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New planning requirements on fire safety come into force 02/08/2021

RESIDENTS WILL be safer in their homes thanks to new planning requirements that come into force this week. The new requirements, known as Planning Gateway One, will ensure that high-rise developments consider fire safety at the earliest stages of planning.

Developments involving high-rise residential buildings must demonstrate they have been designed with fire safety in mind before planning permission is granted – including through their site layout – and with access provided for fire engines. This information will be submitted as part of the planning application in a fire statement.

Housing Minister Christopher Pincher MP said: “This is a key step in our progress towards a new risk-based building safety regime that will ensure fire safety is prioritised at every stage in the development of high-rise buildings. I’m pleased to appoint the Health and Safety Executive as the statutory consultee and which will be on-hand to provide its expertise to local planning authorities on these important fire safety elements.”

Pincher added: “We are driving up the standards of safety for people’s homes and our new regulator – to be introduced under the Building Safety Bill – will provide this essential oversight from a building’s initial design through to providing homes in the future.”

Local planning authorities must seek specialist advice on relevant applications from the Health and Safety Executive as the statutory consultee on fire safety before a decision is made on the application.

New safety regime

In future, this role is likely to become part of the new Building Safety Regulator which, led by the Health and Safety Executive, will oversee a new safety regime for high-rise residential homes.

Peter Baker, Chief Inspector of Buildings at the Health and Safety Executive, said: “The introduction of Planning Gateway One is an important milestone in the journey to radically reform building safety so that residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes. It will ensure that fire safety is considered from the very beginning of a building’s life and that developments benefit from integrated thinking on fire safety.”

Baker added: “The Health and Safety Executive is now a statutory consultee for planning applications involving relevant high-rise residential buildings and will apply risk-based fire safety knowledge and expertise to evaluate planning applications. This will enable local planning authorities to make sound and informed decisions.”

The changes to planning requirements follow a key recommendation made by Dame Judith Hackitt that fire safety in high-rise buildings should be considered at the earliest possible stage in the planning process, as set out in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety.

It marks one of the first steps in the Government’s major overhaul of building safety regulation. On 5 July 2021, the Housing Secretary introduced the Building Safety Bill that will set a clear pathway for improved standards on how residential buildings should be constructed and maintained.

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Scottish Government decides to consult on external wall systems 02/08/2021

THE SCOTTISH Government’s latest consultation seeks to obtain the views and opinions of stakeholders on a review of building standards relating to the fire safety of cladding in order to help ensure the safety of people in and around Scotland’s buildings.

The consultation covers five main areas:

*the wording of mandatory standard 2.7 relating to fire spread on external walls

*consideration of a definition and ban on the highest risk metal composite material cladding panels

*options for improving standards and guidance on cladding systems, including the continued role of the large-scale fire test

*consequential matters (combustible exemptions)

*impact assessments

The proposed changes outlined in the consultation aim to improve fire safety for the design and construction of all buildings in relation to external wall cladding systems, in turn making them safer for all those individuals in and around buildings in the event of an outbreak of fire.

Following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, a Ministerial Working Group was set up to oversee a review of the building and fire regulatory frameworks. The constituent members also oversee any other relevant matters and make any recommendations for improvements to help ensure that people are safe in Scotland’s buildings.

In 2018, the building standards (fire safety) review panel (a sub-group of the Ministerial Working Group) recommended to ministers that the building regulations relating to external fire spread (standard 2.7) did not require amending, but it did recommend that the supporting guidance in the technical handbooks could be strengthened.

Key changes

The key changes in relation to cladding introduced on 1 October 2019 were as follows:

*lowering the height at which combustible cladding can be used from 18 metres to 11 metres to align with firefighting from the ground

*tighter controls over the combustibility of cladding systems on hospitals, residential care buildings, entertainment and assembly buildings regardless of building height

More recently, Kevin Stewart (minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning) announced at the Local Government and Communities Committee Meeting on 4 September 2020 that a panel of fire experts would be convened to consider a ban on the highest risk cladding materials through the Building Regulations and to review the role of the large-scale fire test BS 8414.

