The boss of London Fire Brigade has said it is “extremely concerning” that more than 1,000 residential buildings in the capital still have serious fire safety failings almost five years after Grenfell.
LFB Commissioner Andy Roe welcomed new Government legislation based on recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, but said more needs to be done to tackle dangerous structures and ensure residents know how to escape in the event of a fire.
He also warned rogue property owners the brigade will crack down on them “as soon as possible” under new powers granted in the Fire Safety Act 2021, which came into force this week.
This comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on Wednesday that a new Fire Reform White Paper will incorporate more recommendations from Phase 1 of the inquiry into the blaze at Grenfell which killed 72 people on June 14, 2017.
Mr Roe said: “We have already warned London’s building owners and managers that this was coming and we will use these new powers if they aren’t meeting their legal responsibilities.
“So we are again reiterating our calls that they need to take urgent action to fix their buildings if there are serious failings.
“We will be working with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and Government to look at how we can best move forward in a way that is consistent across the country and enables us to enforce as quickly as possible against those who continue to drag their feet.
It’s vitally important that people feel safe in their own homes
“We still need to see a culture change in the industry when it comes to fire safety in residential buildings.
“It is extremely concerning that the number of buildings with serious fire safety failings has been at more than 1,000 for almost a year.
“We must never forget what has brought us to this day and that is the 72 people who died at the Grenfell Tower fire and all those affected.
“They remain in our thoughts.”
Mr Roe also urged the Government to prioritise the outlining of evacuation plans for buildings so that residents know what to do in the event of a fire.
“It’s vitally important that people feel safe in their own homes and have certainty about how to leave their building in the event of a fire or other emergency,” he said.
“Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) were a key recommendation from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and we want to work with Government, communities and other partners to make progress on evacuation plans.”
The Government’s new White Paper outlines plans to transfer fire governance to an elected individual who will oversee chief fire officers.
It also aims to “improve the professionalism of the fire and rescue service through modern workforce practices” and “potentially” establish a College of Fire and Rescue, the Home Office said.
Ms Patel described the proposed legislation as “transformative” for the training of firefighters.
She said: “The Government’s priority is keeping the public safe and the reforms we’ve set out today will strengthen and support our hard-working fire and rescue services.
“The White Paper will be transformative in how firefighters are trained and will enable fire and rescue services to build on their strengths and leadership.
“The Grenfell tragedy must never happen again and we are continuing to drive forward progress on putting the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations into law.”
During a visit to Old Kent Road Fire Station to coincide with the announcement, she said London was “scarred” by the tragedy.
“I think, you know, not there’s no doubt London has been scarred by that. I think the London fire service has been as well, look at the inquiries that have ensued and been undertaken. Just look at the learnings that have come out of that and the sheer trauma, the sheer trauma for families as well,” she said.
“We have to be very respectful and reflective of that, we really do. But what I would say is that it is vitally important that the service never stands still, and that the service learns constantly.
“The Fire Reform White Paper, certainly looks at all the learnings, all the recommendations and it’s how we can do better and be better to protect the public, not just in London, but across the country.”
Minister of State for Building Safety and Fire Sir Stephen Greenhlagh, who joined her on the visit, said “nothing is going to comfort” the victims of Grenfell but the White Paper was ” driving and improving the leadership and professionalism of our fire and rescue service that fell short on the night.”
The plans also include a 10-week public consultation where ministers will listen to people’s views before finalising a reform programme.
Mark Hardingham, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, welcomed the reform and said his organisation will “carefully consider the paper and respond to the consultation”.