Fire safety in housing blocks in Brent

Following the tragedy in Grenfell, residents are rightfully concerned about fire safety, particularly in blocks of flats.

Brent has been in regular contact with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) to offer assistance.

So far Brent has provided staff to assist RBKC at their Borough Emergency Control Centre at Kensington Town Hall. Our local authority liaison officers and rest centre managers are also on standby and are ready to respond should they be required. We have also offered our employee assistance programme to London Fire Brigade staff to help support them through personal mental health issues they will inevitably be experiencing following the tragedy.

As part of the recovery operation we have asked whether housing in Brent with be required by Grenfell Tower residents. We understand that RBKC’s strong preference is to rehouse Grenfell Tower residents within their borough wherever possible but have said they will be in touch with us next week to discuss this further.

The support from people across London in donating clothes and essentials has been fantastic and RBKC have now advised us that the best way to support those affected is through financial donations rather than goods. The details for the website which has been set up have been promoted by us locally and further details are here LINK

The Leader has also made a statement about fire safety which is available here LINK

A ‘Talkback’ event was held with tenants and leaseholders on Wednesday evening (June 14) where officers from BHP and the council were also able to directly answer questions from tenants and leaseholders about fire safety.

Understandably, some Brent residents living in high rise blocks have been contacting BHP and the Council for information and reassurance regarding their homes. BHP has been responding to these queries and information is available on the BHP website. Any members who have specific questions from themselves or from residents should email them tobhp.compliance@bhphousing.co.uk who will respond as soon as possible.

The facts in Brent are:

– We have 37 high-rise (5 storeys or more) blocks in Brent, all of which are 100% fire risk assessment compliant.

– We have never directly used Rydon Limited or Harley Facades Limited, the contractors who worked on Grenfell Tower. We do not yet know about other registered providers and we are seeking this information from them.

– Since the incident began the Compliance and Risk team at Brent Housing Partnership have been responding to questions about fire management policies and processes and the steps that have been taken over recent years to reduce the risk of fires in council run blocks.

– More than £10million has been spent over the past 4 years on measures to reduce the risk of fires in council run properties.

Estate inspectors and compliance experts have been mobilised to provide additional re-checks of communal areas and exit routes to remove any remaining rubbish, bicycles and other hazards which could hinder access and exit in an emergency. They are also doing extra checks of the blocks with cladding to ensure all remedial works, which form part of business as usual, are actioned as a priority, ahead of the prescribed schedule.

Finally, it was announced yesterday (June 15) that there will be a full public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire to get a full understanding of went so wrong and how similar tragedies can be prevented in the future.

The Government has also announced an emergency review into fire safety in tower blocks. Once the findings are known we will of-course review and, if needed, amend our fire management processes and strategy accordingly.

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Brent Benefit Cap information event

Monday, 7th November, 1 – 3pm (Lunch from 1pm)

Harlesden Hub, Tavistock Hall, 25 High Street, London NW10 4NE

Event outline

  1. Introduction to Welfare Reform and Benefit Cap by Brent Counci
  1. Who will be affected in Brent
  1. Support available to residents and Benefit Changes Toolkit
  1. Question & Answer session

Who should attend?

  • Anyone who has questions and wants to find out more about the forthcoming benefit cap changes (residents, support workers, community organisations).
  • Anyone worried that they might be affected
  • Anyone who has already received notification and needs more info and support
  • Anyone who wants to learn about Brent’s Benefit Cap changes Toolkit

Why Crisis Brent is holding this event?

Crisis Brent are concerned that many of our clients, their families and friends and many in the community as a whole are still not fully aware of how the new benefit cap changes may affect them and their housing. We have liaised with the council to hold an information session in Harlesden to ensure the proposed changes reach local people.

Landlord Fair at the Brent Civic Centre – Tuesday 19th January 5pm to 8.30pm

Landlords, prospective landlords and property agents are being invited to the Brent and Genesis Landlord Fair which will be held at Brent Civic Centre on Tuesday 19 January 2016 between 5pm-8:30pm.

The event will include free seminars and an opportunity to discuss landlord issues with various representatives from Gas Safe, the National Landlords Association and housing benefit and procurement teams.

The event is free to attend and light refreshments will be provided. Attendees are asked to complete the registration process by visiting https://brentandgenesis.eventbrite.co.uk or email landlord.event@brent.gov.uk for more information.

Calling on Dudden Hill residents to get involved with landlord licensing focus groups

The council is specifically looking for Dudden Hill residents to take part in a focus group on landlord licensing proposals. I have earlier blogged on this issue before LINK

We are looking for 12 -20 people to take part a face-to face focus group for Dudden Hill ward.

