Fire safety advice for residents living in high-rise buildings also see information for Fire Safety in Reading Residential Tower Blocks

Fire Safety in Reading Residential Tower Blocks: Frequently Asked Questions

Following the recent fire at Grenfell Tower in West London, the Council understands there may be questions or concerns which Reading residents and the wider public may have about fire safety in tower blocks. There is also an understandable increased scrutiny of fire safety nationally by media organisations.

As a result, the Council has pulled together a frequently asked questions sheet which it has published online. We hope this will help to address and answer some of those questions and concerns. We will update these FAQs regularly so please check this website for the most up-to-date version. The FAQ includes advice to tenants and residents and other useful information. The Council has also written to all of our housing tenants in high rise blocks to provide reassurance and current fire safety information and the fire and rescue service have had crews working hard visiting all high rise blocks in the Borough to reassure residents and to have a visual presence.

Contextually, the Council owns 6,893 residential dwellings including houses, flats, temporary accommodation and sheltered housing. The Council directly manages 5,608 of these properties and 1,285 in North Whitley are managed under contract by Affinity Housing.  The stock includes 375 blocks of flats.

Fire safety advice for residents living in high-rise buildings

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How many residential tower blocks does Reading Borough Council have over 18m high?

A.There are seven in total. There are three 14-storey blocks of flats in Coley (Wensley Road, Reading, RG1 6ED), and four eight-storey blocks in Granville Road, Southcote (RG30 3QD), with a total of 427 flats in these 7 blocks - as detailed below.

Block location

No. of blocks

Flats per block

Height of blocks/storeys

Wensley Rd

3

89

42 m high, 15 storey

Granville Rd

4

40

22m high, 8 storey

 

Q: Is the same ACM (Aluminium Composite material) or plastic cladding that was used at Grenfell Tower used at any of these tower blocks.

A: No. We do not have any tower blocks fitted with either material in Reading.

Q. What type of cladding is used on the tower blocks in Reading?

A. External wall insulation with a cement render finish.

Q. Have any of these buildings undergone a refurbishment which would have included the use of cladding in the last 15 years 

A. No. Wensley Rd flats were constructed in 1960 in solid reinforced concrete (Wimpey No-fines)  and were externally insulated in the 1990's. Granville Road flats were constructed in 1958 in solid reinforced concrete (Wimpey No fines) and were externally insulated in the late 1980's.

Q. Is the Council testing any of the cladding?

A. The Government is currently carrying out combustibility tests on ACM cladding only. As we do not have any ACM cladding on our tower blocks, no such tests are being carried out for Reading. 

The local authority has a good knowledge of our housing block construction types and has assessed the fire risk in respect of these.  The Council would like to test all cladding materials to provide maximum safety assurance. The Council has approached the BRE which is the body carrying out testing for the Government but the agency has stated that it is not currently prioritising testing of non-ACM panels.  

Q. Are there cavities between external cladding panels?

A. None of our tower blocks use cladding panels. The Coley tower blocks have external wall insulation and there are some areas that have cavities between the external insulation and the mainly concrete construction, but on the limited elevations where they do occur, fire breaks are in place to stop the spread of fire. None of the other flatted blocks have cavities.

Q. How many fire escapes are there in each tower block in Reading?

A. There are two fire escapes fitted on each of the seven tower blocks in Reading.

Q. What are the fire safety measures in the blocks?

A. The Coley high rise flats have fire exits at both ends of the blocks and have a call-point fire alarm system in communal areas which can be heard throughout the building when activated. The Granville Road flats each have two communal staircases accessed via external balconies. All flats have their own smoke alarms which sound internally. Communal doors and the front doors of all flats are standard fire doors with smoke seals and strips which swell when in contact with heat to seal the door completely. This prevents smoke and fire entering a property, or from spreading from a property for a period of time. If tenants find, between our inspections, any damage to any of these features they should report them as a matter of urgency to our Repairs Helpdesk who will arrange repairs as a priority.  

Q. Are there sprinklers fitted on any of the seven tower blocks?

A.  Yes but only to the bin storage areas.

Q. When was the last time a fire risk assessment was carried out on the seven tower blocks?

A.  In the light of the Grenfell Tower fire and to provide assurance to our tenants the Council has carried out  Fire Risk Assessments in all blocks. These were completed in early July. Prior to this Fire Risk Assessments were last carried out as follows:           

  • 193 Wensley Rd  - 23/6/17
  • 203 Wensley Rd - 19/1/16
  • 205 Wensley Rd - 23/6/17
  • 28 Granville Rd  - 29/8/16
  • 34 Granville Rd  - 29/8/16
  • 38 Granville Rd  - 29/8/16
  • 42 Granville Rd  - 29/8/16

Q. Who is responsible for carrying out the fire risk assessments?

A. A fully qualified fire risk assessor, who is a trained officer of the Council.

Q. How many of those risk assessments showed the high rise buildings to be at high risk from fire?

A. None

Q: Has Royal Berkshire Fire Service been involved in fire safety checks?

