National Assembly for Wales

Back to Search

Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee

11/10/2018

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

David Melding AM Yn dirprwyo ar ran Mark Isherwood
Substitute for Mark Isherwood
Jayne Bryant AM
Jenny Rathbone AM
John Griffiths AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Sian Gwenllian AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Andy Fry Prif Gynghorydd ac Arolygydd Tân ac Achub Cymru, y Gangen Gwasanaethau Tân, y Grŵp Addysg a Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus, Llywodraeth Cymru
Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor and Inspector for Wales, Fire Services Branch, Education and Public Services Group, Welsh Government
Emma Williams Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Adran Polisi Tai, y Grŵp Addysg a Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Housing Policy Division, Education and Public Services Group, Welsh Government
Francois Samuel Pennaeth Rheoliadau Adeiladu, Rheoliad Adeiladu, Is-adran Gynllunio, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Building Regulations, Building Regulations, Planning Directorate, Welsh Government
Huw Maguire Uwch-reolwr Polisi, Polisi Tai, y Grŵp Addysg a Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus, Llywodraeth Cymru
Senior Policy Manager, Housing Policy, Education and Public Services Group, Welsh Government
Rebecca Evans AM Y Gweinidog Tai ac Adfywio
Minister for Housing and Regeneration

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Chloe Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Jonathan Baxter Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 11:00.

The public part of the meeting began at 11:00.

2. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
2. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

May I welcome everyone to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? Item 2 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We have received apologies from Bethan Sayed, Jack Sargeant and Gareth Bennett. David Melding is substituting for Mark Isherwood. May I take this opportunity to welcome Jayne Bryant to the committee, and to thank Rhianon Passmore for her service on the committee prior to Jayne taking Rhianon's place? Are there any declarations of interest? No. 

3. Ymchwiliad i Ddiogelwch Tân mewn Tyrau o Fflatiau yng Nghymru (Sector Preifat): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 5
3. Inquiry into Fire Safety in High-rise Blocks in Wales (Private Sector): Evidence Session 5

We will move on then to item 3, our final evidence session in our inquiry into fire safety in high-rise blocks in the private sector in Wales. This is evidence session 5. Welcome Rebecca Evans, Minister for Housing and Regeneration. Minister, would you like to have your officials introduce themselves, please?

Francois Samuel, building regulations, planning division.

Good morning. Bore da. I'm Andy Fry. I'm the chief fire and rescue adviser to Welsh Government.

Emma Williams, deputy director, housing policy.

Bore da. Good morning. Huw Maguire, housing policy.

Okay. Thank you, all, and welcome to you all. Perhaps I might begin with the first general question, Minister, and that is: to what extent has fire safety in private sector blocks been more problematic than the situation in social housing? Could you illustrate the particular challenges regarding the private sector with some examples?

Thank you very much for that question. I know you're particularly keen to explore how Welsh Government has worked with the private sector following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.

So, our first job following the tragedy was to identify all of our high-rise buildings here in Wales, which we did, so we've identified all of the social housing blocks that we have here in Wales and also all of those over 18 m within the private sector. Those two pieces of work were different, in the sense that, with the social housing blocks, we already had good working relationships with the housing associations and the registered social landlords, but the size and scale of the challenge was very different in the private sector. 

In the private sector, there is a network of persons and organisations who are responsible for those buildings, and things do tend to be more complex. So, you have the owners, the managing agents, resident management companies, developers, leaseholders and tenants. So, that does make things more difficult, so it was difficult in those early days actually making contact with the correct people at those private sector blocks.

Again, it's more tricky in the private sector because the buildings often have multiple uses. So, you'll have shops, for example, on the ground floor or other floors and then the residential part of the building above that. We found that within the private sector there was more of a tendency to—certainly initially, perhaps—dismiss some of the concerns when we talked about the aluminium composite material cladding that failed the Building Research Establishment tests. That perhaps was because when the cladding was put on those buildings it was compliant at the time of construction, so the management companies and developers were less keen to engage. But, I think we've moved on a great deal from that and have good relationships now with those buildings and the owners.

And, again, another complexity that is certainly more difficult in the private sector is the issue of funding sources for remediation work. You have issues of warranties and insurance and so on. So that has, in some cases, I think, slowed down remediation work. I don't know if any of the team have other reflections on the work that they did with the various developers.

The only thing I would add—thank you, Minister—is that we did start from the premise of thinking that it would be much more straightforward to do that initial identification and had to triangulate data from various sources. We were very grateful for the assistance that we had from local government colleagues, but also using Land Registry data and geographical data in order to find anything that looked large and then investigate. So, it was not an easy task, but we are as confident as we can be that we have now identified and been in contact with every single one of the buildings within scope in terms of height and potential cladding issues.

11:05

Yes, okay. Well, thanks for that, and we will be coming back to those issues during the course of this scrutiny session. At this stage, Minister, could I just ask you about lead responsibility for fire safety in high-rise? We've heard that there is some lack of clarity between the fire and rescue services and local authorities in terms of lead responsibility. Obviously, the Hackitt review may lead to a joint competent authority, but, in the interim, at least, these issues will still exist. So, could you tell the committee whether you recognise that particular issue and, if so, how it would be addressed in the immediate and short term?

So, in the sense that the Hackitt inquiry was a report for the UK Government, looking at the situation in England, we nonetheless take that report very seriously and we recognise many of the concerns and the issues that have been brought to bear through that particular report as being relevant to Wales, so we are taking it very seriously and it's informing our way forward. With regard to the specific issue of who should be leading on fire safety issues, I might ask Andy to come in on this shortly, but we are looking to involve the fire and rescue authorities more formally in the planning process of buildings in future—so, potentially making them statutory consultees, I think, will be important. In a very practical sense, Emma's described some of the work that's gone on with local authorities and the fire and rescue service. We're having monthly meetings now with those partners. Those partners will look at the buildings that do remain an issue for us, for various reasons—so, they might be ACM-related or issues that have come to light following the investigations for ACM. So, we take a casework approach to those buildings. So, in a sense, we have almost a prototype of the joint competent authority already operating now in Wales, because it does bring those partners around the table to discuss the issues concerned.

