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In November 2020, a supplement to the UK government’s Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings was published advising professional judgement to be made regarding the safety of external wall system on high rise blocks where combustible materials other than cladding have been used; to determine whether replacement is required.

To assist experts with assessing the external walls, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) issued guidance in March 2021 detailing the types of external wall systems (EWS) other than cladding (an EWS1 form) and the circumstances where an EWS1 form is needed – more specifically in circumstances where a building is over 18m and:

  • There is cladding or curtain wall glazing on the building or;
  • There are balconies which stack vertically above each other and either both the balustrades and decking are constructed with combustible materials (e.g. timber) or the decking is constructed with combustible materials and the balconies are directly linked by combustible material.

Although our five high rise blocks (High Croft, High Plash, The Towers, Harrow Court and Brent Court) do not have cladding or balconies, they require an EWS1 form because the insulated infill panels (below the windows) are stacked vertically.

What is an external wall system (EWS)?

The external wall system is made up of the outside wall of a residential building. At the high rise blocks that we own the EWS is the infill panels under the windows.

What is the EWS1 process/ form?

The EWS1 is a process, and has a form. It is a set way for a building owner (the council) to confirm that an external wall system on residential buildings has been assessed for safety by a suitable expert, in line with government guidance.

Does the council have an EWS1 form for each of its high rise blocks?

We have assessed the EWS however to complete the EWS form evidence needs to be gathered to determine the most appropriate action for the EWS. In such instances intrusive tests are required, alongside a more detailed review by a professional of a higher level of expertise.

Are the council going to carry out further tests on the EWS?

Testing the EWS will take around six months to do and there is a risk that the outcome may still not tell us what appropriate action to take. What we will do is continue to deliver our remedial plan of work to the high rise blocks and complete the EWS form as the programme of work progresses.

What work is the council going to do to its high rise blocks?

We will continue with our programme to install sprinklers in all flats. Sprinklers will significantly reduce a fire within the flat and prevent it from affecting the EWS.

We will bring forward our programme of external refurbishment to remove the EWS and replace the windows/ window infill panels.

Why is the council introducing temporary patrols?

We have worked with the fire service and followed the most appropriate guidance. This advised us that whilst we wait for the sprinkler to be installed, we should ask residents to follow a simultaneous evacuation strategy. The patrols are there to help provide early warning to residents so that they can leave the building quickly and safely. Your safety is our main priority.

Is the building safe?

Buildings always carry some risk. The most important thing is that residents act safely in their homes to keep risk to a minimum. Please keep landings clear and ensure you and your family are familiar with the new simultaneous evacuation procedure.

I need help to evacuate the building

Part of us moving to a simultaneous evacuation is assessing vulnerable residents needs. If you are known to us, we will contact you to us to discuss a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP). Please contact the fire safety team if you have not been contacted but would like to discuss any concerns you have about evacuating the building.

How does the EWS1 form factor into the buying, selling or re-mortgaging of a flat/ apartment?

It is used to determine if remediation costs affect value. Where a building is found to need remedial works this will need to be carried out by the council. Leaseholders are not being charged for fire safety improvements however may still need to contribute towards other improvements such as replacing windows and doors.

What happens if my lender requests a copy of the EWS assessment?

Lenders can contact the council using the contact details below to request information about the EWS. Once the EWS1 form is complete this will be available to lenders on request.

What is the timeline to complete the remedial work?

The sprinkler system is starting in July 2021 and will run for 9 months. It will begin at Harrow and Brent Court, followed closely by The Towers, High Croft and High Plash. Subject to access, it will take approximately two months to complete the work at each block.

Replacing the infill panels will take longer because the panels will be subject to design and planning conditions.

We will provide residents with further updates on the timeline for replacing the infill panels once we have a detailed programme in place.

Who do I speak to if I have any queries about the EWS?

Our fire safety team, Jamie Norman and Abbie Notley will be happy to help you with any queries. Please contact us using the details below.

Will I have to pay for this?

There will no charge to any residents for this work.

When will sprinklers be installed?

The sprinkler programme will start in July and includes other improvements such as an electrical test and smoke and heat detection where required. Our contract Mulalley will contact you before the work starts to talk to you about what assistance they provide.

Proposed Sprinkler Timeline

Address Start Finish
Harrow Court July 2021 September 2021
Brent Court September 2021 November 2021
High Plash October 2021 December 2021
Highcroft November 2021 January 2022
The Towers January 2022 February 2022

What will the sprinklers look like?

The sprinkler pipework will be at high level and in a white boxing which blends into the ceiling line. There will be 2 sprinklers in each room apart from the bathroom. The work should take 1-2 days to complete in each flat.

Mullaley employee fitting a sprinkler

Are sprinklers a requirement

Not all buildings have to have sprinklers however SBC require access to all flats to complete this work. Sprinkler will protect everyone in the building including many high risk groups such as young, old, people with specialist needs and even pets.

Who do I speak to about the sprinklers?

If you have any questions about the work you can contact Mulalley’s Residents Liaison Officer (RLO) Karen Halford on 07940 063545 or Sandra Cooke on 07501 061532.

Fire Safety team

fire.safety@stevenage.gov.uk

01438 242242