To provide the Scrutiny Board with an update
on current Building Safety legislation and activities undertaken
for the Council’s Housing Stock and other Council owned
The report provided the Scrutiny Board with an update on current Building Safety legislation and activities undertaken for the Council’s Housing Stock and other Council owned buildings.
The Acting Executive Director of Asset Management and Development, SCH introduced the report to the Scrutiny Board. Key highlights brought to the attention of Members included:
- A data strategy.
- Building safety case for all 37 HRRB’s (scheduled for review from April 2024).
- Governance and assurance arrangements.
- Projects planned to further improve the safety of HRRB’s.
A sprinkler installation project currently in progress across the 37 HRRBs has led to better resident engagement, as well as allowing SCH to address some legacy issues in properties with faults. An access rate to properties of approximately 97.5% had been achieved, although it remained the intention to reach 100% of units. The programme had also experienced some significant challenges due to a change in the British Standards requirements where the 2021 standard now require the installation of double size water tanks and the provision of back up generators.
There is a programme of structural surveys that has commenced and will identify any further building safety work required in the housing stock. SCH aim to synchronise this with existing plans to minimise disruption, maximise access and achieve better value for money.
Having received the introduction to the report, Members of the Scrutiny Board raised several related questions, which in summary received the following replies and clarification from Officers present:
Ø The Scrutiny Board queried the scenario whereby a resident was placed in temporary accommodation in a non-SCH property, what were the Council’s responsibilities towards the resident concerned and was it duty bound to ensure the property complied with the new regulations and legislation. Members were advised that it depended on the type of property concerned, but that an assurance check will have been undertaken before placing the resident in the property.
Ø Referencing the SCH Building Safety Implementation Plan, specifically regarding the key headline achievement of ‘easily accessible and transparent safety information being available to all stakeholders’, the Scrutiny Board questioned how this would be achieved. The Acting Executive Director for Asset Management and Development advised that a secure information box would be installed in all 37 HRRB’s and secondly, SCH would write directly to tenants if specific housing or building issues needed to be raised with them. SCH also used social media platforms, tenant newsletters and pop up events as part of their tenant engagement initiatives.
Ø The Scrutiny Board noted that the sprinkler installation programme had provided SCH with the opportunity to engage closely with their tenants generally and questioned whether SCH had any plans to continue such tenant interactions on a wider basis. The Acting Executive Director for Asset Management and Development clarified that SCH had a strong tenant engagement team in place and that the sprinkler installation project had also provided the opportunity to roll out the Engagement Strategy which had led to an award nomination. Tenant engagement initiatives would continue to be delivered beyond the end of the sprinkler implementation programme.
Ø The Scrutiny Board questioned what consequences were there in the case of non-compliance for giving building / property access to facilitate a building safety inspection (for example, properties being used for cannabis farming) and whether there was liaison with the Police if such scenarios occurred. Members were informed that the SCH asset management team worked in partnership with SCH colleagues in Neighbourhood Services, Housing Officers and residents. No example of cannabis farming had been found in Solihull, but any such case would trigger an automatic referral to the Police. Some safeguarding referrals to the Police had taken place following fire safety work taking place in properties and resident engagement.
Ø The Scrutiny Board raised SCH governance processes, stating that it would be desirable to see an annual SCH report addressing fire and building safety matters across the SCH estate, which would be submitted to Cabinet to strengthen accountability for responsible office holders and leadership teams. Members were advised that SCH are included in the Council’s newly formed Building Assurance Board chaired by the Accountable Person and that SCH in addition would be reporting on building safety matters on a quarterly basis to the appropriate Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Housing.
Ø Confirmation was sought as to whether a whistle blowing hot line / arrangements for anonymous reporting of building safety concerns was already in place. The Scrutiny Board was advised that SCH was developing a system of reporting for tenants concerned with any building safety issues, which would be captured by SCH systems and addressed. The Councils updated Whistle Blowing Policy was reported to the Audit Committee on 9th January 2023 and scheduled to go to the Governance Committee on 18th January 2023, which would be shared with SCH. The approved Whistle Blowing Policy would also be shared and accessible via the Council website for public access.
Having considered the report, the Resources and Delivering Value Scrutiny Board:
(i) To note the implications arising from the Fire Safety Act, Building Safety Act and associated legislation.