Thank you, Minister. Chair, I think, in answering the question from my perspective, I would draw a distinction between what happens at the design stage in terms of lead fire safety responsibility and what happens post occupation. And I think that there are difficulties in both aspects. Certainly, when it comes to design and construction, there is a potential disconnect between the people responsible for ensuring that buildings are designed to the right standard, which are local authority building control departments or approved inspectors, and then the fire and rescue service, which becomes responsible for maintenance of fire safety standards post occupation. And the way that the system is built at the moment is that there is a statutory requirement for the fire and rescue service to be consulted, but only after the building regulatory authority is of the opinion that the building is compliant. Now, if the fire service, through that consultation, identifies that there may be potential problems with the building, or, indeed, that there may have been opportunities to have designed a more fire-safe building, our experience is that so much time, effort and money have been invested in the design process by that stage, it's very difficult for fire and rescue to influence the end result in terms of the building that gets built. 

Once we're into a post-occupation situation, as I'm sure you're now aware, lead responsibility for enforcement of fire safety in residential blocks of flats does rest with the fire and rescue service, but their jurisdiction ends at the point you enter people's homes, and, if you're in a scenario where, for example, you have a very vulnerable resident, who may not be able to respond to a fire in that building in the same way as an able-bodied person, or, indeed, if you have a resident who is engaging in high-risk behaviour and refuses to stop doing that, the fire and rescue service has no jurisdiction over what goes on inside that flat. The means by which those kinds of scenarios are dealt with at the moment, more or less effectively, is through the Housing Act 2004, which is enforced by local authorities via environmental health officers. So, I think that there is room for improvement in both the design aspect, in terms of joining up people who are involved in regulation, and also post occupation.

Okay, thanks for that. It's interesting to note your proposal in terms of fire and rescue services becoming a statutory consultee in the planning process, Minister, and we'll come back to some of the issues around building control and the role of local authorities in due course. But could I ask a further general question at this stage, Minister? In terms of working relations with the UK Government, obviously, most responsibility is devolved now in terms of fire safety in Wales, but not all, and that working relationship between Welsh Government and UK Government is very important, I would suggest, in terms of these very, very important matters of fire safety. One example, I guess, is the testing of products to be used in the construction of buildings. So, could you, hopefully, provide some reassurance to committee that that relationship with UK Government is everything that it needs to be?

11:10

We do have a good working relationship with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, certainly through officials, who are in contact very frequently with their counterparts, particularly on the issue of product testing. Now, we're not afraid in Welsh Government to take a different path when we think it's appropriate for Wales, but, equally, we don't want to be doing things differently for the sake of being different in an area that is so sensitive and so important, because we are talking about people's safety. So, the issue of product testing has been an area where we've had really good working relationships with the UK Government, organising, for example, the testing of ACM—those large-scale tests. We were having the information back then from the UK Government and being able to use that to inform our way forward and the discussions we could then have with the building owners. And we've also been working closely on the issue of the fire doors, which obviously came about following the investigations that the police were undertaking, and they found non-compliant fire doors, and that has become a much bigger issue now in terms of the effectiveness of fire doors more widely.

Okay, but you're content that that relationship with UK Government is working well and you'll continue in that vein.

Thank you. Minister, one of the substantive issues that we've identified from our inquiry is the lack of any regulation of managing agents, because whilst there are trade bodies—. We heard evidence from the Association of Residential Managing Agents, and they offer voluntary regulation, but only some submit themselves to that kitemark, if you like, and anybody can set themselves up as a managing agent and can be handling maybe £0.25 million of leaseholders' money without any oversight as to whether they're fit and proper persons. The second issue that was raised by the large managing agents that we also took evidence from is that, whilst they insist on certain standards required before they'll take on management of a property—for example, they have insisted on annual fire checks before they'll take on a property—clearly, there are likely to be others who might be less scrupulous in the way they carry out their management of a property, and that leaves a massive loophole.

So, I wondered if you could tell us whether the Government thinks we should be regulating managing agents, and if so how would you plan to do this—through leasehold reform or is it more urgent than that?

Thank you very much for that question, and I'm glad, at the outset, that you did recognise that, actually, in Wales, we do have some very good management agents who take their responsibilities to the residents very seriously. But, equally, we know through the work that we are doing on leasehold reform that not all residents feel that they're having a good service from their management companies. This is one of the specific issues I've asked the leasehold reform group that I set up in July of this year to advise us on. In the first instance, we're looking to introduce a code of practice for property and estate management agents as well as developing some bespoke training for all of those who are involved in leasehold practice. I hope that these measures would start to alleviate some of the concerns and some of the issues that residents have been facing, but I've said in the Chamber previously—and I don't want to pre-empt anything that the advisory group is going to come forward with—but I am attracted to the idea of regulating the management agency sector.

Well, I think that's helpful because I think that codes of practice can be ignored by the less scrupulous, and given both the money involved and the important responsibilities they're asked to carry out in houses and all these very large residential units, it would be useful if we could see some resolution of the deliberations of your leaseholder group.

11:15

I'm also interested in the potential role that co-operatives can play in terms of managing buildings and estates as well in future. I think this is certainly something that has been underdeveloped in Wales, so we've had some discussions with the Wales Co-operative Centre to explore whether this is something that we can be putting some work behind to make more possible for us.

Okay. In the meantime, we perhaps ought to be informing leaseholders that they should ensure that there's some sort of kitemark against a person who's offering to manage their estate, for example voluntary regulation, because otherwise they may be handing their money over to somebody who's going to disappear with it. 

I know the leasehold advisory group are taking a close interest in the work of the building safety group that has been established to advise us on the kind of programme that we will need to take forward to respond to the concerns that were raised in the Hackitt review. So, these pieces of work aren't happening in isolation; it's all very much part of a wider picture.

Okay, thank you for that. Overall, how confident is the Welsh Government that all high-rise private sector buildings with aluminium composite material cladding systems and any other fire safety concerns have been identified and the cladding tested?

Two issues there—the first being how confident we are that we've identified all of the buildings that have ACM that corresponds to the failed Building Research Establishment test. We're as confident as we possibly can be on that count, having done a great deal of work with building owners and so on.

The second question you had was about other fire safety issues that have come to light as a result of the work that's been going on over recent months. And there I think it is more of a moving picture. I'll give you the example of vitracore generation 2, for example—this is an issue that has just come to light very recently. It's an extremely rarely used material, and it's actually only used in two developments in the UK, one of which happens to be in Wales. So, although issues that don't relate necessarily directly to ACM, they're still coming forward as a result of the closer scrutiny that we've been having on building safety.

So, we're working, as I say, with all of the developers and the owners and so on, but we're also listening closely to those residents and others who have been coming forward to us. It is only a small increase in the number of people who have been coming to us, but there have been some. So, when concerns are raised directly with us, then we work with the fire and rescue services, the building owners, the Welsh Local Government Association and others to seek to address those concerns. So, it is a moving picture. 