This latest consultation reflects the outcomes and proposals of the expert panel.

The Scottish Government is now seeking the views of any organisation or individual with an interest in ensuring building standards legislation and associated technical handbook guidance fully addresses the issues raised in relation to the design and construction of buildings as well as the safety of people in (and around) buildings in the event of fire spread on to external wall cladding systems.

*The consultation paper can be read in full here

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New central register and certification scheme launched for building safety managers 02/08/2021

THE BUILDING Safety Alliance, an independent industry led ‘not-for-profit’ organisation, has been launched with the purpose of implementing the certification of competent individuals wishing to deliver the role of building safety manager and a publicly accessible register of those certified by the scheme.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy brought to the fore how the safety of all buildings needs to be ensured. Recognising the role they play in delivering safe buildings, representatives of both the public and private sector have come together to deliver the change in culture needed and the uniform standard of competence that residents should expect from those responsible for their safety.

The Building Safety Alliance will initially deliver two functions:

*the certification of individual building safety managers or nominated individuals within the organisation) (both referred to as building safety managers here)

*a publicly accessible register of those certified by the scheme

In due course, the Alliance will also work with others to evaluate how organisations who wish to deliver the function of the building safety manager can be assessed as having the organisational capability to do so and also assist contractors and suppliers working on higher risk buildings to deliver a competent workforce that understands how to ensure that residential buildings are safe for residents.

The Building Safety Alliance will play an essential role in helping to improve the competence of those responsible for managing buildings such that they can deliver safe homes for people. Published on 5 July, the Government’s Building Safety Bill confirmed the new statutory role of the building safety manager, itself a concept first developed by Dame Judith Hackitt in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. 

Competence Steering Group

Anthony Taylor, interim chair of the Building Safety Alliance, said: “I’m proud to continue to take forward and implement the recommendations from Working Group 8 of the Competence Steering Group. When we were initially asked to develop the competence requirements for the new statutory role of the building safety manager, we recognised that, in order for the framework to work, we also needed to set up wider structures that would support the development of and drive for a recognised and uniform standard of competence. One of our key recommendations was the need for a register that would allow residents and ‘Accountable Persons’ to check if the building safety manager for their building meets the minimum competence requirements. Government is looking at industry to deliver on this so we stepped forward with our wide consortium from across both the private and public sectors.”

Bob Smytherman, chair of the Federation of Private Residents Associations (representing thousands of long-term leaseholders across England and Wales) observed: “Our leaseholder members will find themselves with new duties and responsibilities under the Building Safety Bill to ensure that buildings are as safe as possible. Our members will be looking to building safety managers as the stakeholders responsible for the day-to day safety management of buildings.”

Smytherman continued: “At the Building Safety Alliance, we have a crucial role to play in making sure that building safety managers are not only competent, but also understand the residents’ perspectives when appointed to make buildings safe. After all, these buildings are our homes and we pay the service charges.”

In conclusion, Smytherman stated: “We look forward to the register coming into existence so that we can feel safer in our buildings and confident that any of the certified building safety managers on the register will meet the national competence standard.”

Publicly Available Specification

The Working Group 8 Competence Framework is now being translated into a MHCLG-sponsored Publicly Available Specification (PAS). Once finalised, this PAS (ie PAS 8673) will be the standard against which the Building Safety Alliance will certify candidate building safety managers before allowing them on to be part of the register.

The PAS is being developed in parallel with the legislation to make sure certified building safety managers will be delivered by the time that legislation is enforced.

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Positive vote on EN 50710 opens doors to provision of secure remote services 27/07/2021

EURALARM’S SERVICES Section reports an important step forward for service providers and the end users of remote services with a “very positive vote” on EN 50710: Requirements for the Provision of Secure Remote Services for Fire Safety Systems and Security Systems.

