Mount Wise Towers fire safety update
Statement from John Clark, CEO of Plymouth Community Homes - Thursday 19 April 2018
“Work to continuously improve fire safety at the Mount Wise Towers has been ongoing since June last year, as the safety of our residents has always been and remains our top priority.
We began to fit sprinklers in all three blocks earlier this year and we are making excellent progress given the difficultly of the task of retrofitting this type of system. We expect sprinklers in communal areas to be operational by June, at which point installation will begin in flats. Providing we can successfully gain access to all properties, we expect the installation to be completed in all three Towers by the end of the year.
This week scaffolding will be erected at Lynher House up to second floor so that we can remove some of the cladding panels and take a thorough look behind at fixing methods and the concrete to help decide on the best design for the new replacement solution. Access to the Towers will not be affected and we will be providing CCTV on the scaffolding for added security. We remain absolutely committed to removing and replacing the existing cladding as soon as possible.
It’s important to remember that the Towers are safe to live in due to the extensive fire safety measures already in place including: 60 minute fire doors, smoke and heat detectors in flats and communal areas, 24/7 walking-watch fire safety wardens, non-combustible protective boarding on walls of stairwells and regular visits and meetings with the Fire Service.
As always we would like to thank our residents for their continued patience, co-operation and understanding during the last 10 months whilst work to the Towers has been significant and ongoing. We would also like to thank the local community, MPs and councillors for their support and will continue to work with our partners in the Fire Service and Plymouth City Council to ensure we get the best solutions for people living in the Towers.”
Statement from John Clark, CEO of Plymouth Community Homes - Thursday 14 December 2017
Six months on from Grenfell
"It has been six months since the Grenfell Tower fire which, rightly, prompted a nation-wide focus on fire safety in tower blocks. I think it is fitting at this time to update you on the action we've taken at PCH and what is planned for the future to ensure residents of the Mount Wise Towers remain safe in their homes, which is our main priority.
What was already in place?
"We have always taken fire safety extremely seriously at PCH and already had the following measures in place at the Towers:
- PCH homes fitted with 60 minute fire doors (law requires 30 mins)
- Mains wired smoke detectors/alarms
- Valid fire risk assessments for each block
- Regular management inspections
- Advice and guidance from our Fire Safety Manager
Extra fire safety added in the last six months
"PCH was one of the first housing associations in the country to get the cladding of the Mount Wise Towers tested and since receiving the results we have been working non-stop to put in place the extra fire safety measures below:
- 24/7 walking-watch fire safety wardens
- Non-combustible protective boarding added to walls of stairwells
- Heat detection throughout Towers in flats and communal areas
- Smoke detection added to communal areas
- Sprinkler supplier found and system ordered
- Sprinkler surveys currently being undertaken and demonstration flat being created
- Survey of building in readiness for cladding solution - confirmed cannot remove cladding without replacement as building not wind and water-tight
- Regular visits with the Fire Service and plans in place specifically for the Towers
- Regular communication with residents through meetings, letters and visits to keep you informed of what is happening
"PCH was one of the first housing associations to meet with new Government Guidance and we have been involved in national fire safety groups with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to help bring about the changes needed to improve fire safety across the country. Only this week Government issued further fire safety guidance and we are ahead of many other building owners across the country because of the actions we've taken.
What's still to come?
- The remaining surveys of individual flats to fit sprinklers will be completed
- Fitting sprinklers will begin in the New Year
- Live sprinkler demonstration in January
- Removal and replacement of cladding following Building Regulations Review
"We understand that residents are concerned and frustrated because the cladding remains on the Towers and I’ve assured them that we remain absolutely committed to removing it as soon as we practically can. Because we want to get on with replacing the cladding we will be submitting a pre-planning application next week based on a type of non-combustible cladding we've found. This means we will be ready to act quickly as soon as the Building Regulations Review has been completed because it's vital the replacement meets with the new requirements. So although work cannot begin on site until we receive that confirmation, we are doing everything we can ahead of time to make sure we can act quickly as soon as we get it.
"We will continue to work with the Fire Service, Plymouth City Council, local councillors and MPs to get the best solutions for the Towers and our residents.
"I’d like to thank residents for their continued patience, co-operation and support during this challenging time."
Mount Wise Towers fire safety update - Monday 6 November 2017
Statement from Sue Shaw, Director for Homes, Neighbourhoods and Regeneration for PCH:
“There was a fire just before 9pm yesterday in the rubbish chute in the basement of Tamar House, one of the Mount Wise Towers in Devonport.
“No one was hurt and the fire was contained in the basement. As always, there was a fast and effective response from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, who were on site within minutes. The fire safety plan agreed between ourselves and our Fire Service partners worked smoothly and properly.