Overall, would you say that residents in high-rise blocks are thinking about the safety of the property they're living in?

We've worked closely with management agents to ensure that residents in the high-rise blocks, particularly with ACM in the first instance, are very much aware of good safety within the home. Because, of course, most fires are as a result of human factors rather than electrical factors and other factors. So, there's been good work done. Welsh Government's got some good guidance on its website, which was developed in the immediate aftermath of Grenfell by our fire safety advisory group. So,we're trying to ensure that there is good advice for everybody, from residents right through to the management companies and so on.

Fine. I'm sure we'll explore some of the details a bit later on.

Before I move on to the fire safety Order—this is very technical and I'm not sure I've grasped it all—I think, like the English Government, you've said that you're just going to ban ACMs and you're therefore not reliant on British Standard 8414. Have I got that right? I just wonder, are we moving away from that BS 8414, which, presumably, if it's still used, will test systems that may be presented as non-combustible, but actually in the test—? That's the whole point of the test. Despite their claims, and perhaps the product specifications, they actually, in situ, do prove to be combustible. So, I just want to know where that test is now, in terms of this general ban that you're seeking, as I said, along with—I think that's the English Government, or the UK Government's response for England also. 

11:20

I'll ask the team to respond on the detail, but I would just say that the consultation that we have just taken has just closed—

Thank you, Minister. The consultation closed on 14 September. Now, the proposal from the Welsh Government was that, in fact, combustible components would be outlawed, and that relates to the individual component. Now, BS 8414 is a test of a system. So, our preferred route, as we set out in the consultation, was for individual components. Now, we're analysing the consultation responses and, in due course, these will be discussed with the Minister, the expert group and our own advisory committee for the building regulations. That's the current position. There has been in the news, from various industry sources, questioning of that approach, and we've had a number of industry responses to our consultation. The conclusions will come out in due course.  

And they'll be actively considered. Okay. And we'll presumably have a chance to see the responses to the consultations.

If I can go on to the fire safety Order, then, which is now devolved, so obviously you can set and stipulate standards here for Wales. I just wonder, are you considering stating a legal minimum standard for qualifications for risk assessors, for instance, and also for when risk assessments should be undertaken? At the moment, it's a responsible person, and they have to be done regularly, and 'regular' is obviously indeterminate. Some are suggesting at least annual, for instance, and by someone with a qualification. So, how are you minded to proceed on these matters? 

So, the issue of regulating people who undertake those fire risk assessments is something that I'm very interested in. After all, we regulate electricians and gas fitters who are operating in these properties, so it seems to be a very sensible approach that we should ensure that people who are undertaking these assessments should have the correct skills and knowledge that you'd expect of them. So, this is something that I would hope to be taking forward, but one thing Hackitt really wants us to be mindful of is not to take a piecemeal approach to the numerous issues that I know committee has become aware of, and which Welsh Government's become aware of. So, we're asking our building safety advisory group, our expert group, to develop, really, a programme for the way forward in terms of what would be a coherent way of addressing all of these issues, because there are so many different areas now where I think we can act, and as many of them will require legislation we need to corral things in a manageable way, and as something that makes sense in terms of the stages that we'll need to take. But, certainly, regulation of people undertaking fire risk assessments would be part of that.

I would refer you to the evidence we had from fire chiefs last week or the week before. They did state that they have observed people, or their employees have, who do not seem well qualified, and they've been carrying out risk assessments. That's obviously a public safety issue, and I think a more robust system of regulation is probably warranted, as well as some definition of what 'regular' has to be. Obviously, I note your determination to have a systematic approach, and you don't want to have disproportionate regard in terms of actual risk. So, we do need to focus on the whole system. I think that is important. 

I think one of the issues that's really quite startling, as we've kind of looked at the whole system, has been the failure of fire doors, really, to meet a minimum standard of 30-minute resistance. I just wonder, because of the use of modern composite materials, that we have perhaps been too casual in assuming that these doors in situation are meeting the standards. It seems to me that all those that have been tested so far have not met it, and I just wonder what your assessment is in terms of the use of composite fire doors in Wales, that we know where they are and we are in the process of starting remedial measures. 

11:25

Thank you for that question. I will just address the point you made about the National Fire Chiefs Council. They've provided some excellent guidance called 'A Guide to Choosing a Competent Fire Risk Assessor', and we absolutely would strongly endorse that when individuals are looking to have their fire risk assessments done.

In terms of the fire doors, I think it's important to emphasise that any single component in terms of trying to prevent fires and prevent fires from spreading must be seen as part of a wider picture. So, there are many measures that would be useful in terms of a combined approach to preventing fires and fire spreading. Fire doors are part of it, fire exits, escape plans, sprinklers, education regarding fire safety, and a multitude of other measures. So, the failure of one protection measure, such as the fire doors, shouldn't change dramatically the overall safety of the residence. Welsh Government agrees with the view of the UK expert panel, which has said that the additional risk to the public as a result of the failure of the composite doors does remain low. That said, we still take it seriously. So, the industry itself has agreed to withdraw from sale all of the FD30 composite fire doors until sufficient certified evidence can be provided, to give assurance that these doors are fit for purpose, and that they meet the minimum requirement of building regulations. The Association of Composite Door Manufacturers have confirmed that no product will go back onto the market that doesn't have the furnace test evidence for both sides of the door, and for every modification that might have been made for it. So, I think that's very positive. We've been working again in this area very closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that we have the latest and most current information.

Do we know where all of the composite doors are? Well, no, Welsh Government doesn't know, but then I don't think it's necessarily the role of Welsh Government to know where every single one of these composite doors are. However, it is the role of Welsh Government to ensure that the responsible persons do have good information about the safety of the fire doors. So, we have written to all responsible persons, giving them advice and the latest information on the fire doors.

As I said, I think we have to have proportionality in the assessment of risk. But 'fire door'—the clue is in the name, isn't it? And, presumably, we cannot be casual about setting standards like 30-minute resistance, and then not taking it very seriously when some of them are not lasting 15 minutes. So, I think people out there—and I accept what you said about the way a building works as a system, and that, unfortunately, catastrophes are usually the sad alignment of a number of factors, aren't they, and things come together? But, still, fire door safety, and minimum resistance standard, does seem to me quite a core part of what makes a building safe.