The successful vote is viewed as the icing on the cake of the Services Section’s efforts to guarantee more certainty for a future in which remote services play an increasingly important role.

Jon Könz, chair of Euralarm’s Services Section, explained: “It’s an excellent result and an advancement for the fire safety and security industries. We would like to thank those who helped in the CEN/CENELEC Joint Technical Committee 4/Working Group 1 and who contributed to the ‘Yes’ vote of 95% of the countries that could vote.”

With its acceptance as a European Norm, EN 50710 should be ready for publication at some point in early 2022, after which time its implementation in the respective countries will begin.

End users and service providers alike will benefit as a direct result of the requirements for the provision of secure remote services via a remote access infrastructure being specified. They will also be able to take advantage of the technological developments within fire safety systems and/or security systems as well as the remote access infrastructure.

Background on remote services

For many years now, it has been common practice to remotely monitor the alarm and fault status of installed fire safety and security systems. Technological developments and telecommunication paths now allow remote access to such systems with a wide variety of available functions up to and including full operation and programming as if an authorised person was actually at the site.

Remote services supplement the on-site visits of a competent person and enables new possibilities for customers (ie the end users). Euralarm’s Bernd Giegerich, convenor of Working Group 1, commented: “The overall service quality offered by the various types of professional services providers at the time of installation, maintenance or operation increases significantly. On the one hand, end users experience faster response times leading to higher system reliability and availability. On the other, service providers can deliver new services such as predictive maintenance, which also improves staff use.”

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Firefighters identify “deadly private sector inspection threat” in Building Safety Bill 22/07/2021

FIRE BRIGADES Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack has responded to the Building Safety Bill passing through its second reading in Parliament by stating his belief that the document is “vitally flawed” in its present form. The Building Safety Bill is set to see private sector firms approached if Fire and Rescue Services are not in a position to assist the new Building Safety Regulator with fire-related matters.

The Building Safety Regulator, which the Building Safety Bill introduces, is a new statutory body based within the Health and Safety Executive and holding responsibility for building safety in higher-risk buildings.

The FBU fears that safety will be weakened as profit is prioritised if the Building Safety Regulator is allowed to turn to private firms, and that this policy might lead to further private sector involvement in the fire safety regimes of new developments.

The Building Safety Bill represents the most substantial legislative response to the Grenfell Tower disaster to date and aims to reform building safety with measures including a requirement to have an ‘Accountable Person’ for higher-risk buildings.

The Trade Union has also moved to criticise the Building Safety Bill on the grounds that it doesn’t address the building safety crisis in existing buildings. In the wake of Grenfell, hundreds of thousands of homes have been deemed to be unsafe, with many residents facing huge costs to remedy their homes. According to the FBU, the Building Safety Bill “does nothing” to address the need for these repairs, nor their cost.

Concern over funding

Other issues with the Building Safety Bill identified by the FBU include concerns around funding some of the work required from the Fire and Rescue Service as well as the need for residents to have a voice in decisions and processes directly impacting them.

Matt Wrack said: “The Building Safety Bill will be vitally flawed if it allows the new Building Safety Regulator to turn to private firms for assistance with fire-related matters. The FBU has vigorously opposed this type of activity over the longer term and will continue to do so. Building safety cannot be an opportunity for profiteering. This risks public safety, as history shows us. The answer is to invest in the public Fire and Rescue Service by recruiting and training sufficient firefighters to carry out these duties.”

Wrack went on to comment: “Furthermore, while the Building Safety Bill puts in place some good protections for new buildings, we would like to see this document resolve the building safety crisis in existing buildings. Finally, there need to be provisions in the Building Safety Bill to properly fund the Fire and Rescue Service for the extra work that it mandates and also protect residents’ voices in matters which concern them.”

