The Greater Manchester High Rise and Building Safety Task Force was set up in 2018. It provides a formal structure for joint working on fire risk in high-rise residential buildings between Greater Manchester’s 10 councils and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS).
The task force coordinates activity to ensure that buildings comply with fire safety regulations and that residents across the city region can feel safe in their homes.
The task force was established in May 2018 (then called the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force) by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. It meets regularly, currently every six weeks, to oversee and coordinate the response to fire risk in high-rise residential buildings. There is also a quarterly residents’ forum. The task force is presently chaired by Paul Dennett, City Mayor of Salford and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) Lead on Housing and Homelessness.
The purpose of the task force is threefold: to oversee the response across Greater Manchester; to coordinate activity towards prevention of dangerous fires in high-rise residential buildings; and to ensure that the emergency services are prepared to respond in the event of a large-scale incident.
As well as representatives from Greater Manchester’s 10 councils and GMFRS, membership includes social housing providers, managing agent representatives, the civil contingencies unit, Electricity North West and representatives from the NHS, public health and local universities.
The task force’s work includes:
- overseeing inspection activity, ensuring consistency of response across the city region
- civil contingencies workshops for every borough
- responding to government activity, including lobbying for funding
- maintaining standards and minimising costs through a procurement framework
- engaging with residents – reassurance activity, advice and public meetings
- engaging with landlords around good practice.
All high-rise residential blocks in the city region were audited or inspected following the Grenfell Tower fire, with full audits of more than 500 buildings. Action plans were issued where appropriate for the housing provider/managing agent to review and update the fire risk assessment and identify any cladding materials present.
The task force works with housing providers and managing agents on implementing interim measures where necessary, and helps to minimise costs – for example utilising a procurement framework for fire alarms and retrospective installation of sprinklers. A risk prioritisation tool has been developed to assist in prioritising buildings for investigation and action.
Rob Turner, Strategic Service Manager for Regulatory Services at Salford City Council, said the task force had been invaluable in allowing Salford to understand DLUHC’s strategic priorities around high rise cladding and to set up in-house governance arrangements. “The task force also allows clear lines of communication to be established between central government, Greater Manchester local authorities, private high-rise building owners, registered providers and GMFRS.”
A residents’ survey was conducted in 2019 to support the task force’s work: 172 residents responded from 95 buildings. This provided a clear evidence base of the issues and concerns they faced. Among other findings, it revealed that:
- 65 per cent were concerned about having a fire in their home
- 30 per cent rarely or never tested their smoke alarms
- 33 per cent did not know the evacuation strategy for their building
- almost 20 per cent said they would not be able to evacuate safely, and 20 per cent were not sure.
Inspection and enforcement
Enforcement is viewed as a last resort. There is a focus on ensuring that immediate action is taken to mitigate risk where necessary, with longer-term strategies also put in place. Dozens of buildings have been subject to interim measures across Greater Manchester since 2018. Interim measures are monitored to ensure they are robustly managed.
Support and reassurance for residents during remediation works is a priority. Representatives from the council or GMFRS may attend residents’ meetings and will respond to any concerns or complaints. Once work on a building has been completed, the task force provides written confirmation for landlords to share with residents, reassuring them that the building is safe.
Where interim measures have not proven sufficient or effective, formal enforcement action is taken. Eight blocks of flats had been subject to GMFRS Prohibition Notices between 2017 and 2022 (three high-rise and five non-high-rise). In all of these instances, GMFRS and the relevant council worked together to serve notices on every owner, along with providing information to affected residents on housing options.
- one purpose-built block (only nine flats occupied) – immediate effect
- four conversions – date specified in the notice.
- 22 flats in one block (mostly occupied) – date specified in the notice
- all of one block (32 occupied flats) – date specified in the notice
- all empty flats in one block – immediate effect, with interim measures agreed to reduce risk in occupied flats.
Future plans for the Greater Manchester High Rise and Building Safety Task Force include broadening its scope:
- expanding the scope of buildings inspected
- developing further guidance and support for responsible persons
- providing consistent advice to developers
- reviewing existing approaches
- refreshing fire safety advice.
Enforcement example: GMFRS and Salford City Council
This historic four-storey building in Salford had been converted into 53 privately-owned flats, most of which were rented out. Compartmentation issues were identified and a ‘waking watch’ implemented, costing around £150,000 over 12 months. The managing agent notified GMFRS that funding would run out at the end of October 2019, so the only option was for GMFRS to issue a Prohibition Notice.
GMFRS liaised with Salford City Council to provide advice on housing options for residents and to serve notices on the freeholder, resident management company, managing agent and flat owners. A meeting for owners and occupiers was arranged.
Salford’s Rob Turner said: “The use of a Prohibition Order has enabled the building owner to commence substantial refurbishment works to remedy the fire safety defects. This work is ongoing and being monitored by Building Control. Upon satisfactory completion of the works, the fire service will be able to revoke the Prohibition Order to allow the safe reoccupation of the residential flats.”
- Communication is key when working together, along with an understanding of each other’s roles.
- Set out the expectations and potential challenges from the partnership and focus on the common goals.
- Collaborate when there is change, for example in national policy or procedures: how can you make the changes work?
- Be proactive in making the partnership work and develop.
Rob Turner, Strategic Service Manager – Regulatory Services, Salford City Council: [email protected]