Joint statement from East Sussex Fire & Rescue and Brighton & Hove City Council
Knoll House has been under the management of Oaksure Property Services which runs a temporary guardianship scheme at site.
Following several visits, the council’s health and safety team raised serious concerns with Oaksure about fire safety at the property.
In the context of the terrible Grenfell fire tragedy and a major fire in recent years at a low-rise residential block in the city, we take such concerns extremely seriously.
In July a potential closure of the guardianship scheme due to the fire safety issues was avoided after the city council took part in intensive discussions and an agreement was reached between the council and Oaksure that would see Oaksure continue to accommodate the guardians.
It was hoped Oaksure would take the urgent action needed to fulfil their responsibilities and obligations to the guardians regarding vital issues such as fire prevention and safe evacuation of the building.
Guardians were also advised on how their occupation of the building needed to be adequately and safely self-managed.
However, following a council inspection at the property this week, the council was very disappointed that the actions required to make it safe accomodation have still not been carried out.
Fire safety risks which could lead to loss of life or serious injury, are something which the city council cannot tolerate.
For that reason, the council terminated the contract with Oaksure on Friday 19 August and gave notice that the building must be vacated.
In light of the learning from the Grenfell tragedy, we cannot afford to take risks with people’s lives, and sadly difficult decisions are sometimes needed to do just that.
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service also inspected the property on Friday 19 August and found that:
- The fire safety management was generally poor.
- Insufficient information and training provided to the waking watch employed by Oaksure. They were unaware of the evacuation procedures and could not identify the assembly point although clearly marked.
- Insufficient information and training provided to the head guardians with a responsibility for fire safety.
- Incorrect information relating to the occupied rooms and storage cupboards marked up as occupied which could cause delays to crews in the event of an emergency.
- Insufficient information provided in the grab bags.
- Fire extinguishers provided were out of date.
For that reason, East Sussex Fire and Rescue believes that in the event of an emergency there would be a significant risk to life due to the inadequate emergency procedures and suitably competent persons to carry them out.
The live-in guardians are contracted by Oaksure. They are not council tenants and do not pay rent to the council.
Council housing staff are providing advice and assistance to the guardians including providing temporary accommodation over the weekend should it be needed.
The council remains very sympathetic to the concerns the guardians have about their future accommodation and where possible will help.
The council will keep all belongings safe and secure in the building, and the former guardians will be able to gain access to collect them.
Further to approval last year, the building will be demolished to make way for an acquired brain injury facility which is an extremely important project for the city.
The council will be reviewing the use of guardianship schemes in future.