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Southwark Council prepares for the government’s changes to building safety laws

20 January 2022

Southwark Council is surveying the first of its 170 high-rise buildings using the Fire Safety Act and government’s new Building Safety Bill as guidance, to prepare for the change in the law, when it becomes an Act this year.

Since a tragic fire in the borough in 2009, and subsequent recommendations on fire safety many years ago, Southwark Council has gone over and above what was required to make its buildings safe – including carrying out intrusive fire safety surveys on high rise buildings. The Grenfell disaster in 2017 sadly proved that the UK still has far to go in making sure that buildings are safe and sound should a fire happen.

The council has a history of pre-empting legislation, trialling both Universal Credit and the Homelessness Reduction Act before they came into effect, to test how the authority can respond, and look to find and iron out any practical issues with legislation change. This makes headway to a smooth transition into new ways of working, and creates the least impact for residents when change happens.

As the new law comes into place requiring extra safety measures on high rise buildings, the council is testing how to practically carry out the extra intrusive tests. As one of the largest landlords in the country, with architecture spanning many decades, each building in Southwark is unique and has bespoke safety requirements.

Southwark Council is starting with testing Andoversford Court in Peckham, chosen because it has eight floors and specific features that influence the way fire travels. These include its maisonette layout, external surfaces and infill panels. Andoversford’s tenant managed organisation has been helpful and accommodating, supporting residents and helping the council understand how the tests and fire safety works could affect those living in the building.

Some of the surveys will look at the outside of the building and the communal areas. The council may need to open up walls and ceilings and will check both sides of the fire doors (the front doors) for the flats. This is a new requirement under the Fire Safety Act. There is already a fire strategy for the block, this considers its specific characteristics and identifies an appropriate response to a fire. The fire risk assessments for the block are also up to date. Southwark has a good understanding of its high-rise blocks and fire risk assessments for all 170. It is therefore unlikely that survey findings will highlight urgent safety actions. However, the council is committed to acting on significant findings.

As a test, to see if it might be useful elsewhere on the programme, some residents may be asked to allow the council access for Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM is used to create a 3D model of buildings, including the outside of the building, the communal areas, and the homes within the block. Creating the BIM requires consultants to enter homes with a camera, so that they can capture the relevant details for the 3D model. This takes around 30 to 45 minutes, and while it is intrusive for residents, all GDPR and privacy requirements will be followed – it may prove unnecessary to do for other blocks or estates, but this testing phase will help in understanding its relevance.

Councillor Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for council homes and homelessness, said: “I want to thank the TMO and residents of Andoversford so much for their willingness to help us test the fire safety requirements we need to in advance of the new laws. Only with their help can we quickly carry out the inspections, I hope others in estates on the programme understand the importance of this work in keeping them safe. It makes practical sense for us to get ahead of the new legislation and set an example of proactivity on such an essential part of building maintenance and safety. I know that it is inconvenient for people, and an expensive investment for the council, but people’s safety is our highest priority and we have to go as far as we can with this.”

Residents will be contacted separately about any checks in homes within the block.

Page last updated: 20 January 2022

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