London tenants want sprinklers in all new and existing tower blocks

Communal alarms and mandatory fire drills also emphasised in response to government consultation.

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London Tenants Federation (LTF)  is the latest sector body to want sprinklers and communal fire alarms in new and existing social housing blocks.

Releasing its response to government consultation on a proposed new building safety regulator, LTF also wants an end to ‘stay put’ as the default for a blaze in a fire in a high-rise block.

Earlier this month, Labour called on the government to fund retrofitting of tower block sprinklers, releasing research that revealed that 10 years on from Lakanal 95% of high-rise social housing blocks are still without sprinklers.

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.

LTF sees sprinklers and communal alarms as part of a new fire safety approach that includes mandatory annual fire drills in residential blocks.

“We welcome the idea of a new Building Safety Regulator with teeth to take action against safety breaches, but the new system must be properly funded by central government and be independent of political and commercial interference,” said LTF’s Pat Turnbull.

“There are many positives but also many shortcomings with the government’s proposals, not least the suggestion that it will only cover residential buildings over 18 metres high when firefighters’ standard ladders will only safely reach up 11 metres.

“We’ve produced an example response, available on our website, and we are urging all social housing tenants and leaseholders to respond to this consultation. This is about being able to sleep at night knowing we are safe in our beds,” she said.

The model was produced with support from Dr Stuart Hodkinson, University of Leeds, and former firefighter Phil Murphy, who facilitated an event with the LTF last week on the consultation.

Other LFT recommendations include:

  • A ban on all forms of combustible cladding above 11 metres
  • Automatic access to legal aid to seek judicial review where complaints to the new regulator are not upheld
  • Formal compensation scheme for those whose lives, earnings, and health suffer as a result of landlord safety breaches

“In Singapore, fire drills are a common practice in residential blocks, and 10% of residents must attend,” said Turnbull.

“If a fire should occur, those 10% will be best ready to help their neighbours.”

The Labour research released earlier this month prompted renewed 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 disaster, 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).

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, the government continues to claim that the retrofitting of sprinklers is non-essential work.

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