A. The Council owns and manages 375 blocks of flats. Since 2009, the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service has audited circa 90 per cent of the Council's blocks of flats with communal areas and have not raised any significant issues.   Since the Grenfell Tower fire the Fire Service have visited and visually inspected all of the Council's high rise blocks. Once RBFRS have visited a building they will notify the owner/landlord of any issues noted which require action. They can issue a 'deficiency notice' on a building and no notices have been served on the Council in recent years.

The Council is working closely with RBFRS and we are sharing information in regard to our building stock.  We welcome inspections from the fire brigade on our high-rise blocks or other housing stock. We will continue to liaise with our fire and rescue service colleagues for advice and support and to ensure we have as complete an understanding as possible across agencies and can provide up to date advice to tenants and residents.

Q. In the last financial year how many of these buildings were found to have a category 1 fire hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System?

A. None

Q: How many of these buildings have had fires in recent years?

A: Fires have all been successfully contained in the originating area and where fires have been inside flats, none of them have spread outside the flat. Details of the fires are below:

06/06/2009

34 Granville Road

Arson

01/02/2010

Lift foyer 205 Wensley Road

Arson, opportunist, trade waste

07/03/2011

203 Wensley Road

Arson Fire originating in bin store area, lighted cigarette in a ball of paper, started deliberately. Smoke filled corridor

10/04/2011

193 Wensley Road

Fire originating on stove

03/05/2011

203 Wensley Road

Fire originating in flat

21/07/2011

205 Wensley Road

Fire originating in kitchen

25/12/11

Bin room 205 Wensley

Fire originating in bin store. Arson by persons unknown

12/08/13

205 Wensley Road

Electrical Fire originating in flat

16/09/14

28 Granville Road

Fire originating in flat

 

Q. What is the Council's fire safety advice to people living in the blocks?

A. Every block of flats has a fire notice board with an evacuation plan and factsheet giving advice regarding what to do in the event of a fire. Advice to tenants, provided by the fire service, is still to remain inside your flat if there is a fire elsewhere in the block - unless

  • smoke or heat starts to affect your flat
  • the fire is in the flat next door
  • or the fire brigade tell you to evacuate the building

in which case you should leave the block using the stairs if it is safe to do so.  Please see the guidance from RBFRS in the link here: Fire safety advice for residents living in high-rise buildings.  This link has been included on the front page of the Council's website.

Q: What has the Council done since the Grenfell Tower fire?

A. We understand that residents may have concerns so we have written to all tenants in the Coley and Granville Road high rise flats to reassure them of the fire safety measures in place and to urge them to regularly check their flat's smoke alarms and provide guidance on how to reduce the risk of a fire occurring and what to do if a fire does occur. We will keep our tenants updated if advice changes and in respect of any planned changes to safety measures.

Despite Reading's blocks differing in design to Grenfell Tower, in order to provide residents with complete confidence and assurance, the Council is also appointing an external organisation with specific expertise on fire safety in high rise blocks.  The organisation will carry out a review of our practice in the areas of management, fire safety measures and safety advice to tenants. In addition the Council will increase the frequency of its fire risk assessments. As noted above, new fire risk assessments have been completed for all of our high rise blocks in early July to provide additional assurance to all. 

Consideration is also being given to building stock of a lower height where blocks have been identified as having cladding materials attached. Council officers are ensuring that fire risk assessments are up to date and have taken due account of all risks, including the potential flammability of cladding or insulation. None of these lower blocks are classed as high risk however.

Q. What if residents in Council high rise blocks are worried about electrical equipment in their flat?

A. If any resident living in the tower blocks has any health and safety concerns about electrical appliances inside their flat, the Council is offering to visit and carry out testing to check there are no issues. Residents should contact their Housing Officer if they would like any of their appliances checked.

Q.  I think I have the same model of refrigerator as the one that caused the fire, what should I do?

A. At this stage there is no specific reason for consumers to switch off their fridge freezer pending further investigation.  Consumers who believe they may own a Hotpoint fridge freezer model number FF175BP (white) or FF175BG (grey) should call Whirlpool Corporation's freephone hotline on 0800 316 3826 or visit www.hotpointservice.co.uk/fridgefreezer to register their details for further updates.

Q. Is there ACM cladding on other buildings in Reading, for example schools, hospitals, care homes or privately owned tower blocks?

A. The fire and rescue service have identified all high rise buildings (over 18m) in the Reading area and are making contact with owners. Where a high rise building is believed to be at heightened risk due to the cladding materials used, they will undertake a full audit of the general fire precautions. They will also programme audits to other buildings (both residential and other uses) where they believe there to be cladding involved to ensure that Fire Risk Assessments, which remain the duty of the Responsible Person for the building, are up to date and have taken due account of all risks, including the potential flammability of cladding or insulation.

The Council has also sent out information to commercial and residential property agents, private sector letting and managing agents, landlords associations, the University and College and other interested bodies to help them assess what action they may need to take.

Q: What if residents still have concerns?

A. If tenants and residents in Council high rise blocks have any further questions or concerns they should contact their Housing Officer on 0118 937 2161.

For tenants in the private rented sector, they can contact the Private Sector Housing team on 0118 937 2151.

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