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Government stumps up for alarms to replace fire patrols in 300 more tower blocks

27 Jan 22 The Ministry of Housing is on a drive to install fire alarms in all buildings that have been relying on a ‘waking watch’ scheme since the Grenfell Tower fire nearly five years ago.

The government has allocated an additional £27 million to install fire alarms in multi-occupancy buildings where a waking watch fire patrol is relied on to protect residents.

Leaseholders in buildings waiting for the completion of remediation works are currently being forced to pay for waking watches, where a building is continually patrolled in case of a fire, by the building owner.  Leaseholders are paying, on average, £163 a month, or nearly £2,000 a year for the service.

The new money will be allocated to buildings of all heights, not just those over 18 metres and is expected to buy fire alarms for around 300 buildings.

The existing £35m waking watch relief fund (WWRF) is already supporting 323 buildings to replace the 24-hour fire patrol services.

The minister of state for building safety and fire, Lord Greenhalgh, said: “It’s unacceptable that innocent leaseholders are still facing fire risks in their own homes, let alone being subjected to the disgraceful misuse of rip-off measures at the hands of their building owners. The extra funding being made available today will be a huge relief to many being forced to pay unnecessary costs.

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 “However, fire alarms and waking watch are not long-term solutions. Industry must take responsibility and pay to fix their dangerous mistakes, and we are actively pursuing developers and manufacturers at fault to bring this scandal to an end.”

Lord Greenhalgh’s boss, Michael Gove, the secretary of state at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, has also warned that there must be fewer unnecessary surveys, an assumption that there is no risk to life in medium and low-rise buildings unless clear evidence of the contrary, and greater use of risk-mitigating fire safety measures, such as fire alarm and sprinkler systems.

He has also withdrawn the consolidated advice note – interim guidance that had been interpreted by the industry as requiring remediation of all cladding irrespective of building height.  New guidance from the British Standard Institution will also help fire risk assessors to take a proportionate approach to the assessment of walls, avoiding wholescale cladding replacement where it is safe to do so. 

Michael Gove has also given housing developers and producers of cladding and insulation materials until March to come up with a scheme to raise £4bn for cladding remediation works. This follows the suspension of Rydon Homes from the government’s Help to Buy loan scheme due to its links to Rydon Maintenance, the company that refurbished Grenfell Tower.

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