Report into Barking flats blaze recommends additional “housing emergency” powers for council

Local authorities should have powers to declare a “housing emergency” after a disaster to help them reclaim costs from private building owners, a report commissioned following a devastating fire has found.

Barking and Dagenham Council asked Sir Steve Bullock, chairman of the Housing & Finance Institute, to lead an independent review into the events after the fire at Samuel Garside House in Barking Riverside in June 2019.

Twenty flats were destroyed and a further 10 damaged in the inferno when a balcony caught alight.

Almost 80 households were displaced, with residents losing possessions and pets in the blaze.

The report, released today, Friday January 22, states that councils should have more powers to enforce safety laws and reclaim the costs associated with disasters caused by problems in private housing blocks.

Local authorities should be able to declare a “housing emergency” situation for an initial 30 days following a disaster, Sir Steve said.

During this time they should be able to “take all necessary actions, including to reclaim costs incurred from the responsible building owners”.

It adds that freeholders of residential buildings should lodge a “Statement of Ownership” with the Land Registry setting out the organisations which hold leases and subleases in a block of flats and states that local authorities should have “enhanced enforcement powers” for buildings below 18 metres to ensure safety measures are put in place by developers.

The council’s cabinet meeting heard this week that the local authority spent a significant amount of money rehousing and taking care of residents in the aftermath of the fire.

Council leader Darren Rodwell said safety legislation put in place by the Government following the Grenfell Tower blaze did not go far enough and would not have applied at Samuel Garside House because it was under 18metres.

He said: “We had a fire, Sutton had a fire, Hackney had a fire, we had a fire in a building of the same size. None of them would have been covered [by new Government legislation].”

He added: “Two fire cadets raised the alarm and got people out of that building. If it had been 3am God only knows what would have happened. I’m proud we have played our part. But I’m disappointed the Government hasn’t played theirs. I would ask them to look at these recommendations. Nothing is more important than having a safe home.”

Sir Steve interviewed residents, council officers, London Fire Brigade, and the agencies involved in the ownership and management of the building – developer Bellway, building owner Adriatic land, managers Homeground and RMG and flat owners Southern Housing and Barking Riverside – for the report.

Mr Rodwell added: “It should not be us, the community, who pays the price. This building was built privately, it was maintained privately, it was built on private land.

“There was nothing for us as a council to be part of. But we were the people who came in and made sure that those residents were looked after.”


Rachael Burford

Local Democracy Reporter