And this, again, is an evolving situation, because the next step now is for product testing to be done on the timber doors. So, this is part of an ongoing piece of work, which we're in close contact with the UK Government on. But, absolutely, we take it very seriously, which is why, immediately after the news that the master doors had failed—so, the product at Grenfell—we wrote to all of our managing agents and the owners of our high-rise buildings, asking that fire risk assessments be refreshed in the light of the news about the failure of those doors. We wrote again two weeks ago to all of the management agencies, or the responsible persons, again, highlighting the importance of the fire risk assessment, taking into account the latest news. 

Obviously, we're vigilant in seeing what the Government brings forward in terms of how it's going to proceed here. Whilst it's reassuring that these composite doors are now being withdrawn, until products can be brought on that do meet the standard—it's one thing to stop the sale of them, it's another thing to have a plan to do remedial work to rectify a problem where they've been installed in many places, potentially—. Obviously, they will need to assess that. We found great confusion in terms of leaseholders: do they own their front door and, even if they do own their front door, is the front door part of a common part or is it part of the flat and, therefore, the fire service, for instance, doesn't have jurisdiction? Mr Fry's already referred to this. Again, it seems to be that we need clarity here so that the responsible persons know what their duties are, as well as the need to communicate to leaseholders the importance of their front door, which, inevitably in a block of flats, will also be a fire door.

11:30

Welsh Government believes that the front doors of flats are covered by the fire safety Order, and our recent statutory guidance issued last month sets that out. However, we do recognise that there is a huge degree of confusion here. I think Emma would add something to that.

You're absolutely right—the level of confusion on this specific point reflects a lot of what Dame Hackitt describes in her report as the general confusion, which does not lend itself to the highest standards of fire safety. We get different views on this particular point, but it does reflect the fundamental problem that we're looking to resolve in the system that the piecemeal and different pieces of legislation and different areas of responsibility mean that, in the absence of that clarity, often, nobody feels that they are responsible, and that's absolutely at the core of what Dame Hackitt is asking us to look to achieve in any new system and why, as the Minister says, in reforming legislation in this area, we must seek to do it as a package that covers the whole system from beginning to end and the 'golden thread', as Dame Judith describes it, is retained throughout the lifetime of property to avoid such confusion. 

Yes, thank you, Minister. There is no doubt that this is an issue that is still open to a degree of interpretation. As a professional fire officer by background, there is no doubt whatsoever that we've got logic on our side, when you look at what the purpose of having those doors in high-rise buildings is. We also, fortunately, have Welsh Government legal advice on our side as well now and our position is very clear that we think that those doors do form part of the common parts of the building. The reality is that it's never been tested in court, so there's no absolute answer one way or the other. But our position is very clear and it's a position that's strongly supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council also.

I think it's helpful that we've had on record that our best understanding is that those doors do come under your jurisdiction and they're under the jurisdiction of the fire safety Order. I think that's important because that needs to be communicated and then, if, for some perverse reason, someone wants to challenge that in the courts, they can get on and do it. But our understanding, and certainly our belief for the most robust fire safety systems, is that this interpretation has to apply and if it isn't legally established at the moment, then we'd have to rectify that with legislation. I think we'd all agree with that. I think that covers most of the areas I wanted to raise.

Okay, just on that point, it would be useful, I think, for the committee to have a note just setting out your reasoning in saying that the front doors are subject to the fire safety Order.

Okay, that would be great. Thank you very much. Just one other thing on fire doors—obviously, testing is an ongoing process—do you have any concerns in terms of the availability and timeliness of availability of fire doors that will meet the requisite safety requirements?

I think at the moment it's fair to say that, because manufacturers have chosen to withdraw from the market composite fire doors, there are difficulties in supply at the moment, but it's the right course of action for them to take. They've made a commitment to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and, through them, to us that they won't return anything to the market that doesn't have the requisite safety test certification, and that's to be welcomed. We would very much, as would our colleagues in MHCLG, like to see products back on the market, but only if we are confident, collectively, that they are safe. So, I think there is genuinely a problem at the moment. People who have these fire doors fitted on properties are obviously concerned to be able to get on and undertake replacement or remediation work, but it's one where the situation is very complex. It's complicated by the number of different varieties of doors—so, differences in design, of placement of the letterbox et cetera, and that's before we get to any modifications that people might make to a door, which means that there are potentially thousands of variations that all need to be worked through. But the industry is very focused on resolving these matters and coming forward with sensible and proportionate resolutions, and I think, at the moment, we need to work carefully with building owners, ensure they're updating their risk assessments, that where they have concerns they're engaged with the local fire and rescue service and that we take a patient approach to getting this right rather than moving back to trying to fix an individual problem, which is exactly what Dame Judith warns us against—trying to fix a little bit of the system individually rather than looking at a whole-system approach. 

11:35

Okay. Thanks for that. We'll move to Jenny Rathbone. 

Turning to the role that building regulations play in ensuring that buildings are constructed safely and in line with the specification, the committee heard evidence that a building in the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service area had been so poorly constructed that, before enhanced fire safety measures were put in place, it posed a significant risk to residents' lives. There's nearly £4 million-worth of work having to be carried out to bring it up to the required standard. How could a building that doesn't meet minimum safety standards get constructed? 

Thank you. This is the whole reason behind the Hackitt review and Hackitt's conclusion: how could this possibly happen? I think it's fair to say that the industry, regulators, governments have all taken their eye off the ball over a period of time. There's been a complacency that's come into play and this is very much what the main message from Hackitt is—that, in fact, as she said to me once, 'What's designed isn't what gets built'. A lot of the thrust of the work of her report is about—and the golden thread's been mentioned—tracing a design that complied on paper through to a design that complies in practice. The example you give in mid Wales is just a perfect example of a system that isn't delivering. 

Because, back in the day, building regulation departments in local authorities wouldn't sign off a building until—the sealing off of the building—until it had been passed for inspection. That seems to me a fundamental problem here because local authority building control is now in competition with private operators, and enforcement and competition don't go hand in hand, said the head of Cardiff building control. So, I want to explore what action you think needs to be taken by Government to rectify this situation. 

Okay. Just going back a bit, in 1985, when competition was introduced, there were very sound reasons for a service that was failing in terms of what it delivered to the client. The introduction of competition—at that time it was only the National House Building Council; they were the only approved inspector—resulted in an improvement in performance and service delivery. That was back in 1985, so the question we have to ask ourselves is: does that situation remain today? Hackitt, in her report, identified what she felt was a conflict of interest for this very narrow category—high-risk residential buildings—a potential conflict between giving a service to a client and confirming legal compliance. So, this is something that the Minister and the expert group will want to explore in Wales. The historical reason for competition, I would say, is that it was accepted as sound then. The point is whether there is something about the conflict of interest that we need to investigate in Wales.