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Government intervenes to support leaseholders over EWS-1 Forms issue 27/07/2021

LEASEHOLDERS IN blocks of flats with cladding should be supported to buy, sell or re-mortgage their homes after the Government agreed with major lenders to pave the way towards ending the need for EWS-1 Forms. The announcement was made in Parliament by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

The news follows in the wake of expert advice that EWS-1 Forms should no longer be necessary for buildings below 18 metres in height. Earlier in the year, investigations took place around the risk landscape for medium and lower-rise buildings. Subsequent advice from those experts* involved makes it clear that there’s no systemic risk of fire in blocks of flats in this category.

The report recommends that residents are reassured as to safety and that a more proportionate approach should be urgently instituted, in turn requiring action to be taken by all market participants.

Several major High Street lenders have committed to review their practices following the new advice. HSBC UK, Barclays, the Lloyds Banking Group and others have all said that, combined with the Government’s statement, the expert report paves the way for EWS-1 Forms to no longer be required for buildings below 18 metres and will help in further unlocking the housing market.

A statement issued by HSBC reads: “We welcome the statement from experts on building safety and note the assessment from the parties to the statement that there is no systemic risk from fire in medium and lower-rise blocks of flats. Our expectation is that the existing Consolidated Advice Note will be removed and, with the endorsement from the Institution of Fire Engineers, this means that we will no longer require EWS-1 Forms for buildings below 18 metres. Consequently, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) guidance will be updated in line with this advice. We look forward to these changes being reflected in valuations from our RICS qualified partners and remain committed to supporting affected homeowners.”

Barclays states: “We have seen and support the statement from experts on building safety and accept their assessment that there is no systemic risk from fire in medium and lower-rise blocks of flats. This should remove the need for EWS-1 Forms for mortgage applications in any block below 18 metres. Our approach to mortgage lending and valuation has been and will remain proportionate, relying on the normal statutory process for blocks of flats having an up-to-date fire risk assessment to assure residents’ safety.”

For its part, the Lloyds Banking Group notes: “We welcome the Government’s statement on fire safety in multi-storey apartment blocks and specifically its declaration, based on advice from relevant experts on building safety, that there is no systemic risk from fire in medium and lower-rise blocks of flats. In particular, we welcome the Government’s pledge to withdraw its Consolidated Advice Note. We look forward to working with the RICS as it updates its specialist guidance, which should provide the certainty everyone needs. We also look forward to seeing the details of the Government’s loan scheme that will provide residents with support if they need any cladding-related remediation work to be done. We expect the Government’s action will help further unlock the housing market.”

Demonstrate leadership

The Government welcomes the support of these lenders, but is now calling on others to demonstrate leadership by working rapidly to update guidance and policies in line with the expert advice that has been delivered.

That expert advice was commissioned by the Secretary of State after witnessing what Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, had described as “extreme risk-aversion” which has left leaseholders across the country receiving costly bills for remediation that’s not necessary. The advice states that fire risks should be managed wherever possible through measures such as alarm systems or sprinklers, and also that the overwhelming majority of medium and low-rise buildings (ie those under 18 metres) with cladding should not require expensive remediation.

The intervention is designed to reduce needless and costly remediation in lower-rise buildings and is part of wider efforts orchestrated to restore balance to the market, in turn helping flat owners to buy, sell or re-mortgage their homes.

Risk to life in blocks of flats remains very low. The number of fires in homes in England has been on a general downward trend for many years now, reaching an all-time low last year. 91% of fires occurred in houses, bungalows, converted or low-rise flats, while only 9% were in blocks of flats of four storeys or more.

The Government is already funding the whole cost of replacing unsafe cladding on all buildings over 18 metres through its unprecedented £5 billion Building Safety Fund, and at the same time has been clear with building owners, lenders and the industry throughout that they must take a proportionate response to fire safety and enable homeowners to carry on with their lives.

