Frequently asked questions: tower block safety
How many council tower blocks are there in Kingston?
There are four tower blocks all located on the Cambridge Road Estate.
What has the council done in response to the Grenfell Tower fire?
We undertook an immediate preliminary check of all four tower blocks on the Cambridge Road Estate and as an additional precaution, further fire safety checks were carried out on Wednesday 21 June.
How many tower blocks run by other providers have you identified?
The council has focused on its specific responsibility where it is the landlord for high rise blocks. Other freeholders and private landlords are likely to be undertaking similar inspections to satisfy themselves that the buildings for which they are responsible are safe for residents.
How can you assure us that the residents of the Cambridge Road Estate tower blocks are safe following the Grenfell Tower fire?
The council has introduced various measures over the past six years (since 2011) to keep residents safe and these include:
- The installation of fire rated doorsets to the flat entrances.
- Improvements to each of the balconies to prevent the possibility of fire spread across the facade.
- Installation of fire rated materials to the roof capping.
- Upgrading of the electrical intake cupboard doors.
- Fire stopping within the electrical intake cupboards.
- Installation of fire resistant grilles to the smoke ventilation ducts.
- The communal doors on each floor were upgraded to ensure a 30 minute fire resistance.
- The main gas supply to each dwelling has now been installed on the outside of the building.
- The mezzanine floor storage areas were cleared of combustible material and access closed off to eliminate potential fire risks.
- Information boxes have been installed in the foyer of each block to provide the London Fire Brigade with important details of the building.
- Signage and fire action notices have been posted to provide residents with guidance and information in the event of a fire.
- The communal areas of each block are inspected every day except Saturday.
- Each block has a fire risk assessment undertaken every year.
Have any blocks owned by Kingston Council had cladding installed that may cause an additional fire risk to residents?
Kingston Council has not used any cladding on any of its high rise buildings.
How does Kingston deal with fire safety overall?
We work closely with London Fire Brigade to to ensure that residents are safe.
This includes taking a number of everyday practical steps such as ensuring fire exit routes, corridors and staircases are kept free of obstructions. We ensure that everyone is aware of what to do in the event of a fire by displaying clear fire signage. Fire safety advice and information is included in the residents’ newsletter and is given to all new tenants when they move in.
We have several ways of preventing fire and smoke from spreading around the building and these include ensuring that front entrance doors have the appropriate level of fire resistance (which depends on location and type of block), and doors around the stairwell are also fire resistant and close easily. Our caretakers inspect these every day in the high rise blocks to ensure they operate effectively and are not damaged.
We are confident that there are no flammable materials used on the outside of the high rise flats and any combustible items found left near the buildings are removed as quickly as possible. There were various improvements made to the flats in 2010 and these included the removal of any potentially flammable materials such as within the balconies. All the tenanted flats in the high rise blocks on the Cambridge Road Estate have smoke and heat detectors fitted as part of a central system. Leaseholders in the high rise flats who have not fitted a smoke detector are invited to join the council’s arrangements. We will be writing to these leaseholders to make this this offer.
We have housing officers who have a special responsibility for fire safety and they ensure that the alarms in flats are working properly, contractors are well managed and, through their work, do not compromise any of the arrangements the council has designed to protect residents. Housing officers also arrange for fire risk assessments so that any minor issues can be identified at an early stage.
Have sprinklers been installed on any council accommodation in Kingston? Do you have plans to install any in future?
Yes we have installed sprinklers to our four hostels. We will shortly be undertaking a sprinkler installation to one of our sheltered blocks, which is part of an ongoing refurbishment programme. We will keep under review the option of installing sprinklers in other buildings.
Are fire alarms and smoke detectors fitted to council homes in Kingston?
Fire alarms and smoke detectors have different purposes.
Fire alarms are not fitted within council homes as they are installed to provide an early warning system of a fire for a collective evacuation. Hard wired smoke and heat detectors are installed within dwellings to detect heat and smoke and give the residents warning. Each year we complete a gas service inspection and the smoke and heat detectors are tested. If a home is found not to have hard wired smoke and heat detectors or they are defective we will arrange for these to be installed
Our sheltered and hostel blocks all have fire alarms installed.
What has the council done to inform residents about fire safety after the Grenfell Tower fire? What more will it do?
An online news piece was published on the council’s website shortly after the incident. This includes key safety advice from the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and how people can volunteer to help or donate.
We have written directly to all residents living in tower blocks on the Cambridge Road Estate (and have published the letter online).
Together with the LFB, we held a drop in session at Piper Hall on Wednesday 21 June to provide key fire safety advice and to answer any questions. A flyer was distributed to residents in the tower blocks to promote the event.
We will be writing to leaseholders in the high rise towers to remind them they can have a smoke and heat detector fitted as part of the council’s central system.
We will also respond to any news and information provided by the LFB and partner agencies and communicate any updates to residents where required.