The head of building control was quite candid. He said, if we go in too heavy-handed then we're unlikely to get business in the future. That was not a comfortable remark. Clearly, there are major conflicts of interest around this. 

As I say, this is something for the Minister's expert group to consider. It's a fact that local authorities are in competition, and it has been suggested, in some  cases, that perhaps that's why enforcement doesn't happen as frequently as it might. They have the powers, but the consideration of future work from a client might be actually act against them taking enforcement. These are suggestions that have been bandied about.

11:40

The Cardiff local authority has suggested that they know if they are too heavy-handed, they won't get the work and then they'll be having to let go further members of staff, reducing the number of people who are available for enforcement.

On the specifics of high-rise developments, one of the things we learnt was that only 40 per cent of inspections of high-rise developments in Cardiff are carried out by the local authority building control, and, in the context of all developments, it's about 70 per cent. So, as we're focusing on high-rise building developments, I think the committee would be concerned, given that high-rises are the ones where—. These are the buildings that have got to stand up for all of us. So, I wondered what can be done about that.

Well, again, this is something for the expert group to look at, but Hackitt, in her report, was very concerned about the ability of a client to choose who regulates them. It's a very narrow category of above 10 storeys that the Hackitt report is now dealing with, but that was clearly identified—should you be able to choose your regulator?

Before we move on, local authorities are required to make certain statutory inspections—so, on the commencement of operations, excavations, foundation slab, drainage, for example. But I think it's fair to say that these are in need of review now because they no longer represent the complexity of some of the buildings that we are seeing. So, again, this is part of that systemic approach that we're taking in order to respond to the concerns of the Hackitt review.

A Cardiff building control officer pointed out that one of the substantive controls that existed in the past was that the constructor never knew when they were going to turn up. So, that was a form of constraint—that they knew they had to do the job properly, otherwise they could be asked to redo a piece of work. It's impossible for anybody to be on-site all the time, but if you don't know when the building inspector is turning up, then you're more likely to be compliant with the drawings that you're supposed to be following. So, I just wondered how we can—. Hackitt is, obviously, a very rigorous review of the situation post Grenfell. How quickly do you think the Government is going to be able to act on the recommendations from Hackitt?

There are various aspects to this. We acted very quickly in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell fire in terms of, as I set out at the start, the identification of the high-rise buildings, then the testing for the ACM and, now, having those further discussions on other issues with buildings. And, again, we acted very quickly on the issue of fire doors—so, issuing the guidance and the correspondence to those relevant bodies. But we've asked the expert group to come up with a roadmap for us. We're looking at January of next year in terms of setting out where we would need to get to and the kind of work we might need to do. We respond very quickly to really immediate issues of concern that come up, but, equally, we can't take a piecemeal approach to this; it does have to be a systemic approach, which I have no doubt is going to involve legislation.

Just in terms of the building in the mid and west Wales fire service area that we discussed and the failings in terms of the initial construction that have come to light, are you satisfied that there are no other buildings in Wales in that position, where the initial construction was lacking in that way? 

I think we have to be honest and say, no, we can't possibly know that for sure. Where we're made aware of buildings with any concerns, then we are engaging with the relevant local housing authority, developer and other interested parties—the fire and rescue service—to ensure that those with responsibility for investigating such issues—and potentially enforcing, if there's an enforcement requirement—are aware and are looking closely at those buildings. But the honest answer is, as I say, we cannot know for absolute sure that there is nothing else out there. I think, going to one of the earlier points, though, we can be confident that there is a much more aware public out there, and professionals, and that people are being much more forthright about bringing any matters to the attention of relevant bodies and not sitting back and presuming that all is right if they have a sense that there may be problems.

11:45

Mae cynrychiolwyr o awdurdodau lleol wedi dweud wrth y pwyllgor nad oedd ganddyn nhw ddim o'r adnoddau i ymweld â safleoedd yn aml, neu i wirio ansawdd pob cydran deunydd adeiladau. A ydy o'n bosib y gallai llai o adnoddau wedi cyfrannu'n uniongyrchol at safonau is, gan arwain at adeiladau anniogel? 

Local authority representatives have told the committee that they didn't have the resources to visit sites often or to check the quality of all the building materials present. Is it possible that fewer materials could have contributed directly to lower standards, leading to unsafe buildings?

I think there was—. I think your question was about fewer visits leading to unsafe buildings, not fewer materials; I think there was a translation issue. But I think you're talking about fewer visits. So, we've set out there are certain—. As I set out in my response to Jenny, there are certain statutory inspections that must take place, but equally I do think that this is in need of review, as they don't reflect the changes and the new complexity of the buildings that are being built now, so—

Dweud ydw i mai'r honiad ydy nad oes ganddyn nhw ddim yr adnoddau er mwyn gwneud y gwaith. Er efallai ei fod o'n statudol, mae'r awdurdodau lleol, oherwydd y toriadau, oherwydd yr agenda austerity—maen nhw'n dadlau bod ganddyn nhw ddim adnoddau digonol ar gyfer gwneud y gwaith a bod yr adrannau rheoliadau adeiladau mewn cynghorau yn rhai o'r rhai cyntaf i golli staff ac yn y blaen, ac mae hynny wedyn yn cyfrannu at safonau is ac adeiladau anniogel. A ydych chi'n cytuno â hynny?

I'm saying that the claim is that they don't have the resources in order to do the work. Although it might be statutory, the local authorities, due to cuts, due to the austerity agenda—they are arguing that they don't have sufficient resources to carry out the work, and that the regulatory departments in councils are the first to lose staff, et cetera, and that then leads to lower standards and unsafe buildings. Do you agree with that?

The fact is that local authorities are bidding for work. They're competing with the private sector. There are actually regulations that allow the local authority to set its fee level, intended to break even over a three-year period, but, in fact, those regulations are not working as intended, because of the need to compete. Now, the fact is that resources have been reduced in local authorities, and there are serious capacity and competence issues, which have been flagged up. This whole balance between the private sector and local authorities is something the review is going to have to look at.

