Fire and water safety breach by Arun District Council

editorial image

Arun District Council put its tenants at risk by breaching statutory standards for fire and water health and safety, a government report has revealed.

The Regulator of Social Housing found the council breached the ‘home standard’ in its failure until recently to initiate proactive risk assessments against fires and the water bacteria Legionella.

A regulatory notice published last week found these failures had created ‘the potential for serious detriment to Arun District Council’s tenants’.

The council has said the breach is being rectified and the safety of residents was of ‘the uttermost importance’.

In the notice, the regulator noted the district council did not have a programme of fire risk assessment until 2016 and did so ‘only on a reactive basis’.

Although the council has now set up a programme of works to resolve the safety issues, it ‘had not previously addressed these issues at a speed which would reflect the level of risk to its tenants’, the report added.

The notice added: “Both fire safety and water safety are self-evidently important because of the potential for serious harm to tenants.

“In this case, the regulator has concluded that the risk of serious harm is demonstrated because of the large number of tenants potentially exposed to an unknown risk of danger over a long period of time.”

In 2017, the council appointed a new team for fire and water safety and in May 2018, an external review commissioned by the council found ‘significant weaknesses’.

District councillor James Walsh has said he was ‘shocked’ by the failures highlighted in the regulators notice.

Mr Walsh, who represents Beach ward for the Liberal Democrats, wrote to fellow councillor Trevor Bence, the district council cabinet member for residential services this week, asking when the situation would be fully rectified.

He wrote: “It is surely unacceptable that no systematic assessments were carried out in these two very important areas of public health and safety, with only reactive checks having been undertaken.

“I share their conclusion that ‘significant weaknesses’ existed, with ‘risk of serious harm’ to tenants in these properties, for which we are responsible.”

When contacted for further comment he told the Observer he added: “What I want is to be be reassured that all of the actions that are necessary have been taken and will continue to be taken so that the problem won’t occur again.”

A spokesperson for Arun District Council said the council had been working to address the ‘historic’ issues ‘as a matter of urgency’.

He said: “Arun District Council recognises the seriousness of the situation and can assure residents that we are continuing to work with the regulator to provide documentary evidence that the breach is being rectified and that our ongoing commitment to the safety of residents is paramount.”