The Government’s latest announcement – delivered by the Secretary of State during the second reading of the Building Safety Bill in Parliament – demonstrates that the industry should now be actively adopting an evidence-based approach towards fire safety. The move has been backed by the Institution of Fire Engineers and the National Fire Chiefs Council.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “This announcement is a significant step forward for leaseholders in medium and lower-rise buildings who have faced difficulty in selling, anxiety at the potential cost of remediation and concern around the safety of their homes. While we are strengthening the overall regulatory system, leaseholders cannot remain stuck in homes they cannot sell because of excessive industry caution, and nor should they feel that they’re living in homes that are unsafe when the evidence demonstrates otherwise.”

Jenrick continued: “That’s why I commissioned an expert group to further examine the issue and have already agreed with many major lenders that lower-rise buildings will no longer need an EWS-1 Form. The presumption should be that these homes can be bought and sold as normal.”

In conclusion, Jenrick observed: “We hope that this intervention will help to restore balance to the market and provide reassurance for existing and aspiring homeowners alike. The Government has made its position very clear. I would urge the rest of the market to show leadership and endorse this proportionate and evidence-based approach towards safety.”

‘Responsible Persons’

There’s a long-standing legal duty on the ‘Responsible Person’ for all purpose-built blocks of flats to have an up-to-date fire risk assessment. Moving forward, where the ‘Responsible Person’ has identified fire safety issues, they should update their fire risk assessments to determine any actions required. This could include measures such as installing sprinklers or alarms and, in exceptional cases, remediation work to ensure buildings are safe and people feel safe.

To help with this, new guidance for the risk assessment of external wall systems will be introduced. PAS 9980 will ensure that fire risk assessments are consistent and proportionate to risk and also that actions to manage risk are cost-effective. As stated, the Consolidated Advice Note will be withdrawn.

For buildings under 18 metres which do require remediation, the Government will introduce a financing scheme such that no leaseholder will have to pay more than £50 per month for the cost of replacing unsafe cladding. Further details of this scheme will be set out in due course.

Comment from the industry

Welcoming the support that has been forthcoming from the fire safety profession and also from the major lenders mentioned, Dame Judith Hackitt said: “I’m pleased to see the support and commitment to return to an evidence-based and proportionate approach to fire and building safety. It’s critical, given the significant – and, in many cases, unnecessary – impact this is having on people who live in and own homes located in blocks of flats. What’s needed now is for the remaining bodies and lenders to climb onboard so that we have a collective, fact-based system that’s reflective of the reality of the situation and reassures leaseholders that they, their homes and their investments are safe.”

Steve Hamm, CEO of the Institution of Fire Engineers, stated: “The Institution of Fire Engineers supports the expert statement that has been issued. We expect that this will lead to a significant reduction in the demand for the EWS-1 Form process from mortgage valuers, and particularly so when it comes to those buildings under 18 metres in height.”

Hamm went on to comment: “The statement will support competent fire engineers to use their professional training, judgement and expertise to assess buildings based on a professional appraisal of risk. This should enable a move away from the often risk-averse and overly cautious approach that has been seen in many cases.”

Further, he observed: “We welcome the commitment of all parties to ensure a proportionate and evidence-based approach towards fire and building safety for all buildings along with the increased scrutiny to be provided by the new regulators and the Gateway-focused approval process, which we expect will lead to improved levels of safety, providing comfort and reassurance for residents and homeowners as well as the wider market.”

Plans for developers

The Government has also set out plans for developers of high-rises in England to contribute to the cost of remediating safety defects in what is a major step towards ensuring industry contributes to righting the wrongs of days gone by.

A published consultation outlines that the levy will be applied when developers seek permission to build certain high-rise residential buildings of 18 metres or more in height.

The money recouped would contribute towards fixing historic fire safety defects, including unsafe cladding, thereby protecting leaseholders and taxpayers from shouldering the burden of remediation costs.

The Government is calling for views on the proposed design of the levy, which was first announced earlier this year as part of a multibillion-pound package to fix unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings, alongside wider financial and regulatory support.