Ocê. Rydw i'n deall. Sut felly gall Llywodraeth Cymru gefnogi'r awdurdodau lleol yn syth, yn enwedig yr adrannau safonau masnach, o ran gofynion profi ar gyfer defnyddiau adeiladau, megis insiwleiddio a drysau tân? A oes yna fwy y gallem ni fod yn ei wneud o ran cefnogi'r awdurdodau lleol i gael mynediad at adnoddau profi, fel bo modd iddyn nhw wneud y gwaith gwirio yn fwy effeithiol?

Okay. I understand. How, therefore, can the Welsh Government support the local authorities immediately, particularly trading standards departments, in terms of testing requirements for building materials, like insulation and fire doors? What more could be done in terms of supporting the local authorities to have access to testing facilities so that they can do the checking work more effectively?

Actually, the issue of testing capacity is one for the whole of the UK. We have found that, on occasion, products have had to be sent to Germany to be tested—France, Dubai. So, certainly, there is a wider issue in terms of capacity to do that testing here in Wales, or within the UK.

Could I just add to that? I think that, when it comes to individual testing of materials, what we need to focus on is restoring confidence in the central testing regime. It shouldn't need to fall to an individual authority or trading standard body to test an individual material. They should be able to have confidence in the testing that has happened at the request and the requirement of the manufacturer. That confidence, it's fair to say, at the moment, is somewhat shaken, and we need to restore that confidence. But I think it would make a very complex landscape even more complicated if each individual local authority or trading standards body was attempting to undertake that testing, and you would have multiple tests of the same products, but we need to be confident that a test means the result that we think it means.

11:50

Ac, yn amlwg, felly, mae angen cryfhau'r cyfathrebu rhwng yr awdurdodau lleol, ac mae yna un awgrym wedi cael ei wneud bod angen i'r wybodaeth yma am brofion neu bryderon am ddefnyddiau a chynhyrchion adeiladu penodol—bod y pryder yna yn cael ei rannu rhwng awdurdodau lleol, ac efallai bod angen rhyw fath o adnodd gwybodaeth canolog i'w cynorthwyo nhw. 

And, clearly, therefore, there is a need to strengthen communication between the local authorities. There's one suggestion that's been made that there is a need for this information regarding testing or concerns about specific building materials—that that concern should be shared between local authorities and perhaps there is a need for some sort of central information resource to assist them. 

Okay. I think we have to distinguish between trading standards' concern that a product put onto the market, okay, is a product that has certain characteristics—we have to differentiate that from testing and certification about where a product is used. And that has really been the focus of our cladding concerns, that cladding materials have test data, have certifications, but, in fact, are being used outside of that. So, it's not the same as trading standards, who are looking, potentially, at counterfeit products. Our concern is making sure the test data is freely available and certification data from the likes of the British Board of Agrément—you can Google that; on their website, there's a database of all that information. The important thing—. And Hackitt described the certification regime as 'ambiguous', and that is because people have looked at a test certificate and said, 'Fine, it's got a BBA certificate'. Well, it's got a BBA certificate, but it shouldn't be used in this situation, which is over 18m. So, we have to distinguish, I think, between trading standards policing things that are being put on the market and things that aren't being used as they were intended. 

Ocê. A'r pwynt yma bod angen i'r wybodaeth yma cael ei rannu—. Dyna ydy un o'r pryderon, bod yr wybodaeth rydych chi'n sôn amdano fo, a'r data yma sydd ar gael—nid ydy o'n cyrraedd y bobl iawn ac felly mae hynny'n gallu creu problem. 

I droi at chwistrellwyr tân mewn blociau preifat, mae'r gwasanaethau tân ac achub yn dweud wrth y pwyllgor bod ôl-osod y chwistrellwyr mewn blociau preifat yn beth prin iawn, os ydy o'n digwydd o gwbl—mewn gwrthgyferbyniad efo blociau tai cymdeithasol—ac, o ystyried y ffaith bod chwistrellwyr yn gallu achub bywydau, beth fedrith Llywodraeth Cymru ei wneud i annog neu, efallai, i'w wneud o'n ofynnol i fwy o flociau preifat osod systemau chwistrelli?

Okay. And this point that there is a need for this information to be shared—. That's one of the concerns, that the information that you're talking about and the data is available, but it doesn't reach the right people and therefore that can create a problem.

Moving to fire sprinklers in private blocks, the fire and rescue services told the committee that retrofitting of sprinklers in private blocks is rare, if it happens at all, and this contrasts with social housing blocks. Given the fact that fire sprinklers do save lives, what could the Welsh Government do to encourage or even, perhaps, require more privately-owned blocks to install sprinkler systems?

Thank you. You're right to point to sprinkler systems as being a key contributory factor in terms of effective fire safety measures. I'm certainly considering what Welsh Government could do in terms of encouraging—or even incentivising—more retrofitting in multiple-occupancy buildings and, again, this will be part of our larger programme going forward. We've had an excellent response in terms of the social housing sector to retrofitting the sprinkler systems, but you're right to say that it has been something that the private sector has been less keen to do.

If I could just add there—. Going back to the original point about complexity and the private sector, a building owner wanting to retrofit within a leasehold property would need to engage with and seek permission, agreement, and, potentially, contribution from all of the individual leaseholders. So, it is, in fairness to them, a much more complicated process for them to go through. That said, of course, that should not in any way deter us from encouraging that activity and encouraging individual leaseholders to take up the opportunity, but I know that there have been challenges where building owners have wanted to retrofit, but, if some of the individual leaseholders absolutely do not want the sprinkler system fitted within their properties, then it adds to the complexity and makes life a little bit more difficult.

Rydych chi'n sôn yn fanna am annog a hybu y gwaith yna i ddigwydd. Mae'r Gweinidog wedi sôn efallai am ei wneud o'n ofynnol iddo fo ddigwydd. A ydych chi'n ystyried, felly, darn o ddeddfwriaeth newydd neu newid rhyw reoliadau yn rhywle er mwyn ei wneud o'n ofynnol?

You are discussing there encouraging and promoting that work. The Minister has mentioned perhaps making it a requirement for it to happen. Are you considering, therefore, a new piece of legislation or changing regulations to make it a requirement?

We can't currently require, and it's not something that I've fully explored yet. At the moment, I'm in the zone of encouraging and potentially looking at how we could incentivise more retrofitting, but, again, this is part of the whole-system approach that we are taking. And Emma has set out some of the reasons why it would be difficult to require.

11:55

Thank you, Chair. We know that effective communication with residents on fire safety is crucial, and you've mentioned a good example of guidance from Welsh Government on websites, but do you have any more examples of how Welsh Government has ensured that engagement with residents in high-rise blocks in the private sector on fire safety issues has been achieved? And to what extent have the managing agents, the management companies, engaged with residents on this really important issue?

