1. What action has been taken to check on the safety of Newcastle’s high rise buildings since fire at Grenfell Tower in London?
Your Homes Newcastle manages 38 high rise blocks on behalf of Newcastle City Council. A high rise block is classed as any over 8 floors.
We can confirm none of the city council’s own high rise social housing blocks, managed by Your Homes Newcastle, are of the same construction as Grenfell Tower. And the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower has not been used on any of the high rise blocks.
We have 5 high rise blocks out of 38 which have external cladding but only on the ground and first floors. This was installed to emphasise the communal entrance areas, and create a ‘gateway’ to the block. This external cladding isn’t an Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding.
The remainder of the block has had external wall insulation installed, which enhances the thermal efficiency of the dwellings. The external wall insulation is fixed directly to the block and coated with a non-flammable coating.
As a precautionary measure, we sent samples of the cladding to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for testing by the BRE, the company they have commissioned. However, we have been told that they will not test it as they are concentrating on panels that used the same materials as installed at Grenfell Tower.
We want to reassure our tenants that the materials used on the blocks are safe. As a result fire tests were undertaken by YHN, which were observed by the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s (TWFRS) Fire Safety Team. The fire tests were an assimilation of the BRE British Standard tests and held in a purpose built fire testing facility.
YHN and NCC are pleased to confirm that the cladding passed the assimilated BRE test. Importantly the cladding did not catch light during the direct exposure to flame nor was there any damage to the panel.
We have decided to go much further in our testing of materials and we are taking samples from our high rise blocks of all render or insulation materials to ensure they are compliant. Therefore you may see some contractors in or around your block taking samples away. This is nothing to be concerned about as this is a ‘belt and braces’ approach to test all materials, not just ACM.
We are in regular contact with all residents in the 38 high rise blocks to reassure them of the above. All of our Concierge staff working in blocks have been briefed to convey the ‘if in doubt, get out, and call 999’ message to residents and are at hand to reassure and provide advice.
Our fire policy since 2012 has been “if in doubt get out”. New residents moving into our high rise accommodation get this information before they move in and there are fire safety notices around all of our high rise blocks. The city council has invested £3.3m in fire safety since 2010/11 and is intending to spend a further £1.5m during 2017/18.
All high rise blocks have water risers installed which means regardless of the height of the block the fire service is able to get a water supply to the top floor. Of the 38 blocks, the 7 tallest have a wet riser system which means water is supplied from a dedicated water supply which also has an emergency backup generator.
The blocks are all designed to provide segregation in the event of a fire through segmentation.
Our staff are making daily visits to all blocks looking for damage to signage to have it replaced without delay and are removing any rubbish which may be a fire hazard. Since the fire at Grenfell Tower we have confirmed that all blocks have valid fire risk assessments, and made technical staff available to assist with any enquiries from residents. We are following all guidance provided by DCLG.
We are working very closely with our partners the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service who have been invaluable in working with us to consider if there are any ways we could improve safety. We will obviously consider all recommendations that come out of the investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire.
2. What reassurances can you give to residents and tenants of those buildings about their safety?
We are confident in the fire safety of Newcastle’s social housing. Alan Robson, the Assistant Chief Officer at TWFRS has confirmed this, saying that our high rise accommodation is amongst the safest in the country.
We have reviewed the type and construction of external wall insulation retrofitted to council-owned high rise blocks and there is no evidence to demonstrate that the cladding system used at Grenfell Tower has been used at the city’s blocks. As set out above, our testing programme is going above and beyond that required by DCLG.
All high rise dwellings have smoke detectors installed and they all connect directly into our enquiry centre which is staffed 24 hours per day 365 days per year.
We have hand-delivered fire safety information reminders to all 3,137 high rise addresses, and put in place a dedicated response team to deal with any concerns residents have about their safety or the safety of their accommodation. Residents can contact this team via email email@example.com or by telephone on 0191 278 8574.
We are working with residents who have highlighted some concerns in relation to fire doors. We are inspecting all of the doors and will undertake any necessary actions. This is a priority.
We also continue to have concierge staff operating at all of the high rise blocks we manage on a daily basis to respond to residents queries and report any issues our central team. YHN’s Managing Director has also committed to providing regular updates on Facebook and Twitter to respond to ongoing concerns and anxieties.
We are speaking with community leaders as we know we have diverse communities within some parts of the city and that some residents may choose to speak to those leaders about their concerns.
3. What work will continue now to ensure buildings are safe and fire procedures for these buildings are as safe as possible?
We have always had a programme of Fire Risk Assessments which are completed on an annual basis and we can confirm these are up to date and will continue to be so. We are responding to advice and requests for information from the DCLG.