“It will be important now for us to determine the cause of the fire and take any necessary action to prevent further similar incidents.”
Mount Wise Towers fire safety update - Friday 6 October 2017
John Clark, CEO for PCH, said: “Last week the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) agreed the next paper setting out interim fire safety guidance with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) for buildings with ACM cladding. As PCH has been working proactively with the Fire Service and external fire safety consultants since June, we have already implemented all the necessary measures at the Mount Wise Towers and have, in fact, gone above the current requirements.
The safety of our residents has always been our priority and as part of our improved fire safety at the Towers the new heat detector system is now live. Installing the sprinkler system is next and we are working closely with an approved Fire Engineer to finalise installation details. These measures are in addition to the fire doors, 24/7 security and fire protection to stairwells, which are just some of the elements that make up our valid fire risk assessment.
Along with other housing providers around the country, we are awaiting further guidance about suitable materials that can be fitted to the outside of buildings before we can go ahead with the removal and replacement of the cladding. It’s been made clear to us by DCLG that if we replace the existing cladding with a material that is later deemed unsuitable following the review of Building Regulations, it will be at our own risk. Clearly, we need to be confident we are sourcing the safest solution – guidance on this will follow in due course.
I’d like to thank residents for their continued co-operation, as they have received many visits from lots of contractors to progress all the areas of fire safety work that have already taken place, and continue to happen at the Towers.”
Mount Wise Towers fire safety update - Friday 8 September 2017
Statement from John Clark, CEO of PCH:
"There has been a huge amount of work taking place since June at the Mount Wise Towers and we’ve made real progress. As a result, the Towers remain safe to live in with the introduction of new and additional fire safety measures.
Heat sensors and smoke alarms
"Work to install heat detectors in the communal areas of the Towers is complete and work to install heat detectors in individual flats is nearing completion. Testing will be taking place shortly to make sure the system is working as it should and residents will be informed when testing will begin and end so they are aware why the alarms are sounding.
Once installation is completed, this will mean each flat in the Towers will be fitted with mains-wired smoke detectors (which have been in place for a number of years) as well as the new heat detectors. The communal areas will also be fitted with smoke detectors and this complete system will provide extra fire safety protection for everyone in the blocks."
"Since our last update, the contractor installing the sprinkler system has been to the Towers and carried out tests on empty flats to agree the best way to fit the system throughout the blocks. The next stage will see the contractor carrying out surveys of the communal areas and individual flats to measure up and prepare for the installation of the sprinkler system. These surveys will be taking place over the coming weeks and are expected to begin w/c 25 September."
"Following our update about the result of the retest on 3 August, the position with cladding on the Mount Wise Towers has not changed. All fire safety measures remain in place and we continue to have a valid Fire Risk Assessment to assure your safety.
Testing of ACM cladding panels has now been completed and we are awaiting news from Government with recommendations of suitable replacement cladding for the Towers that will meet the revised building and fire regulations, which we understand is expected later this month.
A huge amount of work to identify the best solution for the removal and replacement of cladding has already taken place. We have completed detailed surveys that showed the Towers will not be wind and watertight once the cladding is removed. Therefore, until we know what materials can be used to replace the cladding, it will remain on the blocks to ensure the fabric of the building remains intact so that the new cladding can be fitted without delay. The fire safety measures identified earlier in this update will continue to ensure residents' safety until these works are able to be undertaken.
As soon as we receive the new guidance from Government on which materials are safe to use as a replacement cladding system, we will identify a timetable for the completion of works and share this with residents. However, it is likely that there will be high demand for the new cladding materials so we will ensure that all the safety measures in place now will remain and work to install sprinklers will continue, further improving safety within the Towers."
"We have already committed £850,000 for the installation of heat detectors and sprinklers for the Towers, but the costs of carrying out all the works needed are now expected to reach £13.5M.
We continue to seek assurance from Government through the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, with support from Plymouth City Council, that funding will be provided for the removal and replacement of cladding.
We continue to work closely with Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service to ensure a valid Fire Risk Assessment remains in place for the Towers. The measures included in this are: mains-wired smoke alarms, heat detectors, fire doors, fire retardant panels in the stairway that act as evacuation routes, emergency lighting and 24/7 fire watch patrols.
We'd like to thank residents for their continued patience and cooperation in helping us to put in place all the extra fire safety measures which help to ensure the Towers can continue to be occupied safely."
Mount Wise Towers fire safety update
Plymouth Community Homes (PCH) today received confirmation that the position at the Mount Wise Towers remained unchanged with news from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) that the cladding on the towers and many other buildings around the country, did not pass the second of the Government’s fire safety tests prompted by the Grenfell Tower fire.