I'll begin, and then I'll ask Andy, perhaps, to come in on this one as well. Welsh Government has worked closely with TPAS, the Tenant Participation Advisory Service, in order to test out some of the advice and some of the material that the fire safety expert group was putting in place immediately following Grenfell to make sure that it was accessible, easily understandable, not causing undue concern. So, we've worked closely with them to try and come up with material, including a frequently asked questions page, that is appropriate.

Thank you, Minister. I think there are two aspects. One is about the quality of the information that's passed to tenants, and the second thing is about the extent to which they trust the voice by which it's communicated. I think that most people would agree that the fire and rescue service has remained a trusted voice in the aftermath of Grenfell Tower, and certainly South Wales Fire and Rescue Service have done an awful lot of work proactively to work with people in the private sector in Wales to communicate the information, both through information that they have available on their website, for example, but also by visiting the premises and sitting down and talking to residents. Colleagues in South Wales Fire and Rescue Service particularly talk about the very positive relationship that they've built with private sector landlords.

Just to build on that, we took as our gold standard, if you like, the work that Newport City Homes did with their tenants, which was exemplary. We have built on that, and our engagement with the managing agents in relation to the private sector blocks we've identified with ACM on in particular has been very good. We've shared those materials used in the social housing sector with them, and all of them have engaged with their residents, with their leaseholders and their tenants, on a regular basis. And, whenever we've asked them to ensure that certain messages are passed on to tenants, they have responded very positively, and so I think that, generally speaking, we'd agree that they've done everything we've asked of them and been keen to ensure that they are keeping their residents well informed throughout the process.

Thank you. The committee's heard evidence that the cost of remediation means that residents are continuing to live in unsafe blocks. I was just wondering what thought has been given to the introduction of a grant or loan scheme to help pay for fire safety work so that repairs could be carried out promptly?

I'll start to answer that, and then perhaps I'll ask Andy to talk about some of the interim measures that have been put in place to ensure that people are as safe as they can be in the interim period before the cladding is removed. So, we are very clear that we don't want to see leaseholders paying for the cost of the remediation work, and we've had some very good discussions with building owners of those buildings that do have the ACM cladding on them. We've made good progress in many cases, and in many cases the building owners have been able to step up and pay for that work. Of course, I'm sure that you're aware that, in some cases, it's more difficult in terms of the financial question, because there are issues of warranties and so on. But our primary concern is that the cladding comes off as soon as possible. In terms of interim measures, though, we need to give people the confidence that they are as safe as they can be, which is why the fire and rescue service has been working very closely with the building owners and residents on that.

Thank you, Minister. I would argue that we're not in a situation where people in Wales are living in unsafe blocks of flats, and the reason for that is because fire safety standards have been reviewed, fire risk assessments have been re-looked at, and interim measures have been put in place to make sure that people are safe in those blocks. The fire and rescue service has now been out and audited the revised fire risk assessments for all of the blocks in question, and, to use the terminology, they're first of all satisfied that the fire risk assessments are suitable, so they're focused on the right kinds of fire risk, and also sufficient in terms of the fire risk assessment leading to steps being taken that bring the risk down to an acceptable level. So, I think the position is stable now in these blocks, our job now is to look at what we need to do to reset the system so that those interim measures can be removed and replaced with something that works on a more sustainable basis.

12:00

Okay. Just finally, have you had good engagement from developers with Welsh Government in seeking to resolve the current impasse regarding who pays for the remedial works?

Yes, we have had very good engagement, I have to say. This is one of the reasons we've benefited by being a small country, in the sense that Welsh Government has been able to have that individual relationship with all of the high-rise owners, particularly the ones where the concerns about the ACM cladding came to light. So, we've been able to keep very much an in-house casework kind of approach to this, whereas, of course, understandably in England, given the different scale of the issue, it's been devolved down to local authorities, but we've kept this very much as a piece of work that we're constantly, I have to say, engaged in. So, I had the opportunity to meet with all of the building owners and the management companies of all of those private sector buildings. Some of the situations have been resolved; it's just the one developer now that we are in final discussions with. But, I do think they've been positive, generally, the discussions we've had.

Could I pop in, Minister? Just to update: we had conversations yesterday with the developer that you heard about in your evidence session—a very positive dialogue. I did say I'd share with the committee what they put in writing to me, which was that they remained committed to identifying a solution that did not require leaseholders to fund remediation work. So, we're waiting to see what that looks like at the moment, but it's a far more positive situation than they previously described to us.

One of the things we've learnt is that social housing blocks tend to have fire evacuation plans in place, which take account of the potential vulnerabilities of individual tenants, but that that is rare if not never happening in privately owned high-rise blocks. I just wondered if you could tell us what steps the Government might be able to take to ensure that that was something that could be discussed with managing agents.

I certainly think that it's something that we can discuss with agents about how they might encourage that, but it's a very different situation in a private block where leaseholders may want to have their privacy respected and there isn't the same relationship between the leaseholder and the managing agent as there would be between a social landlord and a tenant. And, indeed, even where you have a relationship, within a social housing block, there are personal evacuation plans in place for people with known chronic long-term mobility issues, et cetera, but of course they can't necessarily pick up incidents where, perhaps, somebody has taken a fall and is temporarily incapacitated.

So, whilst social landlords work very hard and, particularly where they have vulnerable tenants, will make every effort to ensure that those plans are in place and accessible to the fire and rescue service in the event of an emergency, the private building owners and managing agents are in a very different situation where we are into people's privacy rights, as I say, and how one could require such information is very difficult to see. Perhaps encouraging is the place to start and it's certainly a conversation we can pick up in our engagement with representative bodies, perhaps through the leasehold reform group. It's a conversation that we can certainly start.

Clearly, somebody with an evident disability that prevents them walking down the emergency stairs, you would hope that they would have a conversation with the people who manage their building. It would be useful, perhaps, to hear from the fire service as to whether that happens, and whether they're aware—. You know, if they're called to property X, is there a list of people who you know wouldn't be able to walk down the emergency exit?