We will continue to work with TWFRS and seek their advice and assurance on fire safety. We will review our protocols with TWFRS on how to evacuate people should a fire occur and we will implement any recommendations that come from government following the inquiry into Grenfell Tower.
4. Are there any plans to re-instate the Concierge Service?
The concierge service is still in place. Residents in the high rise blocks benefit from a 24 hour, 7 days per week service. The concierge service includes:
Safety and security – including daily block check and ensuring fire exit routes are clear
Inspections to shared areas
The monitoring of a citywide CCTV system, through our enquiry centre, that helps make our communities safer, stable places to live
Response service to support tenants and emergency services
The service helps to provide safer homes for residents and supports residents and the emergency services when emergencies occur.
5. Do smoke alarms in blocks still go through to the Concierge Service when activated if the intercom system is down?
All smoke detectors installed in our high rise blocks are connected directly to our enquiry centre which is staffed 24 hours, 365 days a year.
The smoke alarms do not go through to the Concierge Service if the intercom system is down. The intercom was put in place as an additional way by which our staff can communicate with residents on behalf of the Fire Service if required. In an emergency, residents should always dial 999. In the event of a intercom system failing, the smoke alarms would still sound in the event of a fire, whereupon residents should call 999 right away.
6. Are there any plans to install emergency lighting or sprinklers in high rise blocks?
Once the investigations into the Grenfell Tower fire are complete we will work closely with the Fire and Rescue Service to ensure any emerging best practice is reviewed and implemented where appropriate.
7. Are key fobs issued to the emergency services?
The Fire Service has one master key which fits all of the blocks, called Fireman’s keys. These give access to every high rise block as well as to the key safes which contain all the individual block keys. We have also issued the Police with a number of keys. In addition, staff in our 24/7 Enquiry Centre can give entry to any of the blocks remotely when they see an officer from the Emergency Services that needs access.
8. Why do internal windows above the bedroom doors have gaps?
Internal windows above the bedroom doors have a gap at the top to allow for ventilation within the flat. Our high rise blocks are designed to provide segregation in the event of a fire through the compartmentation of each flat. This is to stop the spread of a fire from one flat to the next, so each flat is effectively a separate compartment.
9. Can fire engines still get through despite cars blocking their access?
It is important that residents and visitors park in the designated areas and do not block access for the emergency services. The Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act 2006 made it an offence to hinder or obstruct those who are assisting emergency workers responding to emergency circumstances. It makes provision for circumstances in which ‘those who without reasonable excuse obstruct or hinder an emergency worker responding to emergency situations. Examples of obstruction includes parking where an emergency vehicle cannot get by and refusing to move, or damaging an emergency vehicle or equipment.
In the event of a fire it is unlikely that a car would cause a delay in getting water to a building as the emergency services have the facility to either remove the obstacle or extend around it.
10. Rubbish is being left next to the bin disposal room, creating a fire risk – what is YHN doing to resolve this issue?
On a daily basis our Concierge staff check within each high rise block for bulky waste, taking it away and disposing of it elsewhere as quickly as possible. We work with the City Council to identify perpetrators where possible. In addition, we have installed detectors in bin rooms which when triggered link directly to our enquiry centre which is staffed 24 hours, 365 days a year.
We would like to remind residents of their role in keeping all fire exits routes clear. Further guidance is included within the tenancy agreement which can be found here
11. Why do you let high rise blocks to older people and families with young children?
High rise blocks provide good, safe accommodation with level access which means it is suitable accommodation for many residents. There have been a very small number of allocations in high rise blocks to families with dependent children that live there on a permanent basis. We have respected residents’ right to choose where they would like to live, although we try to avoid it where possible and have encouraged residents to consider alternatives. As a result of listening to tenants concerns we have taken a step to change our approach to allocation of high rise flats and will not be rehousing families with children under the age of 16.
Residents can choose to apply for other properties should they feel that their current home no longer meets their needs. If you would like to discuss your rehousing options, please contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 0191 278 8574 and we will arrange for a member of our Housing Options Team to discuss your individual circumstances.
12. Why does it take so long for YHN to respond on social media? How are you communicating with residents?
Our staff monitor social media activity relating to YHN and are updating residents as soon as possible when information is available. Staff have also hand-delivered fire safety information reminders to all 3,137 homes in our high rise blocks.
We have established a dedicated response team to deal with any concerns that residents may have regarding their safety or the safety of their home. Residents can contact this team via email email@example.com or by telephone on 0191 278 8574.
Last updated June 29 2017