This test, ordered by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), looked at the combination of non-combustible Rockwool insulation with ACM (aluminium composite material) panels as used on the Mount Wise Towers.
John Clark, Chief Executive for PCH, said: “The safety of our residents has always been and remains our top priority. When the cladding didn’t pass the first test, we immediately put in place extra fire safety measures to keep our residents safe. Like many housing associations, we found that the cladding hasn’t pass the second test, however, we already have all the necessary extra measures in place and are currently going further, fitting smoke and heat systems in the lobbies, and sprinklers in flats will be next.”
“As is normal, we will of course formally review our Fire Risk Assessment in light of the test results. Our ongoing discussions with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service have confirmed residents can remain in their homes as long as the safety measures remain in place and planned further fire safety measures are completed.”
Fire safety measures at the Towers include smoke/fire alarms, fire doors, as well as fire retardant panels in the stairway that act as evacuation routes, emergency lighting and 24/7 fire watch patrols – elements that all contribute to make a suitable and sufficient Fire Risk Assessment.
Mr Clark went on to explain: “We will continue to fit extra heat/smoke detectors and sprinkler systems to the Towers, and work to explore how best to approach the removal and replacement of cladding is ongoing.”
Mr Clark gave a summary of the works completed to date at the Towers, saying: “Work began to fit heat detectors to communal areas of the Towers on 28 June and will be complete in the next few days. We began fitting heat detectors inside flats from 24 July and this will be completed very soon. These alarms are in addition to existing smoke detectors already in residents’ homes and as an extra fire safety measure.
“Work to fit new sprinkler systems to the Towers is underway. A site visit by the manufacturer has taken place and designs have been completed. We are now planning the best way to fit the systems with the least amount of disruption for residents.
“We have completed detailed surveys and it has become clear that the buildings will not be weather-proof once the cladding is removed. We are now waiting on Government guidance to identify what materials can be used as a replacement product that will meet the revised building and fire regulations.”
PCH has already committed £850,000 for the installation of heat detectors and sprinklers for the Towers, but the costs of carrying out all the works needed are now expected to reach £13.5M. Mr Clark said: “We have informed the DCLG of the actions we have and are taking and continue to seek assurance from Government through the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, with support from Plymouth City Council, that funding will be provided for the removal and replacement of cladding that has failed the test. I firmly believe it would be unjust if the residents of social housing had to fund these works from their rents.
PCH is meeting residents of the Towers to tell them about the latest test result and reassure them that the Fire Risk Assessment in place remains suitable and sufficient. Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service said: “We are continuing to work with Plymouth Community Homes and Plymouth City Council to provide advice regarding the current Fire safety measures and to provide information and reassurance to residents about keeping safe in their homes.”
Over 240 buildings have been affected by the ACM cladding issues which emerged following the Grenfell Tower fire including other housing associations and councils around the country.
Mount Wise Towers fire safety update – 14 July 2017
We have written to Mount Wise Tower residents today to assure them that their safety remains our top priority and reassure them that the additional safety measures we have put in place in the Mount Wise Towers continue to ensure that the Fire Risk Assessment remains valid.
I also want to update you about the ongoing works to further improve safety in the Mount Wise Towers:
Following on from our last statement when we shared the timetable of works, more individual home fire safety checks have been completed, so I want to say thank you to residents for allowing us into their homes to carry out these important visits.
The extra fire safety measures we have shared previously are:
- We are continuously reviewing our Fire Risk Assessment in liaison with Devon & Somerset Fire Rescue Service
- We have implemented 24/7 fire watch patrols of the Towers by security teams
- We have carried out checks to ensure all fire doors remain in place and closers are fitted and operating as they should be
- We have undertaken works to improve fire protection to the stairwells of each Tower as an extra fire safety measure
Extra smoke and heat detectors
We began fitting heat detectors to communal areas of the building from 28 June. This work is now almost completed and we will begin fitting heat detectors inside flats from Monday 24 July.
This will take a number of weeks to complete and these are in addition to the existing smoke detectors already in resident’s homes and as an extra fire safety measure.
We will be writing to residents again to let them know when all the alarms have been fitted and the system is active so they know what to do if they hear an alarm.
Work to fit new sprinkler systems to the Towers is underway. A site visit by the manufacturer has taken place and designs are being drawn up now. It will take two more weeks to complete that work before we can begin planning the best way to fit the systems with the least amount of disruption for residents.
You may have seen in the media recently that further tests on ‘whole’ cladding systems are being undertaken by the Government.
