Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Fire Safety - not much of a priority at Scrutiny yet...

Somewhat slowly Jersey authority is beginning to wake up to the reality that the Kensington Tower Block fire might have serious implications for public safety in this Island.

That the Fire Service has already asked Andium Homes to produce cladding samples from their High Rise flats - in spite of Andium's smug assurances that they are safe - the problem is evidently more far-reaching so far as many other buildings in Jersey are concerned.
The much wider concern is also about staircases, sprinklers, materials, emergency services provision, building regulations and competence of designers and managers of all classes of buildings and so on and I have already asked for a Scrutiny Review to be set up ASAP with wide terms of reference.

Already in the UK schools are being examined and in this Island where  so many buildings - homes, offices, entertainment places - are "crammed" into St Helier the dangers are always present and there have over the years been some major local fire incidents.
 Hotels, lodging houses and "care homes" are particularly vulnerable places and it would tragic if Jersey tried to opt out of the current national and international investigation triggered by the Kensington disaster.

Unfortunately at yesterday's  Scrutiny Panel quarterly review of the Home Affairs Ministry ( 27 June 2017) there was little evidence of any great investigative enthusiasm - although the Kensington fire was raised and briefly discussed.

Sadly this Panel composed of just two Deputies - Mezec and Vallois - was more like a polite TV chat show than a challenging examination of a government and its policies. In fact, although scheduled to run from 2pm until 3.30pm  the Panel (chaired by Dep Mezec) ran out of questions so the hearing ended at 3.10pm.

Nevertheless the Fire Service representative  (I could not hear his name) did reveal that due to cost cutting the Fire Prevention service has already been virtually closed and there is still a 15 months backlog in processing fire certificates by Fire Protection staff in accordance with laws introduced in 2013.

This officer confirmed  that Andium have been asked to produce cladding samples and other classes of buildings were on his agenda but he revealed that extra specialist staff from the UK would need to be brought into Jersey to cope with the anticipated increased work.

The Panel seemed totally unprepared to ask searching questions on this or any other topic on their scripted agenda and mumbled something about trusting  the Minister of Housing because she is charged with upgrading the standards of housing accommodation in Jersey.
Some hopes I thought - but as always it was at times difficult to hear what was being said due to poor diction, acoustics and lack of a sound system.

Even the layout of the proceedings had reverted to the former defective one with the Panel having their backs to the outside wall whilst the witnesses (Minister Moore and team) had their back towards the public. Since the Minster speaks very quietly at the best of times it was often almost impossible to follow what she and her advisers had to contribute.

(The improved layout had been achieved only following complaints from yours truly in the past so a further memo will have to be sent to usual place. It is all very tedious.)


If a comprehensive Scrutiny Review is set up in Jersey  to look at the issues arising from the Kensington fire it will need to be somewhat better briefed and prepared than this rather dismal hearing.
The public will need to be fully involved too and there must be no attempt to brush failings under the carpet - in the Jersey Way - to "protect the Island's reputation".

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