Labour calls on government to fund retrofitting of tower block sprinklers

Ten years on from Lakanal and 95% of high-rise social housing blocks are still without sprinklers, research reveals.


Fire Safety Sprinkler

Ten years on from the Lakanal House fire, an investigation by the Labour Party reveals 95% of high-rise social housing blocks are still without sprinklers.

The Lakanal  fire – which claimed six lives – prompted a series of calls to install sprinklers in tall social housing blocks.

Now, Labour has renewed its calls for a £1bn Fire Safety Fund to finance vital safety work and retrofit sprinklers in high-rise social housing blocks.

Sprinklers have been a legal requirement in all new high-rise blocks since 2007.

But for over two years since the Grenfell disaster the Government has refused to help fund retrofitting of sprinklers in social sector blocks – despite repeated pleas from cash-strapped councils wanting to install the devices.

Published following the two-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, Labour’s investigation has found that 95% of local authority-owned tower blocks taller than 30 metres do not have sprinkler systems installed.

The investigation, led by Shadow Housing Minister Sarah Jones, used FoI requests, private surveys and publicly available data to compile information from 354 councils and Arm’s Length Management Organisations (ALMOs).

“The Lakanal House fire showed the clear need for sprinklers in all tall housing blocks, Yet a decade on, nothing has changed.

“We know ministers ignored years of warnings prior to Grenfell, and two years after 72 people died they are still refusing to make blocks safe,” said Jones.

“It is simply a contradiction in terms for the government to suggest that sprinklers are essential in new buildings whilst ignoring calls for them in older buildings.

This creates a two-tier system, hierarchy of harm where social housing tenants are disproportionately affected,” she said.

A recent letter to the government signed by councils in England’s 15 largest cities and hand delivered to 10 Downing Street called for a government fund for sprinkler retrofitting.

According to the letter, “a number of local authorities have either consulted or drawn up programmes to retrofit.”

However, the costs for some authorities’ sprinkler programmes are set to exceed £30m.

In the face of an ever-widening funding gap for local government, with council budgets being cut by a projected 77% from 2010 to 2020, Government continues to claim that the retrofitting of sprinklers is non-essential work.

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said the government was overseeing one “appalling” fire safety failure after another.

“We’ve been crystal clear on this: all new high rise buildings should be built with sprinklers.

“Sprinklers should be retrofitted to any building deemed necessary by a fire risk assessment as part of a wider campaign to improve fire safety,” said Wrack.

“Lakanal House should have been a turning point in the UK’s fire safety regime, but many of the warnings raised by the Fire Brigades Union fell on deaf ears.

As things stand, this government’s response to Grenfell will be no better,” he said.