These additional tests will help establish how different types of aluminium composite material (ACM) panels behave in a fire, in combination with different types of insulation. We are waiting to hear the results of these as we continue to carry out additional safety work.
Our most recent Fire Risk Assessment completed within the last week continues to assure the safety of residents whilst work to fit the extra fire safety measures takes place.
Our residents’ safety and peace of mind continues to be our highest priority.
Mount Wise Towers fire safety update and works timetable – 28 June 2017
This is an update on Mount Wise Towers Plymouth following the Grenfell fire and Camden Council’s subsequent decision to evacuate their Chalcots estate after a number of issues were identified during an inspection with the Fire Service last Friday, which prevented them assuring their residents’ safety.
We wrote to residents of the Mount Wise Towers on Saturday 24 June to reassure them that we would not be evacuating the Towers because:
- We have been working with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service since the Grenfell Tower fire and have carried out a number of site inspections to ensure we have satisfactory fire safety measures in place.
- We have reviewed our Fire Risk Assessment and been able to incorporate the requirements of the new Central Government guidance with extra fire safety precautions, meaning we are able to assure our residents’ safety.
We made a commitment last Thursday to remove the combustible elements of the cladding from the Towers as an additional precaution and have been developing a programme of works since then to achieve this at the earliest possible opportunity.
Whilst we are committed to removing and replacing the cladding of the Towers as soon as possible, this is a large and complex programme of works. The specialist consultants we are working with have identified a target date for the removal of the existing panels by the end of November 2017. They are continuing to develop a further programme of works to replace the panels with a product that is compliant. All works are subject to the availability of contractors and materials, regulations and permissions, as well as weather conditions.
Throughout this programme of works, we will continue to review the Fire Risk Assessments for the Towers to ensure our residents’ safety. In addition to the works to remove the cladding we are continuing with our work to further improve the fire safety of the building by installing heat detectors and a sprinkler system in each of the Towers.
I also want to remind you of all the measures we have in place to ensure our residents are safe.
- Continuing reviews of our Fire Risk Assessments
- 24/7 monitoring of the Towers by security teams
- All doors compliant with fire regulations
- All PCH owned-homes fitted with 60 minute fire doors in the Towers
- Mains-wired smoke detectors/alarms
- Non-combustible Rockwool insulation used in cladding at the Towers
- Regular management inspections
- External consultant advice on Fire Safety
- Checks to ensure door closers are fitted and operating as they should be
- Extra fire protection installed to the interiors of the stairwells of each Tower
Timetable of works
|Wednesday 21 June||Contractor of sprinkler system appointed (after ongoing talks from earlier in the year) and sprinkler system ordered|
|Thursday 22 June||Commitment to remove cladding from Towers|
|Friday 23 June||Stage one tender for the main contractor to arrange the removal of the cladding from the Towers issued|
|Contractor appointed to complete the installation of heat and smoke detector system throughout Towers, beginning with alert system in lobbies and communal areas – detailed plan for individual flats to follow|
|Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 June||Survey work started on panels and windows to prepare for removal of cladding.|
|Wednesday 28 June||Installation of fire alarm system and heat detectors begins in communal areas on each floor|
|Scaffolding design company appointed to draw up plans to fully scaffold and weather proof the Towers|
|Friday 30 June||Deadline for return of tenders for main contractor to remove cladding|
|Wednesday 5 July||Main contractor appointed for works to remove cladding|
|Mid July||· Design of scaffolding required to surround Towers
· Design of the sprinkler system – installation dates of sprinkler will not be known until designs received from contractor
|End of July||· Scaffolding tender submissions (likely three contracts at once)
· Appointment of scaffolders
· Erection of scaffolding begins on site (it will take at least 8 weeks to be fully completed, weather dependent)
|End of September||· Target for completion of the erection of scaffolding
· Work to remove panels begins (it will take at least 8 weeks to be fully completed, weather dependent)
|End of November||Target for completion of the panels removal|
|December||Installation of the non-combustible cladding begins. Until the system to be used is identified, we cannot confirm timescales.|
We have been in regular contact with our residents and have hand delivered letters throughout the last week to keep them informed of developments. They received a copy of the timetable last night and we reassured them further that they will not need to move out of their homes whilst the work to install the additional fire safety measures is undertaken.
The Devonport Live café also remains open and is staffed by officers from the Council, Fire Service, police and of course PCH to provide a multi-agency response to this situation.
I hope it’s clear from our swift action that the safety and welfare of our residents remains our top priority.
John Clark, CEO
Update following decision by Camden Council – 23 June 2017
We are aware that Camden Council has taken the decision to evacuate their Chalcots estate following a joint inspection with the Fire Service earlier today.
