Fire chiefs want a say on high rise block plans in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes in wake of Grenfell tragedy

Fire service chiefs in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes are demanding a say on planning applications for high rise buildings in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
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Some 72 people died in the Grenfell Tower block fire in London on June 14, 2017, and fire services such as the one covering Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes are constantly updating how they deal with fire safety in tall buildings.

MK Cllr David Hopkins (Cons, Danesborough & Walton) said: “I think it is absolutely imperative that we as a fire authority do lobby strongly both Milton Keynes Council and Buckinghamshire Council to ensure we have a seat at the table when development proposals for high rise buildings in particular are being brought forward.”

He added: “We have an application coming forward in Milton Keynes for the redevelopment of Saxon Court in the city centre.

“It will be an iconic building but the fire authority has to be at the table discussing all the fire safety issues from day one.

“We can’t be involved retrospectively – we can’t be asked at some later date to give some viewpoints. We have to be there right at the start.

“Not just looking backwards but looking forwards as to how the fire authority can be absolutely involved in ongoing developments, especially iconic developments for the likes of Milton Keynes and the other major settlements.”

Buckinghamshire Conservative Cllr Lesley Clarke OBE, in the chair at Wednesday’s meeting of Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority, agreed.

Cllr Lesley Clarke and Cllr david HopkinsCllr Lesley Clarke and Cllr david Hopkins
Cllr Lesley Clarke and Cllr david Hopkins

She revealed that a letter has already been drafted requesting that the fire service be made into a “statutory consultee” by the planning departments of both councils.

Statutory consultees have to get the chance to have their say on planning applications.

The meeting heard that fire safety rules are being changed to include inspections of buildings more than 11m high.

But the precise details of when the fire service gets involved in considering planning applications, whether for plans taller than 11m or 18m will be discussed at a private briefing tomorrow (Thursday).

Cllr Keith McLean (Cons, Olney) said he thought the move would be “very helpful”.

“As someone who has sat on the development control committee of Milton Keynes Council for many years I very much support the additional recommendation,” he said.

The meeting also noted that the fire authority has received Government funds to accelerate the completion of the inspection of all 32 high rise buildings more than 18m tall in the area by the end of December 2021.

They have also received funding to inspect other “high risk” buildings, including an estimated 476 buildings between 11m and 18m tall, 209 care homes, 18 education settings taller than 11m, 528 HMOs, 27 hospitals, 142 hotels, 992 sheltered and supported housing and certain religious settings.

Background papers to the meeting said: “Focus must not be lost on the people who live and occupy these buildings.

“By giving information in a timely and appropriate manner, they will be reassured, therefore maintaining the confidence of the people in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes in their Fire and Rescue Service.”