Portsmouth's new housing director apologises after report revealed fire safety concerns

An audit report from last December highlight deficits in terms of fire safety risk assessments of Portsmouth tower blocks last Friday
An audit report from last December highlight deficits in terms of fire safety risk assessments of Portsmouth tower blocks last Friday
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THE new man in charge of Portsmouth's housing has apologised after figures revealed half of the city's tower blocks were missing or did not have valid fire risk assessments (FRA) just months before the Grenfell Tower blaze.

James Hill, the interim director of property and housing on Portsmouth City Council explained that 'multiple issues' had been raised in regards to the council's audit last December which uncovered the alarming statistics.

As previously reported in The News, the audit found that of the 39 tower blocks owned by the council that are six storeys or over, seven blocks of flats were missing a current fire risk assessment and 15 had an expired one.

It also stated that of the 712 council-owned properties, which are five-storeys are lower, analysis found that 280 of them did not have assessment date, with 171 properties overdue a review.

Mr Hill took on the new role following the immediate departure of seasoned director Owen Buckwell last Monday.

Addressing the council's governance, audits and standards committee this morning, Mr Hill said: 'In simple terms, we should not have been in this position.

'What we have found is that there was a lack of clarity on the role responsibility in regards to buildings' fire risk requirements. There was a lack of consistency in areas.'

He confirmed that since the report, all of the five-story and six-storey tower blocks had FRAs put in place as of yesterday following work to address the concerns in December, adding that 249 council blocks of flats will have their FRAs reviewed by August.

Mr Hill added: 'This is an absolute red line moment. I think it is right that I duly apologise to you councillors for the anxiety that you will have experienced from reading this report. This is not a position that we should have been in. There were multiple issues and we have now looked to bring in some changes to ensure this does not happen again.'

He said that the council would ensure a three-year term as mandatory for all FRA reviews and that a post had been created for a person to oversee repair, support and compliance of council buildings in relation to fire safety.

Councillor John Ferret, the committee's chairman, who had previously said that there looked to have been a 'systematic failure' of the council to carry out basic FRAs, said: 'It is great to hear that remedial actions are being put in place following all of this.'