The Government has also confirmed that the Building Safety Fund will reopen for applications in the Autumn for any eligible buildings that missed the original deadline in June. More details are to be published in the coming months.

*The expert group members are Dame Judith Hackitt (chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety), Sir Ken Knight (chair of the Independent Expert Advisory Panel on Building Safety following the Grenfell Tower fire), Ron Dobson (former London Fire Commissioner) and Roy Wilsher (advisor on fire reform and former chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council)

**Read the Independent Expert Statement on Building Safety in Medium and Lower-Rise Blocks of Flats

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NFCC responds to second reading of Building Safety Bill in Parliament 27/07/2021

RESPONDING TO the second reading of the Building Safety Bill in Parliament on Wednesday 21 July, Mark Hardingham (chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council) said: “This legislation is an important milestone that will contribute to essential developments in building safety.”

The Building Safety Bill requires new levels of scrutiny, provides for changes to be made to planning and building control functions, introduces oversight from a new regulator (ie the Building Safety Regulator at the Health and Safety Executive), places new duties on ‘Responsible Persons’ and provides a new focus on the needs of residents.

Hardingham continued: “Crucially, the Building Safety Bill removes the ability for clients to choose their own regulator for buildings within scope, which we believe is key to creating the right incentives for people to follow the rules. This change in law is critical to fixing the broken culture within the industry.”

In terms of scope, the NFCC welcomes the response to its own calls for buildings such as care homes and hospitals to be encompassed within the new build process. “We will continue to push to see this expand further to include care home and hospital buildings at all heights,” added Hardingham. “We believe that more vulnerable groups and higher risk premises could be recognised within the Gateways process from the outset.”

The original work carried out by Dame Judith Hackitt identified an environment that was overly complex and not fit for purpose. There was a strong focus on the need to simplify and reduce the number of overlapping regulations. “The enabling nature of the Bill means that a lot of the detail is yet to be seen,” observed Hardingham. “We want Government to continue to engage with the NFCC and other partners in a timely and constructive way in order to ensure that the legislation is sufficiently robust and fit for purpose.”

Remediation costs

The NFCC continues to hold concerns about the costs of historic remediation being passed on to leaseholders. “While we welcome the funding announced so far,” stated Hardingham, “we do not believe that the costs of serious building defects should end with leaseholders and support the action for costs to be recovered from those who design and construct buildings. The amendments to expand the limitation period for the Defective Premises Act are very welcome.”

Responding to the advice on building safety in medium and lower-rise blocks of flats, Hardingham noted: “We recognise the huge financial and emotional impact on people who are living in blocks of flats, especially so lower-rise buildings. We fully support the new advice and welcome the challenge to those who are applying an overly risk averse approach in many buildings below 18 metres, in particular surveyors, insurers and fire risk assessors. For our part, we will work closely with Fire and Rescue Services to best apply the advice for the buildings in their area.”

Continuing this theme, Hardingham outlined: “We expect this will start to redress the balance where disproportionate mitigation measures have been put in place to manage fire risks. We trust that this will reduce the financial burden on leaseholders who are, far too often and also wrongly, bearing the financial consequences for interim measures and other disproportionate changes as a result of historic building defects.”

The delays in remediation work mean that residents and leaseholders are experiencing significant and long-term consequences. These include the ongoing high costs of ‘Waking Watches’ and insurance products, an inability to sell or re-mortgage their properties, financial stress and unacceptable life-changing impacts on their mental health and well-being.”

Hardingham stressed: “These very real and damaging impacts on leaseholders have to be considered against the potential risk posed by the building defects. For example, we’ve been clear that a ‘Waking Watch’ should only ever be considered for use on a short term temporary basis as a measure which can be put in place immediately when a significant risk to life is identified.”

