UPDATE: Half of Portsmouth tower blocks did not have fire checks until this February

Cladding is removed from Horatia House   Picture: Sarah Standing (170831-9636)
Cladding is removed from Horatia House Picture: Sarah Standing (170831-9636)
Richard Stride, the director of the Groundlings Theatre in Portsea

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  • More than half of city’s tower blocks were missing or did not have a valid fire risk assessment before the Grenfell Tower blaze
  • Alarming statistics were revealed yesterday as work began to remove cladding from two Portsmouth high rises
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MORE than half of the city’s tower blocks were missing or did not have a valid fire risk assessment until February this year, The News has learned.

The information – contained in a council report – emerged as work got underway to remove the cladding from Horatia House and Leamington House in Somers Town yesterday after tests found it was a fire risk.

There looks to be a systematic failure to carry out basic fire risk assessments. It will now be the job of the committee to take into account why this was allowed to happen and that we make sure everything is done to remedy the situation.

Councillor John Ferret, chair of the governance & audits & standards committee

Of the 39 tower blocks owned by Portsmouth City Council that are six storeys or over, testing before the blaze confirmed that seven blocks of flats were missing a current fire risk assessment and 15 had an expired assessment.

Figures contained in a report for the council’s governance, audits and standards committee on Friday also revealed that of the 712 council-owned properties, which are five storeys or lower, analysis found that 280 did not have an assessment date, with 171 properties overdue a review.

The council has looked to rectify the issue and according to a council spokeswoman carried out all reviews needed of its tower blocks in February this year – which the report did not make clear.

Councillor John Ferrett, chair of the committee, said: ‘These are very concerning figures.

‘There looks to be a systematic failure to carry out basic fire risk assessments. It will now be the job of the committee to take into account why this was allowed to happen and to make sure everything is done to remedy the situation.’

All seven blocks of six storeys and above which were previously missing an assessment have undergone a new assessment and of the 15 requiring a review, 14 have had one undertaken.

The council looked to ease residents’ fears yesterday, with work to remove the cladding underway.

Its deputy leader, Councillor Luke Stubbs, spoke to residents outside their homes, stating that ‘protection of Portsmouth residents’ is the authority’s number one priority.

He said: ‘Like all councils, we have been working with government and the fire service to review our buildings.

‘As a precaution, we submitted some cladding for testing and the results that came back said the cladding on Horatia House and Leamington House was a fire risk.

‘As a result, we are removing the cladding from those buildings. Protection of Portsmouth residents is our number one priority and we will not compromise on safety standards.’

Cllr Stubbs stated that both buildings had different safety features to Grenfell Tower including two staircases and no gas supply, with cladding just front and back with a gap in the middle.

He added: ‘If you put all that together, it is safer.’

The duration and expense of the work was unclear as of last night.

All of the council’s 13 high-rise properties – those over 10 storeys – had been looked at, but none had failed testing.

Letters were sent to residents in both Horatia House and Leamington House, explaining the precautions being taken.

Those concerned can call (023) 9282 4244 or visit the Somers Town Hub community information point in Rivers Street. An information event will take place at The New Theatre Royal on Tuesday from 6.30pm.

The News originally reported that the fire checks of the fire assessments had not taken place until after the Grenfell Tower blaze. This was based on information contained in the aforementioned report which did not state the council had indeed carried out the needed FRAs. A council spokeswoman has, since this story’s publication, confirmed that all FRAs were done in February, which is not specified in the report. The News had approached the council for comment last night on the report but did not receive one.