Told to remove everything from communal hallways

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Tuesday 3 October 2017 6.55pm
Residents have been told to remove everything from communal hallways, even door mats you wipe your feet on before entering your flat. I can understand if there is a lot of stuff on hallways causing obstruction to fire exits but a door mat. On the letter all it has is southwark council with an email address with no phone number. Has anyone else received letters like these. All of our blocks have.
Zoe
Tuesday 3 October 2017 8.40pm
We are all being told to remove items. It's a bit ludicrous, it wasn't door mats that killed people at Grenfell.
Tuesday 3 October 2017 9.42pm
We had a couple of teams of fire officers around on a Sunday just to knock on peoples doors, reassure them and all that. Not all of them were on the same page however. Some said our gates had to come off as we had new 'security' doors following major works a couple of years back. Well, we had new doors but they are not security doors. Others said we could not have door mats in case of fire.

In our block, one side of Nelson Square, news travels fast. We had a well intentioned team knock at ours to say the gate had to come off, but previous fire officers had told us [and other people in the block] that they could break the locks on our gate in under a minute. And when asked how many fires in blocks had the well intentioned fire officer attended that involved door mats on fire, the answer was just one which was about 8 years ago.

We were subsequently visited by a more senior fire officer and when told why we had no desire to lose our gate, due to an anti social neighbour who has tried to push her way into our flat on a couple of occasions, and that the key was kept on a key ring with a small torch, in reach, in case of fire, he indicated that perhaps this should be decided on a case by case. He too was slightly puzzled that we had been told no door mats.

We've had a few fires in our flats over the years but our block is brick, mortar and concrete and fires have been contained.
Tuesday 3 October 2017 11.51pm
Southwark has made a 'one fits all' decision on fire prevention enforcement.

This is what I received from them:

"You, like many of our tenants have been responsible in the way you manage items in the communal areas. The items you mention are not combustible and they are probably not a trip hazard. You (like many individuals) have attempted to make the area look nicer and in years gone you may have been helped by Southwark Council to do this.

There are two approaches that a housing provider can take in the common areas (escape routes) and they are;

1. Zero Tolerance This is an approach where residents are not permitted to use the common areas to dispose or store their personal belongings or rubbish. No exceptions apply and this ensures that that the common areas are effectively sterile

2. The benefits of this approach are:

It is simple to adopt
It reduces the risk of accidental fire or arson
There is no ambiguity
It allows for more effective management, particularly considering the size and complexity of our stock.
The LFB prefer this approach
It makes risk assessment easier
It reduces the liability of Southwark Council and is line with the Tenancy Agreement.

3. The disadvantages are:

No room for discretion for example plant pots, window boxes and so may be disproportionate to the risk
May penalise those residents caring for and improving their immediate environment
It may involve mixed messages the Council has held competitions for best flat in bloom, has installed gates across walkways
It will not be popular with residents and will require a lengthy and consistent marketing campaign to reinforce the risk from accidental fire and arson alongside enforcement activity.

4. Managed Approach This approach involves the publication of clear guidance to residents and staff which clearly defines what can be kept in which common parts. This could allow for:

Potted plants
Door mats

But not:
Petrol engines (scooters etc)
Mobility Scooters
Large obstructions

5. The benefits of such an approach include:

It allows for the varied design, shape and size of our common balconies and walkways
It can foster a sense of pride and ownership amongst residents
It may deter anti-social behaviour

6. The disadvantages include

It will require a detailed set of guidance and consistent application of those with a clearly defined policy statement.
There is scope for ambiguity
It increases the risk of accidental fire or arson
It may promote anti-social behaviour

I was employed here two years ago following thirty years in the fire service and I have attempted to maintain a managed approach in that time but it has failed hugely due to a large growing minority of people that have completely abused the system and taken a huge amount of time from the Housing Officers who have tried to make those people comply..

The recent tragic events at Grenfell have completely changed the landscape and the enforcing authority (London Fire Brigade) and us at the Fire Safety Team are taking a zero tolerance approach to all items in the escape routes to ensure that there is a consistent approach across our stock. We are also making sure that tenants keep their private balconies to a manageable level with limits placed on what can be stored there too. This is not the only thing we are doing as we are now undertaking intrusive and destructive surveys in the escape routes and within peoples homes to ensure we have effective separation throughout the building.

My remit is solely to keep people safe and as I have no budget this gives me the ability to ask for whatever I want. I completely understand the reasons for plants because it makes the place look homely but I have to think of everyone now and having experienced a large number of fires in our common areas both in the fire service and here I will no longer accept residents being put in danger by a significant number of people who just do not want to comply.

Again, my apologies to you and the people who have tried to comply in the past.

Kind regards"


I personally find this a very high handed approach, and feel that each block/property should be individually assessed so that a tailor made solution can be devised.
Wednesday 4 October 2017 1.57pm
You either have a policy or you don't. I think it is perfectly reasonable to demand tenants in any building, be it council, private, residential or commercial, do not put anything in areas that are not theirs to put things in and are communal escape routes that should be sterile in terms of flammable content. The idea there should be a tailored solution to each block is absurd.
Wednesday 4 October 2017 3.36pm
After what happened at Grenfell I can understand the council's position. It must be hard to police whether each and every item in the corridor is suitable and probably zero tolerance is the only way they can handle it.

"We were subsequently visited by a more senior fire officer and when told why we had no desire to lose our gate, due to an anti social neighbour who has tried to push her way into our flat on a couple of occasions, and that the key was kept on a key ring with a small torch, in reach, in case of fire, he indicated that perhaps this should be decided on a case by case. He too was slightly puzzled that we had been told no door mats."

I can't honestly believe that the fire officers will allow locked gates in front of doors. In the worst case scenario seconds could make the difference. The council should deal with the anti-social neighbour so you don't need a security gate.
Wednesday 4 October 2017 4.13pm
We had letters about 18 months ago to keep communal areas clear. Door mats are seen as hazard should you trip over them escaping in an emergency.
Wednesday 4 October 2017 5.36pm
On Setchell Estate some of the leaseholders have not received one of these letters but others have. The letters are extremely confrontational in tone and demands that all fire exits are kept free of plant pots, door grills , outdoor garden furniture and combustable material.
We are told in the letter that we face a removal charge of 30-60 per item if the council have to remove items!
I have written to our housing officer and informed her that I will treat any items taken as stolen goods and report the issue to the local police.
Wednesday 4 October 2017 7.29pm
Pops wrote:
We had letters about 18 months ago to keep communal areas clear. Door mats are seen as hazard should you trip over them escaping in an emergency.

That actually makes some sense.

To be honest, residential is just matching commercial buildings in how serious they take the threat of fire and evacuation, I think it's about time.
Thursday 5 October 2017 1.28pm
They also sent us a similar letter 9 months ago although our building has about 30 residents and only 2 walkways. Although I am at the end of the walkway, they asked me to remove a small unlocked gate that has been there for over 25 years, plants and bicycles that in no way prevent access to my front door, the last one on the walkway... I am pretty pissed off too... I can understand a policy for high rise buildings but not smaller blocks. What annoys me is that they say that walkways have to be free of clutter BUT they ask us to put the recycling bags in front of each door overnight every week for their recycling team to collect. As if that is is not clutter, blocking access, and attracting vermin and potential arson... When it suits them, their fire policy is flexible...
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