FIGURES FROM a freedom of information request have found that over 420 buildings across England are protected by waking watches, with over 300 fires occurring in these since June 2017.
Inside Housing reported on its investigation into the use of waking watches nationwide since the Grenfell Tower fire, with the data showing that over 420 buildings across England currently have waking watches due to ‘serious fire safety issues’, but also that ‘more than’ 300 fires have been recorded as taking place in these buildings in the nearly three years since the Grenfell Tower fire.
The news outlet said that the figures ‘underscore the scale of the country’s building safety crisis and how close we have come to a repeat’ of the Grenfell Tower fire, also linking this to the NFCC’s recent warnings over waking watch provenance amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The data was collated from responses from 40 of the UK’s 50 fire authorities, with London having 289 or 68% of the affected buildings, and London Fire Brigade having responded to 263 fires in these since Grenfell.
While waking watches are supposed to be temporary measures, the data found that some have been in place ‘for years in many places’, and some ‘right back to June 2017’, with concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic ‘could extend their use, with work to remove cladding and install fire alarms delayed’. The ‘huge cost’ to the taxpayer of providing them was also laid out, with 34 councils spending a total of £29.4m on waking watches at 134 buildings ‘over varying timescales’.
Additionally, the largest bill was £10.2m paid by Camden Council for cover at nine high rises from June 2017 to December 2019, with Inside Housing pointing out that the costs for privately owned buildings are being met by leaseholders ‘on top of bills to remove the cladding and soaring insurance premiums’.
Lord Gary Porter, building safety spokesperson for the Local Government Association, commented: ‘Waking watch services are not a long-term solution to protect residents in dangerous buildings, but a short-term solution until dangerous cladding can be removed. The current coronavirus pandemic poses a serious challenge to remediation works but the government has been clear that it wants this work to go ahead and we support that, subject to appropriate health and safety advice.’