Mayor John Biggs and Councillor Eve McQuillan, Cabinet Member Leading on Planning and Social Inclusion, have written a joint letter calling on the government to take urgent action on fire safety following the recent fire at New Providence Wharf.
In the letter they told the Secretary of State that ‘people go to sleep each night in the knowledge that their homes are unsafe. The impact of this cannot be overestimated. We speak to residents who tell us of their constant anxiety, their fears for the families and the hopeless financial situations in which they find themselves, through no fault of their own.’
New Providence Wharf is owned by Ballymore and the letter highlights that this ‘serious and dangerous fire happened in a building with defects that had been known about for a significant period of time’ and go on to say ‘remediation work should have been completed as soon as it was known that the building was unsafe. Ballymore must be held accountable for their failure to carry out crucial fire safety work promptly.’
Mayor John Biggs went down to the site of the fire at New Providence Wharf on Friday alongside Cllr Ehtasham Haque, Cllr Candida Ronald and Cllr Mohammed Pappu, and attended the protest with leaseholders at Marsh Wall on Saturday. The Mayor has met with residents of New Providence Wharf several times as well as meeting residents from many other blocks in the borough to listen to their concerns about cladding and other fire safety issues. Tower Hamlets has one of the highest numbers of high-rise buildings in the country and the most applications to the government’s building safety fund.
Mayor John Biggs said: “Tower Hamlets has been hard hit by the cladding scandal, and concerns about fire safety, particularly in tall buildings. There appears to be no end in sight to this crisis. We urgently need to see more action from the government and developers, and we will work with our residents to get the solutions they need.”
Cllr Eve McQuillan, Cabinet Member Leading on Planning, said: “Nearly four years on from the Grenfell Fire the government has been far too slow at making sure steps are taken to ensure a tragedy like this is not repeated, and I was horrified by the recent fire at New Providence Wharf. As a council we’ve been working with residents to put pressure on the Government and developers to End Our Cladding Scandal.”
Text of the letter sent to the Secretary of State:
We are writing following Friday’s fire at New Providence Wharf. Almost four years on from the Grenfell disaster it is unacceptable that this was able to happen again, with the cloud of unsafe cladding still hanging over a building. The list of other fire safety concerns needing remedy has grown since Grenfell, adding to residents’ stress and anxiety. Thanks to the brave actions of the London Fire Brigade there was no loss of life. But let us be clear that the impact of this fire remains devastating for the residents affected, and for our wider community.
In many blocks in our borough, people go to sleep each night with the anxiety that their homes are unsafe. The impact of this cannot be overestimated. We speak to residents who tell us of their constant anxiety, their fears for the families and the hopeless financial situations in which they find themselves, through no fault of their own.
Whilst we must wait for the LFB investigation as to the reason for the fire’s spread, it remains the case that a serious and dangerous fire happened in a building with defects that had been known about for a significant period of time. Remediation work should have been planned and commenced as soon as it was known that the building was unsafe. If so, they would have been completed by now. Ballymore must be held accountable for their failure to carry out crucial fire safety work promptly.
Other questions remain unanswered, such as responsibilities and preparedness for evacuation, means of escalating and securing responses to residents’ concerns, the effectiveness of ‘waking watches’ – there was one in place on this development, but it appears to have added limited value. On these, we need urgent clarity too.
Tower Hamlets has been hardest hit by the cladding scandal, and further concerns about fire safety, particularly in tall buildings. There appears to have no end in sight to this crisis. We urgently need to see more action from the government.
The council is taking our responsibilities seriously, working with limited resources to monitor the remediation of a wide range of building safety issues including non-ACM affected residential buildings. The scale of the work is increasing as more intrusive work reveals necessary remediation work. However, our powers, other than exceptionally through a protracted and difficult legal process, are quite limited. We can convene, broker, encourage, report and responsibly publicise our concerns, but we cannot remedy these problems without there being agreed and funded solutions.
We are calling on the government to:
- Set a firm, legally enforceable deadline for when fire safety works must be carried out
- Guarantee that leaseholders will not face any costs associated with fire safety works, whether these are directly caused by cladding or by other defects
- Take action on service charge increases for measures associated with fire safety
- Ensure that developers or freehold owners bear the cost of remediation works unless government funding is agreed.
- Hold developers accountable for their slow action in carrying out remediation works
- Properly resource local authorities with the funding to monitor this work and the powers to take strong enforcement action where remediation is stalled or too slow.
This government can and must take decisive action to end the cladding crisis now. The residents of New Providence Wharf and many other developments in our borough need to feel, and be, safe in their homes.
We are happy to meet with your team to discuss this further. We know that our officials have been meeting regularly with yours, and we have met at Minister of State level to discuss some cases, including New Providence Wharf, but we need clearly led further action, urgently, now.
Mayor John Biggs & Cllr Eve McQuillan