FOLLOWING the news hundreds of residents living in Portsmouth’s Leamington House and Horatia House will have to move out of their homes – Portsmouth City Council has issued a series of question and answer statements.
Structural reports on both the tower blocks unveiled weaknesses in the concrete used to construct them, casting doubts over the high-rises’ ability to absorb shock from a major incident like a gas explosion.
Residents have to leave their homes by spring next year.
The authority has issued information and advice about general queries, residents living in the tower blocks and how they will be moved to new homes, the buildings themselves and other tower blocks in the city.
The following questions have been answered directly by Portsmouth City Council
Q: Why aren’t residents being evacuated immediately?
A: Residents aren’t being evacuated because it is safe for them to stay in the buildings while we find them alternative accommodation. This is partly because of the way the buildings are designed. Flats are separate compartments, designed to contain fires or other hazards. And the buildings do not have a gas supply. It is also because of the extra precautions we have in place like the 24-hour wardens in both buildings.
Q: What safety measures do the buildings have?
A: The buildings are designed so that the flats are separate compartments, designed to contain fires or other hazards. And the buildings do not have a gas supply. We have also enhanced the existing fire warden role to make the buildings even safer, as well as patrolling the buildings they will be a 24-hour security presence at entrances to make sure no one who shouldn’t be in the blocks is allowed in and checking nothing dangerous is taken into the buildings.
Q: How do we know it is safe to stay in the building?
A: Resident safety is our priority and if it was not safe we would be emptying the buildings immediately. We have had structural reports from industry experts. Based on the information in these, there is no danger from normal day-to-day living in the blocks. In addition there is no gas supply and we’ve put extra security in place so it is safe to stay in the building while we find alternative accommodation. We have also spoken to the fire service who are satisfied with the measures we are taking.
Q: Who has decided it is safe for residents to remain in the buildings?
A: Letting residents stay in the building while we find alternative accommodation was a decision we took following discussions with a range of experts including the fire service, government and the Building Research Establishment (BRE), which is a world leading building science centre and the organisation the government recommends for testing. They are experts in this subject and we can be confident in the information and advice we have been given.
Q: If it is safe why are you moving people out so quickly?
A: We are moving people out because, while it is safe for people to stay in the blocks, it is important we move residents to eliminate the risk. Residents’ safety is always our priority and we do not want to delay things and risk the situation getting worse. We are in a fortunate position at the moment with a number of new and refurbished properties becoming available we can use to re-home some residents. We need to act now as we wouldn’t necessarily have this supply of homes available if we waited. We anticipate other homes will be found through the usual flow of residents moving and council properties becoming available.
Q: Why have you introduced extra security in the buildings?
A: Both blocks have had security in since we started removing cladding, this was introduced so we had a 24-hour presence to act as a fire-watch. We have now increased their role to include being present at entrances to the buildings to make sure people aren’t bringing in anything dangerous and that the only people coming in are those who live in the block or are visiting residents.
Q: What aren’t people allowed to bring into the blocks?
A: We don’t want anything like gas bottles or cylinders brought into the buildings and the security staff will prevent this from happening.
Q: Why do you need to look in people’s flats and sheds?
A: We just want to check there is nothing in the building that would be a concern. Officers from the fire service will be with us in the blocks in the first few days following this announcement and we thought it would help reassure people for us to jointly check everything is okay.
Q: Does this affect fire safety in the two blocks?
A: Fire safety advice from ourselves and the fire service remains the same but we would ask all residents to take extra care at all times. The fire service have also asked us to remind you that personalised fire safety advice is available athantsfire.gov.uk/safeandsound where you can complete an online home safety checker.
Q: Is the building’s stay put policy correct?
A: Yes. After the council and fire service inspected the building it was agreed the buildings stay put policy is still the best advice for residents to follow. The safety measures, within the building design, to contain fires within a flat are still in place. Please familiarise yourself with your building’s stay put policy in your tenancy agreement.
Q: Why are there no communal smoke alarms?