There is currently some information and the online consultation on the Council’s website too – LINK

If you would like to participate, contact Bola Olatunde on bola.olatunde@brent.gov.uk

Dudden Hill to be considered to pilot selected license landlord scheme

Plans for selective licensing for properties in Brent have been revised to consider the inclusion of Dudden Hill Ward and Mapesbury Ward. Original plans suggested Wembley Central, Harlesden and Willesden Green for piloting.

As part of Tuesday night’s decision, additional licensing will be rolled out across the entire borough.

Currently, all local authorities are obliged to run a licensing scheme covering Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) that have three or more storeys and are occupied by five or more people. A scheme has been in operation in Brent since 2006.

We will roll out additional licensing in the whole Borough from 1st January 2015. This will cover HMOs not covered by mandatory licensing; defined as properties containing 3 or more separate households in a property of no more than 2 floors.

The third type of license is selective licensing and that will focus on improving the management of privately rented properties accommodating single households as well as HMOs. This is for consultation in the five wards mentioned above.

There is now more private rented housing in Brent than Council Social Housing. It is a highly unregulated market which is causing problems of anti-social behaviour in Brent. Especially in relation to fly-tipping, street drinking and poor upkeep of properties. It really leads to eyesores to many quiet residential roads.

The scheme was attacked by Lib Dem Councillors on the night who showed themselves to be on the wrong side of the argument on this issue. They have failed to grasp the issues in Brent revolving around the private rented sector.

Many of the flytipping issues and waste from overflowing bins can be attributed to private rented properties and rogue landlords. The Brent Labour Group is the only party hat is addressing the root cause of the problem. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have gained a notorious reputation of blaming Labour cuts to streetcare for fly tipping from individuals (quite ironic after their party are cutting Council funding around the country by 50% in some cases).

They then go on to blame the Council as if it is the Council that is physically putting the rubbish out on the streets. With this sort of attitude, they will always lack the ideas, creativity and energy needed to make fundamental long term changes that we need.

It is a massive innovative step in the right direction to drive up standards for all residents and tackle issues of anti-social behaviour.

EXCLUSIVE: The Government cut Discretionary Housing Payments in the 2012 Autumn Statement

The Ministerial statement and widely reported U-turn on the Bedroom Tax does nothing to alleviate concern about the impact of the Bedroom Tax on disabled people.

Couples where one individual has to sleep in a hospital bed and the couple cannot share a room will be penalised for having an “extra” bedroom.

The bedroom tax, due to be implemented in April, will penalise households in social housing deemed to have more bedrooms than they require. About 670,000 households will face a 14% cut in housing benefit for the first bedroom deemed surplus to requirements and 25% for two or more bedrooms. The government estimates the average household affected will lose £14 a week (Source: Guardian).

The Government seems to say that everything is fine because disabled people will be able to apply for discretionary housing payment from their local council and any shortfalls will be addressed – everything is hunky dory. WRONG!

On Page 68 of the 2012 Autumn Statement, the Government makes a positive move to exempt people in supported accommodation from the bedroom tax but they pay for it using money allocated for Discretionary Housing Payments!

DHP Cut in 2012 Autumn Statement

That’s a £15 million reduction in Discretionary Housing Payments up to 2017 and front loaded so that £10 million is taken out in the first two years!!!

However, DHP is a funding pot that people have to apply for every year, it is non-statutory and if it runs out, that is it. Reducing it is concerning and makes the future uncertain for disabled people.

Sarah Teather may have been absent for the Welfare Reform Bill vote, but her voting record on the Lords’ amendments tells a different story

Much has been made about Sarah Teather’s now public opposition against the Government’s flagship Welfare Reforms. It featured prominently in the Guardian as a lead story over the weekend where she claimed that what the Government, which she was a part of, was immoral and divisive – LINK.

When it came to the vote for the Welfare Reform Bill, the Brent Central MP was a notable absentee. However, her voting record on the amendments from the Lords paints a different picture.

She voted loyally with her Tory Liberal pals on the Welfare Reform Bill Clause 11 about Housing costs – LINK

3B Page 5, line 21, at end insert—

In relation to a dwelling of which the landlord is a local housing authority or a registered provider of social housing, and no suitable alternative accommodation (as defined in regulations to be made under this section, and provided by any such provider) is available, regulations under this section shall not permit the housing cost element of the universal credit to be less than the actual amount of the liability in a case where a household has no more than one spare bedroom, and—

(a) the claimant is subject to no work related requirements in accordance with the provisions of section 19;

(b) the claimant, or a child or a young person for whom either or both the claimants is responsible, is in receipt of disability living allowance, or personal independence payment, or attendance allowance or an increase of disablement pension where constant attendance is required; or

(c) the claimant is a war widow or widower; or

(d) the claimant routinely provides foster care placements.

