Waking watches in buildings seen as fire risks in the wake of the Grenfell disaster are costing Londoners an average of £12 million a month, – more than the rest of England.
Data from the Government has found that the mean average cost of a waking watch in London is £20,433 a month per building, compared to £15,279 in the rest of the country. There are 590 buildings in the capital that require a waking watch.
Buildings that are identified as fire risks, for example because of dangerous cladding, require a waking watch to patrol the building and alert residents if there is a fire. Many also require other measures such as communal fire alarm systems.
Andrew Dismore, chair of the London Assembly fire, resilience and emergency planning committee, said it is “a scandal wrapped into a tragedy” that Londoners are paying more than the rest of the country for waking watches.
Mr Dismore said: “The whole cladding crisis has been appalling for those people stuck in the middle but to then insult Londoners further by making them pay a third more for waking watches compared to what the rest of England pays is disgraceful.
“Being in a high-rise and unable to move because of the current cladding crisis is bad enough. To be unable to sell your home, be forced into paying for cladding to be removed, and pay for waking watches at rates far higher than the rest of the country to keep you safe is a scandal wrapped into a tragedy. Our committee has heard from Londoners who are potentially facing bankruptcy because of this.”
Earlier this week, the Government announced an additional £3.5 billion for the removal of unsafe cladding in buildings above 18 metres, but was criticised as “shameful” for suggesting that residents in smaller buildings take out loans to fix safety defects.
The new funding also failed to address the various other issues facing residents in buildings deemed to be fire risks, including the costs of waking watches and other temporary safety measures.
At last night’s People’s Question Time, London Mayor Sadiq Khan spoke about the cladding crisis and said, “the Government has got to step in, nobody else can”.
Mr Khan said: “It’s not just about cladding, it’s other concerns around the safety of the building that you have. It could be because you’re paying for a waking watch. It could be because you can’t sell.
“The money announced (on Wednesday), welcome though it is, only helps those above 18 metres, and with cladding. It doesn’t pay for all the other remediation work required.”
The Mayor of London added that the Government should “pay in advance” to fix fire safety defects and then “later on they can argue with the landowner about reimbursing them”.
Last year, the Government announced the £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund to cover the cost of replacing waking watches with fire alarm systems in high-risk buildings.
In its report into the cladding crisis, the Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee found that many high-risk buildings with fire alarms still require a waking watch and it recommended that the Government extend the fund to cover all temporary safety measures until defects could be fixed.