Do you have any plans to install cladding on blocks?
Not in the immediate future.
What is your policy on items in communal areas?
We do not allow any items in enclosed communal areas - this includes plant pots, doormats, bikes, push chairs, mobility scooters, washing and Christmas decorations. We will always try and discuss removal of these items either face to face with residents or by dropping cards through the door. If items remain, we will remove.
Do you have fire extinguishers in your blocks? How often are they tested?
We do not have fire extinguishers within the blocks. A person needs to have appropriate training to attempt to extinguish a fire and we do not encourage residents to fight fires.
Do you advise residents to stay put in the event of a fire in blocks of flats? If so, why?
The council follows the London Fire Brigade (LFB) advice for people living in a purpose-built flat or maisonettes.
The guidance to ‘stay put’, unless your flat is being affected by fire or smoke, is based on the fire protection provided in the building and the walls and doors of each flat. This has been the case for many decades and, although fires in flats unfortunately occur throughout the country every day, the fire usually only affects the flat on fire.
However, some smoke may enter corridors when the residents leave the flat on fire, or firefighters enter the flat to extinguish the fire. By ‘staying put’ it will reduce the risk of you entering a smoky corridor unnecessarily and potentially being overcome by smoke. It also allows firefighters to tackle the fire safely and quickly without being delayed by many residents evacuating down the stairways.
What are the fire ratings on doors in council flats?
The flat entrance doors which are in blocks that are within enclosed communal areas provide a minimum of 30 minutes protection against fire.
Do you have regular fire alarm tests in blocks?
We test the fire alarms in the sheltered schemes and hostels weekly. Like most other residential blocks of flats we don’t have fire alarms fitted in communal areas (corridors, lifts etc) as the advice from the fire brigade is to stay in your flat unless there is a fire within the flat - in which case follow your escape route.
Do you have fire drills in blocks of flats?
No as we follow the LFB advice for purpose built flats which is stay put unless the fire is in your flat, or unless you feel threatened or advised to leave by the fire brigade.
Are your staff trained on fire safety?
Our housing officers have been trained in fire safety so that they can undertake the daily and weekly checks on all the estates
Have you had any improvement notices from the London Fire Brigade over the last five years?
How often do you update and keep residents informed of fire safety issues?
When we sign up new tenants we give them several pieces of information on fire safety. This includes our notice on storing items in the communal areas, a copy of the LFBs home fire safety guide and there is also information on health and safety (including fire safety) in the tenant’s handbook. We regularly issue the notice on storing items in communal areas when we find a problem with this taking place. We will also address specific fire safety issues when we come across them such as hoarding problems, vulnerable tenants with risky behaviours and when a fire has taken place.
How often do you check the blocks and what do you look for?
We inspect the tower blocks daily (except Saturday) and all other blocks are inspected monthly. We check the electrical intake cupboards and the dry risers (empty pipes and valves for firefighters to connect their water supply to) are locked, fire doors are closed and the closers are working. And we look for any obstructions or other items in communal areas. All repairs arising from these inspections are raised the same day.
In our sheltered accommodation, we inspect monthly for the same issues. There are fire alarms in these buildings and the fire doors are attached to this system so are open unless the alarm goes off when the doors are released. The fire alarm system (including automatic door closers) is checked weekly.
In our hostels, we inspect daily, Monday to Friday and check for the same issues. There is also a fire alarm system in these buildings which is checked weekly.
What’s your policy for people with mobility/access issues?
We have close links with LFB and can refer residents to them for a home fire safety visit. They can advise on adapted smoke detectors for people with disabilities. Vulnerable people, including those with disabilities can be at a higher risk of injury from fire. We can assist those residents with measures such as fire retardant bedding and give advice on safer smoking to help reduce the risk.
People are being moved out of tower blocks in Camden. Why?
The London Borough of Camden has taken the decision to evacuate residents from the Charcot’s Estate. This was a voluntary decision by the council and is not an enforced evacuation.
A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: "London Fire Brigade has been working at the Chalcots Estate with Camden Council. Following extensive joint visits and inspections the Brigade advised that there were a number of fire safety issues in the buildings and recommended that residents should not remain in the buildings until these issues are resolved.
"Camden Council has acted on this by evacuating and providing the residents with alternative accommodation so that remedial works can go ahead as quickly as possible.”
Has anything changed for residents on the Cambridge Road Estate in Kingston as a result of the decision made by the London Borough of Camden to evacuate residents from Charcot's Estate? Will we be having a detailed fire inspection audit?
Any council and London Fire Brigade response to the outcome of inspection audits are agreed on a case by case basis. In Kingston, nothing has changed. We have undertaken fire safety assessments and audits both prior to and after the Grenfell fire and we are confident that residents in the four tower blocks on the Cambridge Road Estate remain safe.