Council backtracks on ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy on fire-risk management

Local residents were recently told that they had to remove doormats, pot plants and flower boxes in front of their homes.

Labour-run Southwark Council adopted a ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy to fire risk management, meaning that while previously restrictions centred on specific fire risks, in future anything in communal areas or in front of people homes had to be removed.

This blanket change of policy was announced with little consultation, with many residents first being told about the changes with a letter from the Council, giving them a deadline to remove everything from the front of their homes. This included grilles in front of doors, even in cases where police had recommend women at risk from former partners to keep them. In one case, a resident was told to remove her Wi-Fi enabled door-bell, despite given no real explanation how it was a fire risk.

David Noakes, a Liberal Democrat Councillor for Cathedrals ward, has led calls on the Council to rethink its approach, in favour of a more proportional and case-by-case basis, where the focus is on genuine fire-risks rather than residents.

At first, the Labour Council response was to deny that they had responsibility for their change policy, claiming that it was purely a matter for the London Fire Brigade. This was found to be incorrect, with a Council policy audit concluding that the new policy was a ‘management choice… entirely within Southwark Council’s’ remit, conceding that doormats and bicycles ‘clearly do not present a significant fire risk’.

Cllr Noakes took up the matter with the Labour leader of the Council Peter John at the last Council Assembly meeting, arguing that the ‘Zero Tolerance’ approach to people’s homes was excessive and disproportionate.

Going against his Cabinet colleague, the Council Leader conceded that the change of policy had been badly handled and suggested that it should be reconsidered. It still remains unclear what changes, if any, will be implemented, with residents remaining in limbo whether they can keep the entrances to their homes as they are.

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