Grenfell Tower fire

Grenfell Tower fire. Photograph: Natalie Oxford via Twitter

Hackney Council changed its mind about releasing historic fire safety checks for housing blocks after the Grenfell fire, according to an internal review of the Town Hall’s refusal to release these documents to the public.

In July, the council rejected freedom of information requests from the Citizen for the Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) for Hackney’s 181 mid-to-high-rise council blocks for the years up to June’s fatal West London blaze.

This was on the grounds that the council was holding the information “with a view to its publication … at some future date” – an exemption under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act.

However, the council and Mayor confirmed in September that there are “no plans” to release the old FRAs.

When the Citizen appealed the rejection of the freedom of information requests, pointing out this contradiction, an internal review found that the council had changed its mind about releasing the old FRAs.

Michael Scorer, Hackney Council’s Director of Housing, in a letter to the Citizen, said: “Having consulted with the team responsible for publishing the FRAs, I can confirm that – at the time of the response to your requests – the council did intend to publish all FRAs relating to its 181 tall buildings.

“Subsequent to this, the council decided that, in the circumstances, it would be a better use [of] time and resources to publish current FRAs, rather than historic ones, as old FRAs are of limited use to residents.”

Scorer added that the Citizen is free to resubmit the freedom of information requests, but warned that “as the subject of your requests is similar the council may treat them as combined for the purpose of calculating costs”, and would therefore probably reject them again.

He advised the Citizen to “narrow the scope of any future requests to a fewer number of years, or FRAs relating only to a specific building or buildings”.

On the day of the Grenfell Tower fire (14 June), Mayor Philip Glanville said: “All of our buildings have an up-to-date fire risk assessment.”

The Citizen has been requesting these pre-Grenfell FRAs ever since, but the council has blocked their release, first by delays and then by flat refusal, saying newly conducted FRAs “supersede the previous ones”.

The council’s online publication of new FRAs has been plagued by technical errors, embarrassing revelationsincorrect dates, and a format slammed by disability campaigners for being hard to use.

One building had not been checked for five years due to a “recording error” by an assessor, while the Town Hall blamed a safety expert for labelling one FRA with the wrong date.

Hackney Council is also refusing to release the Red-Amber-Green (RAG) fire safety ratings for Hackney schools it generated after Grenfell, saying these are “not intended for public use”.

Update: Hackney Council has apologised for incorrectly telling the Citizen that the RAG ratings were given to the Department for Education. The story has been amended accordingly. You can read the council’s apology here

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