Fire safety update

The draft Fire Safety Bill continues undergoing consultation and has not yet been finalised.  The Government announced on 17 December 2020 that the deadline for building owners to complete their applications to the Building Safety Fund has been extended to 30 June 2021 (from 31 December 2020).  In order to qualify for funding, the remedial works must start onsite by 30 September 2021.

The Government has also announced a £30 million ‘Waking Watch Relief Fund’ to cover the costs of upgrades to fire alarms in high rise buildings in order to remove or reduce the high costs of interim safety measures such as ‘waking watch’ fire marshalls.  This fund will open in January 2021.  Whilst we do not believe that any of our properties will benefit materially from this new fund, it is not clear whether costs already incurred in connection with interim safety measures may be claimed.  It does, however, reflect the increasing pressure that the Government is under to go further in resolving the issues that have come to light since the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

As confirmed in previous updates, properties where fire safety issues have been identified as a result of revisions to fire safety regulations are as follows:

  • Premier House, Edgware
  • Picture Works, Nottingham
  • Vista Towers, Stevenage
  • The Heights, West Bromwich
  • Fairchild House, Southampton
  • Sherringham Court, Hayes

Please see below for the latest updates.  The next update will be given on 31 March 2021, unless there is a significant development before then.

Premier House, Edgware updates

Picture Works, Nottingham updates

Vista Tower, Stevenage updates

Fairchild House, Southampton

The Heights, West Bromwich

Sherringham Court, Hayes

Previous update

As previously communicated to our investors, the Government has proposed a Fire Safety Bill due to come into force later this year.  The Fire Safety Bill will build on action already taken to ensure that people feel safe in their homes and avoid another tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire.

The bill will amend the Fire Safety Order 2005 to clarify that the responsible person or duty-holder for multi-occupied, residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire for:

  • the structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows
  • entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts

The bill will provide a foundation for secondary legislation to take forward recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report, which stated that building owners and managers of high-rise and multi-occupied residential buildings should be responsible for a number of areas including:

  • regular inspections of lifts and the reporting of results to the local fire and rescue services
  • ensuring evacuation plans are reviewed and regularly updated, and personal evacuation plans are in place for residents whose ability to evacuate may be compromised
  • ensuring fire safety instructions are provided to residents in a form that they can reasonably be expected to understand
  • ensuring, where required, individual flat entrance doors comply with current standards

The bill will also give the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government the powers to amend the list of qualifying premises that fall within the scope of the Fire Safety Order by way of secondary legislation, enabling the government to respond quickly to developments in the design and construction of buildings.

Alongside the Fire Safety Bill, a number of actions are being taken by Government to improve building and fire safety including:

  • the announcement by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on 20 January 2020 of a new Building Safety Regulator
  • introduction of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Building Safety Bill, which will provide clearer accountability and stronger duties on those responsible for high rise buildings
  • £1 billion of grant funding to tackle unsafe cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres in both the private and social sectors, including non-ACM cladding systems
  • a new Building Safety Bill to bring about further changes to building safety
  • the relaunch of the government’s Fire Kills campaign

As confirmed in previous updates, properties where fire safety issues have been identified as a result of revisions to fire safety regulations are as follows:

  • Premier House, Edgware
  • Picture Works, Nottingham
  • Vista Towers, Stevenage
  • The Heights, West Bromwich
  • Fairchild House, Southampton

Due to Covid-19, progress across all blocks have been delayed due to lockdown measures.

Please see below for the latest updates.  The next update will be given on 18 December 2020, unless there is a significant development before then.

Previous update

Following the revisions to fire safety regulations as a result of the tragic Grenfell Tower Fire in June 2017, a full review was undertaken of all properties within our portfolio.  At the time, it was found that Premier House, Edgware had the same cladding installed as that at Grenfell Tower. Updates regarding the fire safety position at Premier House can be found below.

It was also found that Picture Works, Nottingham had inappropriate cladding.  Whilst the cladding does not use ACMs (the type installed at Grenfell Tower), neither the frame nor the insulation are fire rated and there are no requisite barriers.  Updates regarding the fire safety position at Picture Works can be found below.

We have recently been advised by the freeholder’s managing agents at Vista Towers, Stevenage that their surveyor has confirmed that the cladding on the exterior of the property is not ACM cladding, however, the infill panels were found to be a UPVC facing panel backed on to a polystyrene core and timber panel.  This is believed to be combustible. Updates regarding the fire safety position at Vista Towers can be found below.

With regard to the remainder of the portfolio, please see below.

Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) blocks:

We can confirm that all PBSA blocks within the portfolio have regular fire risk assessments undertaken by independent professional fire risk specialists.  All blocks are below the 18 metre (6 storey) threshold requiring cladding to be tested for ACM cladding materials, however, we have undertaken an evaluation of all blocks with cladding regardless of the fact that they do not reach the threshold.  Verney Street – Exeter, Pitt Street Studios – Newcastle and Terence House – Newcastle all have cladding installed on the exterior of the building, however, we have confirmation that the materials used are not ACM cladding materials and as the buildings fall below the 18 metre threshold no remediation works are required.

The fire safety concerns and remediation works required at Fairchild House, Southampton have been completed and we are in receipt of a clear fire risk assessment in relation to this property.

Residential Properties:

Whilst no other blocks within the portfolio have ACM cladding installed, Advice Note 14 was published by the Government in December 2018 which provides guidance for building owners with non-ACM materials in their external wall systems, including cladding and insulation.

While not a legal requirement, the note gives strong guidance to owners of buildings above 18m to take “general fire precautions” in their buildings and to make sure that external wall systems are “safe”.

The definition of “safe” in the Advice Note is two-fold. First, all materials must be safely installed and maintained. Second, the external wall systems (including cladding and insulation) must contain materials that are of limited combustibility or be a system that has achieved the Building Research Establishment’s BR 135 classification.

To achieve this classification, systems will need to go through a BS 8414 test, something that very few materials being used have gone through.

This means if the materials on an owner’s building are combustible and have not passed these specific tests, that property would be contravening the Advice Note and in need of remediation.

The Advice Note also requires the building owner, or responsible person, to have an up-to-date fire risk assessment for their building.

As a result of Advice Note 14, managing agents for each of our blocks are undertaking further reviews of fire safety. 

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