Council U-turn to cover the cost of essential fire safety improvements

Council chiefs in Kirklees have announced a partial U-turn over imposing fire safety costs on private leaseholders in high- and low-rise council properties.

Monday, 20th December 2021, 7:00 am
Tower blocks at Berry Brow, Huddersfield

It comes after housing bosses said they would be “supportive” of leaseholders who faced high bills for replacement fire doors costing between £500 and £1,200 each.

The authority faces paying out almost £90m to make improvements to its properties across the borough following a hard-hitting review of fire compliance.

Those upgrades include replacing 11,447 fire doors at 870 properties.

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Housing boss Naz Parkar told a meeting of the council’s decision-making cabinet that while the authority would be “supportive and sympathetic” it required the cooperation of leaseholders if high- and low-rise tower blocks were to be made safe.

He said the council was looking at giving loans or setting up affordable payment plans.

Now, following “extensive engagement with tenants and residents”, the council has said it will foot the bill for all fire doors in its high- and low-rise communal blocks for tenant and leaseholder homes alike.

That involves 1,076 leaseholders.

However for leaseholders living in other properties, the cost of their fire door will continue to be their responsibility.

The council’s cabinet member housing and democracy, Coun Cathy Scott, said: “We have widely engaged with our tenants and residents, and have listened to concerns from private leaseholders about how they can afford to pay for these necessary safety upgrades to their properties.

“Our main priority is ensuring everyone living in our buildings and using our communal areas is safe in the event of a fire.

"We are committed to ensuring all safety improvement works can be carried out to the highest standards and want to remove any financial barriers for tenants and leaseholders.

“Safety should not be a luxury, and as such we will be covering the cost of replacing fire doors in all our high-rise and low-rise blocks to ensure safety for all.”

At the same meeting, leading Lib Dem John Lawson (Cleckheaton) sought clarity on the legal position of leaseholders who potentially faced bills for fire safety doors “that they did not know didn’t comply” with regulation.

Coun Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) asked if charges could be waived. That has now happened for some people.

In response Coun Bolt said: “I am pleased that cabinet listened to my presentation and will now be funding at least some of the fire doors for our leaseholders.

“We now need clarity on which properties are excluded from this welcome Christmas present for some.”

Coun Lawson said: “I am glad following my call for clarity at cabinet that Kirklees Council has reflected further on its moral obligations to both tenants and leaseholders and changed its previous position and come to this pragmatic solution.

“I am also glad that Labour have held their hand up to this situation and started the recovery process.

“The Liberal Democrat Group is happy to see that they are taking responsibility for the clean-up operation now required.

"We will be following the progress of this work closely.”