More than 900 London buildings need special fire safety measures – and number is growing

Royal Artillery Quays
Residents in Royal Artillery Quays in Thamesmead have had to pay for a waking watch to keep an eye on their homes

More than 900 buildings across London currently require a waking watch or other fire safety measures because of defects such as flammable cladding, the capital’s fire chief has said.

Waking watches involve 24-hour patrols of buildings that are known to contain fire safety defects so that residents can be warned and evacuated in the event of a fire. They were introduced in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy four years ago that claimed 72 lives.

London Fire Brigade commissioner Andy Roe revealed to members of the London Assembly on Monday that 901 buildings in the capital are currently on a waking watch – or need other measures such as common alarm systems.

Speaking at City Hall on Monday, Mr Roe said: “We’ve got 901 buildings on waking watch and that continues to grow. That’s significant. That’s twice the totality of all the high-rises in completeness in Manchester, just to give you a comparator.”

It has since been clarified that not all the 901 buildings will have waking watches – the figure represents buildings with simultaneous evacuation orders because of safety issues.

The commissioner revealed that 675 are due to unresolved cladding issues while the remainder are due to other fire safety defects such as fixed installations not working.

Waking watch sign
Many new-builds in Greenwich and Lewisham are having to have waking watches

Tenants and leaseholders are left to bear the financial burden of waking watches, with each household being expected to pay £499 in London, compared with £331 nationally.

At the beginning of the year, the government launched the £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund to cover the cost of installing common alarm systems in high fire risk buildings, removing the need for waking watches. But as of June 16, only 20 grants had been approved in London out of 26 referrals to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Nicola Rudkin is an NHS nurse who has been made to pay for a waking watch after it emerged the flat that she bought last year was in a building with fire safety defects.

She said: “In some ways, you can put the safety aspect at the back of my mind and try and pretend it’s not happening, but the financial aspect is a bit harder to forget about because you can’t not face it. The applications to the Waking Watch Relief Fund seem slow and cumbersome. Our application has been in for a while and we’ve had no information. There’s no way to hold people to account. Meanwhile it’s haemorrhaging out of your pocket.”

The critical care nurse, who got married last year, said she may have to use the money saved for her honeymoon to pay for the waking watch while her building awaits work.

In February, housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced that the government would provide £3.5 billion under its Building Safety Fund to cover the cost of removing dangerous cladding from high-rise buildings.

But the latest figures from MHCLG reveal that, as of May, only 76 grants had been fully approved for privately-owned buildings out of 2,820 applications, with 1,629 applications coming from London alone.

There were 73 claims made by social landlords, of which only 39 were fully approved.

A host of developments across Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs are blighted with dangerous cladding, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer visiting residents of Royal Artillery Quays in Thamesmead earlier this year.

Last week, Greenwich and Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook raised the issue at prime minister’s questions, asking Boris Johnson why the new Building Safety Bill “does little to help the hundreds of thousands of leaseholders who right now face financial ruin as a result of the building safety crisis”.

Johnson said that was “not accurate” and added: “We are continuing to support all those who have to remediate their buildings. We will ensure that all the leaseholders — the people who have suffered from the consequences of the Grenfell conflagration — get the advice and support that they need.”

Additional reporting by Darryl Chamberlain. Updated at 1pm on Wednesday because some of the fire commissioner’s comments were incorrect – not all the 901 buildings have waking watches.

LDRS logoJoe Talora is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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