FAIL FIRE CHECKS
11:00 - 04 December 2007
Scores of hotels and guest houses across the region
have been labelled "unsafe" from fire after
hundreds of properties in Devon and Cornwall failed
to meet strict new safety laws, the Western Morning
News has learned.
By the end of October, 302 non-domestic properties
in Devon and Cornwall, chiefly those providing sleeping
accommodation, had fallen short of new Government
legislation designed to save more people from death
and injury caused by blazes.
Many fear the figure is just the tip of the iceberg,
given that only a fraction (around 1,800) of tens
of thousands of Westcountry premises subject to the
law have received a thorough fire brigade audit.
Awareness of hotel fire safety has been heightened
following the Penhallow Hotel blaze in Newquay, Cornwall,
in August, in which three people died. An investigation
into the causes of the blaze is still going on.
One fire service chief claimed the legislation "doesn't
feature particularly highly on (a hotel's) agenda".
Gary Bryant, a Devon-based independent fire safety
consultant, said it would take years to bring the
region's portfolio of hotels and B &Bs up to speed
with the new Regulatory Reform Order (RRO).
He said: "We can say 60 per cent of all hotels
in Devon and Cornwall are not compliant (with the
fire safety order) and would be categorised as unsafe
in the event of a fire. Any building can be a death
trap if people are in the wrong building at the wrong
time. I'm sure there are many of them."
Faults included poor fire escapes, inadequate techniques
to stop fires spreading and, frequently, out-dated
alarm systems. According to publicly available register
of notices, officers deemed one hotel in the Penwith
area, as "not to be used for any form of human
A Torquay hotel fell foul on eight points, including
"fire safety management policy inadequate",
"fire detection system inadequate" and "escape
routes and exits could not be used quickly and safely".
The RRO came into force in October 2006. The order
means owners of all non-domestic properties are required
to carry out a self-assessment of their fire safety
provision, including hotels, factories and offices.
At the same time, the old system of fire brigades
issuing safety certificates was scrapped.
Representing the biggest revision of fire safety
guidance since 1971, the change meant that buildings
that had not updated fire safety for potentially more
than 30 years were suddenly expected to adhere to
In its new role as enforcer, local fire brigades
have the power to insist buildings make swift improvements
or even demand an immediate closure.
The fire services in Devon and Cornwall view hotels
and B &Bs as high risk as they fall within the
"sleeping risk" category, and as such have
targeted the sector for audits.
Between last October and the end of same month this
year, Cornwall County Fire Brigade served 161 notices
after conducting audits on just 550 properties.
Cornwall County Fire Brigade divisional officer Kevin
Thomas, the brigade's senior fire safety officer,
said they have had "considerable issues"
with some hotels.
Mr Thomas said: "Some hotels have been very
proactive, read the legislation and undertaken their
own risk assessments or commissioned private sector
consultants to do that for them. There is another
section of society, which is the larger, for which
it doesn't feature particularly highly on their agenda."
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, which
only holds figures since the two counties' fire services
merged in March last year, has issued 151 notices
- 141 in Devon alone - following approximately 1,300
Graham Jackson, community safety protection manager
of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, said
while most were carrying out the risk assessments,
"there will always be individuals who will attempt
short cuts" and that some businesses are "not
attempting to move with the times".
He said: "It is these premises where people
will be most at risk and therefore these are targeted
by us to ensure compliance with the law. If we had
very serious concerns about the safety of persons
resorting to a premises we do not hesitate to prohibit
or restrict the use of that premises until the risk
is reduced to an acceptable level."
The public register of the notices shows that national
chains, boutique hotels and small B &Bs have all
The action taken by both services was almost always
enforcement notices, which demand improvements are
made within a strict date.
But 18 premises in Cornwall and one in Devon were
given prohibition notices, a move seen as a "last
resort" that closes all or part of a building
until improvements are made.
Representatives from the tourism and hospitality
industry, the backbone of the Westcountry economy,
admitted that many hoteliers are yet to catch up with
the new laws.
But some hit back, claiming the legislation was confusing,
that small businesses are issued crippling improvement
bills and that fire services are interpreting their
enforcement powers differently.
John Dyson, health and technical affairs director
of the British Hospitality Association, said: "The
big issue for hotels is the guidance. There are 11
or so guidance documents each 120 pages long. That
guidance can be quite a challenge for them."
David Weston, chairman of the Bed and Breakfast Association,
said: "We have heard scare stories from the owners
of B &Bs who, faced with a bill of £10,000
to £15,000, are having to close down. We think
that hundreds of B &Bs will close."
Malcolm Bell, chief executive of South West Tourism,
said: "It's about hoteliers getting used to the
legislation and getting the help they need with interpretation.
You could invest £12,000 on something not required."