12:05

Thank you, Minister. I suppose this discussion needs to be set within the context of the way that fire safety in these blocks has traditionally been dealt with, I think. You will all have heard very much about the 'stay put' policy, which, if the building behaves in the right way, is a perfectly sensible way of dealing with fire safety in high-rise blocks. So, the thinking in terms of keeping residents of these premises safe, traditionally, has been about them only needing to move from the flat of origin—the flat where the fire started—to a place of relative safety outside that flat. You can now conceive of a situation where you may have a 'stay put by default' arrangement in a high-rise building, but when the responsible person does their risk assessment, they identify a scenario where it may be necessary to begin to evacuate some of the people from that building because the fire doesn't develop in the way that you would expect it to. That then raises questions about the efficacy of the fire safety Order in terms of what they can do about it, and touches on my point earlier about what goes on behind the flats [correction: behind the front doors of flats] in residential tower blocks not being something the fire service can really influence through the fire safety Order. It becomes a matter for environmental health officers through the Housing Act. So, I think the circumstances, the way that thinking is shifting around fire safety in high-rise blocks, asks some important questions about whether we do need to do some work in this area.

And given the evidence we've heard, not just about people's individual doors that they may replace without being compliant, but also people buy electrical equipment to recharge their phones, which won't necessarily be compliant, but it's cheaper, and those are all potential risks, or they buy some electrical—a fridge or, just I think like in Grenfell, there was an electrical appliance that set itself on fire. So, do you think it is necessary to introduce regulations so that, in a high-rise block, the occupier is required to accept a home fire safety check? Given that the danger of whatever they're doing obviously poses a danger to other people.

The system that we have at the moment for safe and well visits is targeted at those most vulnerable within the system and is on a voluntary basis. Scaling that up would require a significant review of capacity and potentially funding in order to be able to do that. I think, as Andy's alluded to, there are still issues about whether you could compel people to have such a check, or whether we focus on trying to encourage people, for their own safety and well-being, to take up the offer of those checks. I know that the fire and rescue service have done considerable work around home checks, haven't they? So perhaps Andy might want to add.

They have. The issue about controlling the behaviour of people within their own home is a tricky one. I would like to think that leases would be constructed in a way that would enable a landlord to deal with tenants who are behaving in an irresponsible way, however that irresponsible behaviour manifests itself. The position with fire and rescue, as Emma's quite rightly said, is that we offer safe and well visits, which include home fire safety checks, to people that the fire and rescue service consider to be most vulnerable from fire. So I think that a mechanism by which landlords can deal with that kind of behaviour in their block would be very helpful, but I'm not sure that introducing a statutory requirement for them to accept a home safety check from the fire and rescue service would be the right way to deal with that. There are, for example, people in the private sector who have the right kind of expertise to go into those premises and deal with it, so it would be the same outcome without necessarily imposing a burden on a service that, at the moment, offers that as a service to people who they consider to be most vulnerable, rather than a mechanism to manage recalcitrant behaviour.

But would you like to see private leases that insist that people can't change their front door without checking with the managing agent, or that they ought to have a conversation with people, with the managing agent, about the appliances they're using at home?

I think certainly on the front door issue, because we touched on the confusion around this issue, it would be very helpful if it became standard practice for leases to make clear that those doors can't be changed or modified without ensuring that whatever they're changed to is compliant. I think that would be very helpful. It's something I think that we will collectively be looking at.

12:10

And if I may add to that, Minister, in that scenario, you have somebody whose behaviour is putting other people in the block at risk, because there's a chance of a fire starting in their house, their home, spreading more quickly. It also puts firefighters at more risk, of course, because if these buildings are built in the right way, firefighters expect, when they arrive at high-rise blocks to fight a fire, for that fire to be contained in the flat of origin, not to have spread beyond it. So, it's a public safety but a firefighter safety issue as well.

I'll just add that that conversation reminds me, really, that one of the key issues that we've asked our safety expert group to grapple with in the first instance is actually which buildings are in scope when we are talking about building safety, particularly with regard to fire issues. Because, of course, buildings are not necessarily defined by their height—the safety of a building isn't defined by the height; actually, in many cases, it's defined by the people who are living within that building. So, care homes, for example, might be more at risk. So, this is one of the issues that we're grappling with, in terms of defining and understanding that risk, and the way to best use resources, and where we should be making changes within that wider system. So, it's not all about the height of the building.

And, clearly, one would expect care homes to be submitting themselves to advice from the fire officers, surely. Are care homes not regularly inspected as part of their registration process?

Residential care premises would be inspected by the Care Quality Commission, generally, but they would also be designated as a relatively high-risk building, on which fire and rescue services would focus audits as part of their risk-based inspection programmes. So, they already achieve a greater focus. I think the point the Minister makes is absolutely right: the level of risk inside a building is not just dependent on the general nature of occupancy and the height. I think there's a strong case to take a more sophisticated approach to deciding what's high risk and what isn't.

Andy, perhaps if I could just ask a final question. Going back to the lists that are kept of people with vulnerabilities in a high-risk block, should there be a fire incident, how significant are those—notwithstanding what you said about the 'stay put' policy and the fact that people might develop short-term mobility impairments? How significant is having that list in social housing high-rise blocks? Is it an important aid to fire safety?

I think the issue of information sharing is really important. And one of the reasons I say that is that, if you look at the way that home fire safety checks, as they were, and safe and well visits have been targeted in the fire and rescue service, the starting point in 2004 was to look at geographical areas in which there were relatively large numbers of fires, and to target those areas with home safety checks. That phase of work has really been dealt with now—geographical areas have been targeted. The approach that's taken now is to try and identify where individual people are who, by virtue of their particular circumstances, are more at risk from fire. So, the quality of intelligence that is fed into that home safety inspection programme is more important than ever. It's not just landlords who have that information, of course, it can be drawn from a number of sources, but good-quality intelligence is an integral part of making that safe and well visit programme work well.

So, would you have particular concerns regarding private sector high-rise blocks in that regard, in terms of the quality of the information and the availability of the information, Andy, or is the fact that it's drawn from a variety of sources dealing with it?

Frankly, Chair, I don't think I would have any more concern when it comes to a high-rise residential block than I would a single standalone residential building out in a rural area, where an individual, by virtue of their circumstances, is at relatively high risk of fire. So, I don't think this is a particular issue to these types of buildings, would be my view.

Okay. Well, thank you very much for that—that's very clear. Thank you, all, for coming along to give evidence to the committee today on these really important matters, following that terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr.

12:15
4. Papurau i'w Nodi
4. Papers to Note

Okay, our next item—item 4—is papers to note. Are Members content to note those papers? Thank you very much.

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Remainder of the Meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 5 is a motion to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting under Standing Order 17.42. Is committee content so to do? Okay, thank you. We will move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:15.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:15.

Explore the National Assembly for Wales