(3B) In subsection (3A), “claimant” means a single claimant or joint claimant.””

Clause 68

26B Page 52, line 36, at end insert—

“( ) In relation to a dwelling of which the landlord is a local housing authority or a registered provider of social housing, and no suitable alternative accommodation (as defined in regulations to be made under this section, and provided by any such provider) is available, regulations under this Welfare Reform Bill 3 section shall not permit the AMHB to be less than the actual amount of the liability in a case where a household has no more than one spare bedroom, and—

(a) the claimant is subject to no work-related requirements in accordance with the provisions of section 11D of the Welfare Reform Act 2007;

(b) the claimant, their partner or a child or a young person for whom the claimant (or their partner) is responsible, is in receipt of disability living allowance, or personal independence payment, or attendance allowance or an increase of disablement pension where constant attendance is required;

(c) the claimant is a war widow or widower; or

(d) the claimant or their partner routinely provides foster care placements.”

Lords Amendment 3B and 26B that was voted down by Sarah Teather

In short, disabled people who have had their properties adapted or live in accessible accommodation face the prospect of being penalised for having an extra room. This will have a detrimental impact on people who have had their own property made accessible for their individual needs and could lead to people having to move and make their new property accessible! In addition, people who are wheelchair users and may need the extra room for storing equipment such as mobility scooters and standing frames also will be adversely affected by this Government’s damaging policy. This Lords amendment on the Welfare Reform Bill, which Sarah Teather voted down would have protected the most vulnerable in our society from what is being called the ‘Bedroom Tax.’

On reading the New Clause 2 on Childcare (Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2)) she voted loyally with Government (LINK) She voted with Government on (Programme) (No. 2) Schedule 1 Universal credit: supplementary regulation-making powers (LINK) and also on (Programme) (No. 2) on Financial conditions (LINK)

Sarah Teather may have been absent for the Welfare Reform Bill vote, but her voting record on clauses and amendments tells a different story. To coin a phrase that London Assembly Member Tom Copley used, Teather’s crocodile tears on the Government’s welfare reforms is pure Lib-Demmery at its worst.

Cllr Hirani sends comments on Queensbury Pub development calling on the planning application to be rejected

Last night, I submitted an official letter to the planning department at Brent Council on the Queensbury pub development. This was part of my submission to consider as evidence for the planning decision on whether to approve or reject plans brought forward to the Council’s planning department.

I understand concerns in the local community about this pub. The pub is outside of my ward, but I know that it is important to many who live in the ward. I do agree that it is one of the more decent establishments of its kind in the local area. I was personally unaware of the activity for children being run at the Queensbury but from a weblink supplied by a constituent, it does appear that a lot of positive activity does happen – LINK.

I must admit, I am not aware of the legal detail of the transaction and whether or not the developers actually now legally own the site now.

It is a complicated situation as for something like this to happen, obviously some legal agreement and transaction may have already taken place between developers and the pub. Therefore, the situation as it is, means that the pub site may now be in actual ownership of a housing developer. This makes it difficult to continue the building as the much loved pub that it is today. This is unless the housing developer wants to run it as a pub rather than develop the site it seeks to or already has acquired.

I’m unsure and not very optimistic that a housing developer would want to go into the business of running pubs.

Nonetheless, I have objected to the plan as proposed currently on separate grounds because of the lack of consideration shown to disabled people in the plans. For me, the development does not supply enough wheelchair accessible housing and I have written to the planning department at Brent Council regarding this proposal to consider my evidence with view to rejecting the planning proposal.

A copy of my response can be found here Link – Page 1of2 and Link – Page 2of2

Councils across the political divide call on the Government to drop its planning proposals

Councils of different political make ups are criticising the Government and calling on them to drop their planning relaxation proposals.

BBC Article – LINK

The BBC article mentions concerns of unsightly developments and neighbourly disputes. In addition, another issue is that we already have in London Boroughs, problems of landlords building what is known as ‘beds in sheds’. ‘Building’ bedrooms in properties at the back of houses in garages.

I have seen this in reality, when last year, during a walkabout with my Safer Neighbourhood Team in my ward, we found a woman living in appalling conditions in a converted garage on Denzil Road. What is worse is that she had a tenancy agreement from a local estate agent suggesting that they are complicit in this practise.

There is a danger that the Government’s proposals will encourage this behaviour and make things worse.