‘Responsible Persons’

The NFCC is of the view that ‘Responsible Persons’ for affected buildings must ensure the fire safety arrangements, including the interim measures in place, are both appropriate and proportionate. “We want to ensure,” added Hardingham, “that buildings are safe and Fire and Rescue Services, where informed, have worked to ensure that any interim arrangements put in place are sufficient and proportionate to the risk.”

Hardingham is clear that the NFCC doesn’t support the ongoing and prolonged use of a ‘Waking Watch’. “We expect the Government’s new advice to further inform assessments and re-assessments in buildings below 18 metres with a ‘Waking Watch’. We have repeatedly called on building owners to install common fire alarms to reduce or remove the dependence on ‘Waking Watches’. This is the clear expectation for buildings where sustainable mitigation or remediation cannot be undertaken in the short term.”
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MHCLG statistics point towards slow progress on Waking Watch Relief Fund 27/07/2021

THE MINISTRY of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has just issued the Waking Watch Relief Fund data as it stood at Wednesday 30 June. The figures outlined suggest that, to date, somewhat slow progress has been made when it comes to allocating the funding available.

Of the 273 applications received since the start of the Waking Watch Relief Fund back in January of this year, it emerges that only 126 of them (ie 46%) have been successful, while just £16.5 million of the £30 million funding available has thus far been approved. By way of a caveat, it’s worth bearing in mind that some assessment by the Greater London Authority is still ongoing. Further, the MHCLG figures show that there have been 40 rejected applications to date.

Three major cities outside of London – specifically Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool – have received the highest levels of funding approvals amounting to somewhere in the region of £5.3 million.

It was recently reported by The Evening Standard that the London Fire Brigade has stated that close on 1,000 buildings in the capital currently require ‘Waking Watch’ monitoring for a variety of reasons. That figure has, in fact, tripled across the last 12 months.

Of the 901 buildings involved, 675 have unresolved cladding issues while the remainder harbour other types of fire safety defects (such as fixed installations not working).

Tenants and leaseholders are being left to bear the financial burden of ‘Waking Watches’. The MHCLG’s data points out that the cost per dwelling per month of having a ‘Waking Watch’ in place ranges from £77 through to £110 outside of London. Given the problems experienced around data quality problems and those aforementioned ongoing assessments, those amounts need to be viewed by commentators with a certain degree of caution.

Designed to cover the cost of installing a fire alarm system in place of using a ‘Waking Watch’ set-up, the Waking Watch Relief Fund outlines strict criteria for buildings to be eligible for financial support. Buildings must be within the private sector, over 17.70 metres in height, have an unsafe cladding system installed and also a ‘Waking Watch’ in situ whereby the attendant costs for this have been passed on to resident leaseholders.

Commenting on this news on Linkedin, Anthony Walker FRICS MIFireE (director at Sircle and a Board member at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) said: “We hear of many ‘Waking Watches’ established in buildings of a lesser height than 17.70 metres. To my mind, this reinforces the problem with funding only being applicable to high-rise buildings of circa 18 metres and above when it’s the case that many leaseholders in flats of buildings of less than 18 metres in height have exactly the same issues. It’s disappointing that, four year after the Grenfell tragedy, so many buildings still require a ‘Waking Watch’.”

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The Fire Monitoring Puzzle 20/07/2021

AFTER MUCH discussion and debate in Westminster, the Fire Safety Bill finally received Royal Assent in April this year and has passed into law as the Fire Safety Act 2021, writes Brian Kelly. What part might remote fire systems monitoring play from this point onwards?

Initially driven by the Grenfell Tower disaster of June 2017, the new Act of Parliament closes loopholes in the previous legislation, mainly around whether fire safety legislation only applied to the common parts of multi-occupied residential buildings, but not entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts or the structure and external walls, including cladding, balconies and windows.

It also focuses on the ‘Responsible Person’ role: the named individual tasked with assessing and mitigating the fire safety risk associated with those parts of the building. Where it’s found that the building owner is not compliant, Fire and Rescue Services will be tasked with initiating enforcement action and holding such individuals to account. 