We would like to reassure residents that we will not be evacuating the Mount Wise Tower blocks.
We have been working with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service throughout the week and have carried out a number of site inspections to ensure we have satisfactory fire safety measures in place . We have reviewed our Fire Risk Assessment and been able to incorporate the requirements of the new Central Government guidance and have additional fire safety precautions in place, which mean that it is not necessary to evacuate the towers.
We will update residents immediately if we receive any further information that changes the situation for us here in Plymouth.
The safety and welfare of our residents is, as always, our top priority.
John Clark, CEO
Statement from John Clark, CEO about the Mount Wise Towers – 21 June 2017
Earlier this week we wrote to Mount Wise Towers residents to advise them we were removing a panel from the towers to be sent for testing.
This was as an immediate response to the Government’s instruction. We have now been informed of the result by BRE.
The test was carried out on the sample panel of the outer layer of the cladding of the Towers. It has been found to be aluminium coated with a polyethylene core, which has been rated as category 3 under the new controlled test conditions. The fire rating scale goes from 0 to 3 (with 0 being the highest safety score and 3 being the lowest).
We know from previous inspections and fire risk assessments that the Rockwool insulation that makes up the inner layer of the cladding of the Towers is not combustible and has the highest fire safety rating (0 rated). This factor has not yet formed part of the Government’s test.
The system used at the Towers is not the same system reported to have been used at Grenfell Tower.
However, in light of the new information and guidance we have received from Central Government, we will be removing the combustible elements of the cladding from the Mount Wise Towers as soon as possible.
At PCH, we already have the majority of the fire safety measures outlined in the further guidance issued by Government this morning in place, which we have shared in our previous statement.
We are taking some extra and immediate fire safety precautions outlined in the new guidance from today including:
· We have completed a further review of our Fire Risk Assessment
· We have implemented 24/7 monitoring of the Towers by security teams
· We are completing further checks today to ensure all fire doors remain in place and closers are fitted and operating as they should be
· We are installing additional fire protection to the interiors to the stairwells of each Tower today as an extra fire safety measure
There are elements of the guidance that will take longer to implement, but which we are also acting on immediately. They are:
· Installing heat detectors into every flat in addition to the current mains-wired smoke alarms. The process of buying and installing will begin today and will be completed over a number of weeks.
· A sprinkler system will be installed in each of the Towers. Feasibility tests were completed in February to ensure it was possible to fit a sprinkler system in each building and we have ordered them today. It will take a number of months before this is fully complete.
We have written to Mount Wise Towers tenants individually to inform them of this.
The cladding installed in 2000 met with all the fire and building regulations at the time and the action being taken now are precautions in response to the new information and guidance being issued by Central Government.
We are working closely with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service and Plymouth City Council on assessing risks, sharing information and responding to the latest information from the Government.
Anyone who is worried or has any questions should call us on 0808 230 6500.
John Clark, Chief Executive Plymouth Community Homes
Statement from Sue Shaw in response to the Grenfell Fire – 15 June 2017
Sue Shaw, Director of Homes, Neighbourhoods and Regeneration, said: “Firstly, we extend our deepest condolences to those affected by the tragic incident in Kensington.
“We take the safety and wellbeing of our residents extremely seriously and all our tower blocks are fitted with many fire-safety measures, including mains connected smoke alarms and fire doors that considerably exceed the statutory requirements. We take these legislative responsibilities relating to the prevention of, and escape from, fire extremely seriously.
“We also take an individual approach to vulnerable residents, working closely with colleagues in the Fire Brigade to tailor specific measures to keep people safe. Our policies, processes and fire risk assessments are all up to date; designed by our dedicated Fire Safety Manager, a fully qualified Fellow of the Institute of Fire Engineers, as well as external consultants and we undergo regular external audits.
“It is important that we do not speculate on the causes or spread of the fire at Grenfell until the full facts are known. I can confirm that we have not used the same cladding system as reported to have been used at Grenfell.
“We concentrate hard on fire prevention, and are never complacent. We have a learning approach to incidents, and when there is clarity about the causes of the Kensington fire we will formally consider whether there are additional measures that we can add to further improve our already-compliant position.
“I would encourage any residents to speak to their housing officers, who are regularly in the area, if they have any further questions.”
Block fire safety measures
- Fitted with a minimum of 30 minute fire doors
- All PCH homes are fitted with 60 minute fire doors in tower blocks (law requires 30 mins)
- Mains wired smoke detectors/alarms
- Individual fire risk assessments for each block
- Non-combustible Rockwool insulation used in cladding on tower blocks
- Regular management inspections
- External consultant advice on Fire Safety