Manchester considering private block enforcement notices
THE CITY council is considering sending formal enforcement notices for owners or managers of privately owned high rises which have ‘failed to provide’ fire safety information.
Inside Housing reported on the potential for Manchester City Council to send enforcement notices to private tower block owners who have ‘failed to provide any fire safety information on their buildings’. As part of the city’s plans alongside Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) to ‘develop a world class approach’ to fire safety after the Grenfell Tower fire, the two organisations aimed to inspect and visit all of the city’s high rises.
These plans included a feasibility study into sprinkler retrofitting in high rise residential buildings, a ‘consistent’ fire safety approach, and for GMFRS to ‘be consulted at all stages of a building’s life cycle’. The proposals were put forward by Greater Manchester’s High Rise Task Force to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, with the task force set up by Mayor Andy Burnham to ‘provide fire safety reassurance’ to residents.
This came after GMFRS has completed inspections of over 500 residential high rises in the area to ‘ensure they comply with fire safety regulations’, working with housing providers, local authorities and the private sector to ensure ‘all buildings receive the right fire safety advice’. Its work will inform a GMFRS response to the Grenfell Tower inquiry, and will submit evidence to the independent review of building regulations.
Part of this was set to include landlords of privately owned tower blocks, but 19 of those in the city have not returned any fire safety information, leading the council to consider ‘sending out formal enforcement notices to owners or managers’. Of 215 privately owned buildings contacted in November, 12 were found to have been using aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding.
Bernard Priest, deputy leader of Manchester City Council, stated that the council and GMFRS were ‘strongly urging’ building owners to provide fire safety information for buildings, and this ‘may involve serving formal enforcement notices’. The impetus to contact private building landlords was given by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), which told councils to gather information including cladding types.
However, Inside Housing reported late last year that safety issues ‘are not confined to social housing blocks’, with ‘significant gaps in knowledge’ discovered nationwide. One third of councils ‘do not have any information about private blocks’ or what type of cladding is on them, with a Manchester City Council report in December said that the city’s list from MHCLG ‘was incomplete and did not match the records’ held by GMFRS.
The push to take enforcement action was also backed by MHCLG, which suggested that if owners did not respond to information requests or ‘fail to have cladding tested’, councils should ‘take enforcement action’. GMFRS also warned the council that fire safety regulations ‘could be used to take enforcement action’, but there were ‘concerns that these powers are “not wide enough” to tackle all potential fire hazards’.
Mr Priest stated: ‘We have attempted to contact every private high-rise owner and/or building managers in the city to help provide an overview picture of fire safety in the city, and ensure residents are safe. The vast majority of building owners have responded positively and engaged with the process, and where work has been required this has been done quickly and efficiently with help from the fire service.
‘Where information has not been forthcoming, we are working with the fire service to strongly urge them to engage with the process. This may involve serving formal enforcement notices.’