previous Labour administration, for example through a private member’s bill.

Michael Gelling, chair of Tenants’ and Residents’ Organisations of England, warned: ‘What she [the coroner] is recommending is not going to stop someone dying in the future.’ He added that landlords should do regular fire drills in their blocks which the local fire service should attend.

Neither the Chartered Institute of Housing nor the National Housing Federation backed Ms Harman’s plan.

John Thornhill, senior policy and practice officer at the CIH, said: ‘There’s a lot to be said for fire risk assessments being undertaken by landlords when it’s done efficiently and sufficiently.’

The NHF warned independent assessments could be ‘cumbersome, expensive and confusing’.


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