A: Each flat has a dedicated smoke alarm which will alert residents of that flat if a fire occurs. In the event of a fire get out and stay out, closing your flat door behind you and call 999. The advice to residents in other parts of the building is to stay put. There are fire alarms in communal areas on the ground floor to notify people in those areas.
Questions about how residents will be moved to new homes
Q: Why do I have to move out?
A: Tests have shown we need to do work to strengthen the buildings because the concrete used in the original construction isn’t as strong as expected. Because of this we are going to move residents to other accommodation.
Q: Am I entitled to compensation?
A: All tenants that are being moved will be entitled to a home loss payment of £6,100 per household. We will also help cover moving costs such as: removals, reconnection of appliances, curtains, carpets, decorations, assistance for people who need additional support.
Q: How do I find out about getting moved to a new home?
A: Just talk to our staff and they’ll explain what will happen. We’ll be making visits to every flat in the blocks, or come to one of our drop-in sessions in the buildings’ community room, we’ll have staff there from 9am to 8pm Tuesday, June 5 to Friday, June 8 and will update you on times of future sessions as they’re arranged.
Q: Where will I be moved to?
A. You will have the opportunity to tell us the area you want to live in and we will try to find the type and size of home you need in that area. While we will do everything we can to home people in the area they want, it may not be possible, but your new home will be within the city boundaries unless you agree otherwise.
Q: How long will it take to get a new home?
A: We hope to have moved all residents to new homes by spring 2019.
Q: Will I get a say in where I move to?
A: You will have the opportunity to tell us the area you want to live in and we will try to find the type and size of home you need in that area. While we will do everything we can to home people in the area they want, it may not be possible, but your new home will be within the city boundaries unless you agree otherwise.
Q: Can I choose the type of home I move to?
A: Generally residents will not get a choice in the type of home they move to and we will look to find them something the same as they are currently living in. There may be some exceptions if we do not have a like-for-like property available in which case we’ll talk to residents about alternatives.
Q: What if I am already on the housing waiting list because my current property is unsuitable?
A: If you are a tenant already waiting to move due to medical problems, you will be offered a property suitable to meet your medical needs based on your housing assessment.If you are a tenant waiting to move because your property is overcrowded or under-occupied you will be offered a property to meet your current need unless you are waiting for a four-bedroomed property, as this size property rarely becomes available in the city. If you are a non-tenant on the waiting list you will be able to move with the household you are living with and remain on the waiting list from the address you move to.
Q: How many properties will be offered to me?
A: Only one offer of accommodation will be made to each household. We understand that this may be difficult for people but it is necessary so we can empty the blocks quickly.
Q: Can I turn down a home offered to me?
A: No. Residents will only be made one offer. If you are not happy with the home you are offered please discuss the reasons with the rehousing team. If the offer is suitable and reasonable for you and your household to occupy, in these circumstances the property must be accepted.
Q: Will I have to go on the council housing waiting list?
A: No. Because of the special circumstances regarding Horatia House and Leamington House we are able to allocate residents of these blocks new homes outside of our usual policy.
Q: What impact will this have on people already on the council housing waiting list?
A: Unfortunately moving people out of Horatia House and Leamington House will have some impact on other people waiting for homes, but we are only anticipating using certain areas to re-home from these blocks so there will still be some homes available for those on the waiting list.
Q: What if I don’t want to move out?
A: The work we will need to do can’t be done with people living there so unfortunately you will have to move out, but we will do everything we can to try to find you a new home that you like.
Questions about the buildings
Q: How did you find out about this?
A: As part of work to look at options to replace cladding we commissioned an assessment of the structural safety of the blocks.
Q: When did you find out there was a risk?
A: The final reports were given to us at the end of March, when we had reviewed the situation and options available to us we spoke to a range of experts to ensure they were happy with the situation and our plans and then informed residents.
Q: Why didn’t you tell residents straight away?
A: Once we got the final report there were a number of things we had to do before we could decide our next steps, including talking to the fire service and other experts. If there had been an immediate risk to residents we would have told people straight away and emptied the buildings.