For its part, the Building Safety Bill – itself just introduced to Parliament – will also increase responsibility and accountability. Among other measures, the new public office of Building Safety Regulator is being created to provide oversight of the competence and performance of building control professionals.

Remote monitoring

While all the fine details of the new technical and construction requirements are yet to be finalised, one way to make buildings safer immediately is through remote monitoring. Fire alarm monitoring is not as widely employed as, for example, intruder alarm monitoring because it’s generally expected that occupiers will be alerted by the sounder. 

Remote fire monitoring is ideal for retail and commercial properties. Most are usually unoccupied while closed, but it also provides another layer of protection for student and housing association properties as well as in other situations where there could be a delay before someone on site raises the alarm. 

Given the cost of the investment in a modern fire detection system, the addition of remote monitoring represents a relatively modest outlay when life preservation and damage control are taken into account. Valuable data about the fire, such as its precise location and pattern of spread, can assist the Emergency Services in directing their efforts before arrival.

Multi-path communications

Secure multi-path communication systems provide a stable method for signalling, while Alarm Receiving Centre escalation processes mean that verification and, where appropriate, a fire service response can be delivered both quickly and effectively. 

While a fire detection system will not prevent a fire from starting, the risk pose to life and any potential damage to property can be minimised if the activation is communicated directly to a monitoring Control Room. Remote CCTV, where available, can also provide a useful verification tool. 

The number of systems which are now monitored has grown in recent times. This is a trend which is only likely to continue as the new fire safety legislation imposes increasing responsibility on site owners and managers alike. 

Brian Kelly is Managing Director of Bold Communications

*Further information is available online at www.boldcommunications.co.uk

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Fire Safety Matters partners with EMS for webinar on ‘Fire Safety in Tall Buildings: Using Wireless Technology’ 27/07/2021

THE NEXT instalment in Fire Safety Matters’ ever-popular webinar series takes place at 10.30 am on Wednesday 25 August and sees the magazine partnering with fire detection products specialist EMS to examine the hugely topical issue of fire safety in tall buildings and, in particular, the vital role that can be played by wireless technology.

With ‘Waking Watch’ introduced as an interim measure, what’s the best solution for protecting properties both quickly and effectively in the longer term? A recent analysis published on GOV.uk highlights that ‘Waking Watch’ is costing a ‘mean’ average of £20,443 per month per building in London. That equates to around £145 million per annum just to cover the nation’s capital.

Chaired by Western Business Media’s CEO Mark Sennett and featuring a detailed presentation from Ray Puttock (EMEA marketing manager for fire products at EMS), the webinar will examine the use of wireless technology which, in just a few years, has moved from being viewed as a niche solution for historic buildings to become a very real answer when talk turns towards having protection in place quickly and effectively in any building.

The webinar will focus on how to build upon an existing fire system infrastructure that may well be deemed inadequate as it stands, but could be the basis for providing an enhanced solution – all at a cost far less than that required for ‘Waking Watch’ and realising all of the added benefits that technology brings as a by-product.

What about connectivity for buildings? How might that augment safety? In addition to answering these questions, the live event (which will subsequently be made available via our On Demand service) is set to examine the increased use of ‘Smart Services’. What are they and what do they offer?

How building managers and users can benefit from ‘instant’ information, as well as how third party ‘non-fire’ products and systems might be integrated to offer real value, is going to be part of the discussions here. These ‘Smart Services’ have now arrived at the SME level.

The targeted content of this Fire Safety Matters webinar is going to be ideal for installers and specifiers as well as end users and building managers. All attendees will receive a one-hour Continuing Professional Development certificate courtesy of the ongoing special arrangement that Fire Safety Matters has forged with the Institute of Fire Safety Managers.

*Register online NOW at https://events.streamgo.live/fire-safety-in-tall-buildings-using-wireless-technology/register

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