Housing providers secrecy, lack of council resources hamper Tower Hamlets cladding fixes

After the fire at New Providence Wharf on 7th May there is renewed focus on other high-rise residential blocks in Tower Hamlets. The borough has the highest number of blocks in the UK, between 800 and 900. Of these buildings financial help has been applied for the 282 that have dangerous cladding.

Location of fire New Providence Wharf, Tower Hamlets, London

Despite this high number Tower Hamlets council is being hampered in carrying out remedial work by a lack of internal resources and the failure of social housing providers, private developers and managing agents to be open and transparent with the local authority.

The council has only one dedicated co-ordinator and 50% of an Environment Health officer working full time on fire safety for the 800 blocks.

Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding

After the Grenfell disaster all local authorities were asked by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to gather information about buildings with Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) ‘Grenfell style’ cladding.

In Tower Hamlets it was found that 51 of the 282 buildings considered at high risk had Grenfell style ACM cladding and at least 20 still have it at the time of publication.

Those responsible for the 282 high risk blocks applied for Building Safety Fund money from government to fix cladding issues, but this number won’t include most housing association properties as these have a separate government fund, buildings with other fire safety issues or those under 18 meters in height.

Tower Hamlets council does not know how many buildings have some kind of fire safety issue as it has only focussed on those with ACM cladding, not wider fire safety issues.

At a recent virtual meeting of the LBTH Housing & Regeneration Scrutiny Sub Committee held on 15th April a visibly annoyed Cllr. Marc Francis (Labour, Bow East) expressed his frustration with the unwillingness of many social housing landlords to publish Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs)

The one and a half council officers are in yellow bottom right.

He specifically referred to Clare House in Bow E3, a very old 22 story residential high rise constructed in 1968-70 owned by Clarion Housing Group.

Clarion Housing Group is the largest housing association in the United Kingdom with 125,000 properties across more than 170 local authorities.

Sudden need for ‘waking watch’ at Clare House

Cllr. Francis said that owners and tenants at Clare House in Roman Road had been told three years ago that there was no ACM cladding, the type used at Grenfell, and that there were no fire risk problems. In buildings where there is a higher fire risk such as New Providence Wharf a ‘waking watch’ system is used which involves people walking around a block or development checking for signs of fire.

Without warning or explanation a waking watch system was suddenly deployed at Clare House and Clarion Housing Group started carrying out works on the building but is refusing to tell owners, tenants or local councillors the reason for the works.

“This is the tallest block in Tower Hamlets and I am still waiting after a month of asking questions and I am getting nothing,” said Cllr. Francis.

“Why are these organisations, who are preferred development partners of Tower Hamlets council, being allowed to get away with hiding information where they are completely refusing to give us information?”

“Not fit to be a social landlord”

“If these organisations are so scared of publishing fire safety information they are not fit to be a social landlord.”

Cllr. Francis said that there was an even worse situation at Gladstone Place in Bow [above Tesco], a block with 200 residents that has ACM and is also owned by Clarion Housing.

Cllr. Andrew Wood (Independent, Canary Wharf) said that more Government money is needed to boost the Tower Hamlets team monitoring progress of the cladding remedial work.

The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign group estimates that up to 11 million people are caught up in the cladding issue.

Many thanks to Cllr. Francis, Cllr. Wood and Crissy Townsend for their help with this article.

Related Internet Links

LBTH provides an online map for residents to check the Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) of buildings but neither Clare House or Gladstone Place can be found on the map. It is unclear if this is because LBTH does not have the FRA information or the map is faulty .