Q: Who carried out the building tests?
A: Structural investigations were carried out by specialist consultant structural engineers, this included testing of the concrete. The results of the tests were analysed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), a world-leading building science centre and the organisation the government recommends for testing. They are experts in this subject and we can be confident in the information and advice we have been given.
Q: Why were they built with weak concrete?
A: The problem with the concrete goes back to the mix used when the two blocks were built in the 1960s. It is impossible for us to know now why it was not made as strong as it should have been. While the concrete isn’t as strong as it should be there isn’t a risk associated with normal day-to-day living in the buildings. The test results only suggest there would be a problem if there was a severe explosion inside a flat.
Q: Is this related to the previous cladding issues?
A: This is not related to the cladding that was on the buildings. The only connection is that we found out about the need for strengthening work when we were planning what the cladding should be replaced with.
Q: Why did you previously say everything was safe?
A: Previously we were advising residents on fire safety following concerns about the cladding. The work to remove the cladding has reduced the risk associated with fire safety now that both blocks have had the cladding removed. This is a different issue about structure.
Q: What will happen to the buildings?
A: At the moment we don’t know. We need to do some further investigation to find out exactly what work needs to be done. Our priority is to find new homes for the residents.
Q: How long will the work take?
A: We don’t know this as we are still establishing the full extent of the work that needs to be done. Our priority is to find new homes for the residents.
Q: How much will it cost?
A: We don’t know this as we are still establishing the full extent of the work that needs to be done. Our priority is to find new homes for the residents.
Q: Will residents have to pay for the cost of this through council tax or rent increases?
A: We are not expecting any costs for this to be paid using Portsmouth taxpayers’ money. We are already talking to the government about getting money to pay for the work we’ve done to remove cladding from the buildings and we fully expect to extend that conversation to include covering the cost associated with these new issues.
Q: How tall are the buildings?
A: Both Horatia House and Leamington House are 18 storeys
Q: How many flats are in each building?
A: There are 136 flats in each building, 272 flats in total.
Q: How many people live in the buildings?
A: A combined total of around 800 people live in the two blocks.
Q: When were the buildings built?
A: Both buildings were built in 1965.
Q: People in my building don’t follow the fire safety advice (smoking, rubbish in halls, prop open doors), what should I do?
A: If you have any concerns about things like this you should contact your housing officer as you would normally and they will help with the situation.
Questions about other tower blocks
Q: What about other council blocks? Have they all been tested?
A: Structural surveys undertaken at other council buildings have not highlighted the same problems.
There are five other council blocks in Portsmouth that were built using large panel systems, Wilmcote House, Nickleby House, Barkis House, Edgbaston House and Tipton House. These have all had structural surveys undertaken and there are no concerns. We are reviewing these surveys again to be absolutely certain and will undertake further surveys if necessary. Other big concrete blocks in Portsmouth are not large panel system construction and are safe. To reassure residents we have written to all of our tenants living in other large concrete buildings explaining the situation and how we know their home is safe.
Q: Who can I talk to for more information?
A: Residents can talk to our staff in Leamington House and Horatia House, just come to one of our drop-in sessions in the community room, we’ll have staff there from 9am to 8pm Tuesday, June 5 to Friday, June 8, and will update you on times of future sessions as they’re arranged.
Residents can also visit our community information point in the Somerstown Hub, the local housing office will be open from: 8.30am to 8pm Tuesday, June 5 to Friday, June 8, 9am to 4pm Saturday, June 9, 10am to 3pm Sunday, June 10 - normal working hours 8.30am to 5pm Monday-Thursday and 8.30am to 4pm Friday.
Residents can also speak to their housing officer, call our helpline on (023) 9284 1311 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: My neighbour doesn’t speak English and is confused about what’s going on.
A: If a friend or neighbour in your block isn’t able to speak or read English then we can provide a translation for them, or arrange for a translator to speak with them. Please call our helpline on (023) 9284 1311