The Chair invited Charles Loft, Senior Adviser, to introduce the update.
Charles explained that there were two separate reports for members to consider. The first was the standard building safety update and the second - on the supplemental agenda - was on developments with the Fire Protection Board.
On the first paper, Charles reported that the Fire Safety Bill had now passed its second reading in the House of Commons and the LGA was hoping to be able to promote some amendments to reflect the concerns laid out in paragraph 27 of the report. Officers were shortly meeting with the Shadow spokesperson to discuss whether they would table these during the Bill’s committee stages.
On the supplemental paper, Charles said that subsequent to the main FSMC agenda being sent out, the Fire Protection Board (FPB) had written to CFOs about its programme of work to increase the pace of inspection across all high-rise residential buildings (appended to the report). At the last FPB meeting, the LGA had requested that the question set in the Technical Guide include a question on whether the building was a large panel system (LPS) building, but this hadn’t been agreed by the Board. Charles therefore said that he was recommending that the FSMC Chair write to all FRAs outlining the concerns with LPS buildings outlined in the report.
Following the introduction, the following points were raised:
· Roy Wilsher (NFCC) and Andy Roe (London Fire Brigade) said that they understood the LGA’s concerns about LPS buildings but expressed their position that this was a building safety issue and there wasn’t sufficient construction expertise within fire services to be able to identify risks. LPS was just one of many building safety risks facing services and they had limited resources to address them all. They therefore felt that writing to FRA’s would be counterproductive. In response, Charles agreed that whilst the long-term solution lay within the Building Safety Bill, this was still a long way off being enacted and, in the meantime, he believed that the LGA had a duty to raise their concerns with FRAs in case a fire broke out in an LPS building in their area. He added that many building owners would not be aware of the issues with LPS. Charles offered to share a draft of the letter with the NFCC before sending it out and it was suggested that this be discussed at the meeting of the FPB taking place the following week. This was agreed.
· It was suggested that the LPS issue was part of a wider problem that started with weaknesses in the building control and planning processes. Fire services should be a mandatory consultee on planning applications and sprinklers should be mandatory in buildings housing vulnerable people, regardless of height. Charles said that he was optimistic about the involvement of fire services in the planning process and the new building safety regulator would also become a statutory consultee.
· Concern was expressed that, in the light of the National Audit Office criticism that the remediation of dangerous cladding was moving too slowly, the construction industry was using the Covid-19 crisis to row back on its commitments.
Members of the Fire Services Management Committee noted the Building Safety Update and agreed that the Chair write to Fire & Rescue Authority Chairs, Fire & Rescue Portfolio Holders and Police, Fire & Crime Commissioners, outlining the LGA’s concerns around Large Panel System (LPS) buildings.
LGA officers to share draft letter with NFCC and FSMC Lead Members before sending off.