Few council owned blocks have sprinkler systems

Few council owned blocks have sprinkler systems

THE FINDINGS came from a BBC investigation, with only 2% of half the UK’s council and housing association owned tower blocks having ‘full’ sprinkler systems.

BBC reported on its investigation, which ‘focused on half’ the council and housing association owned blocks in the UK, while 68% of those have ‘just one staircase through which to evacuate’. Other information gathered from the investigation, which questioned 56 local authorities and housing associations under the Freedom of Information Act, included that 30% of blocks investigated ‘had some kind of cladding’, though ‘not the same ACM cladding’ as used at Grenfell Tower.

In total, the responses covered ‘about half of the UK’s estimated 4,000 tower blocks’, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan stating that ‘the results from the BBC investigation should be a source of concern to us all. The Grenfell public inquiry must report as soon as possible so that action can be taken’. In Wales, all new homes built from 206 have to be fitted with sprinkler systems, while Scotland also ‘has stronger regulation than England’, with blocks over 18m newly built requiring sprinklers.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said that it ‘will consider whether to retrofit sprinklers’ based on recommendations made in the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, and the European Fire Sprinkler Network’s executive director Alan Brinson stated that ‘nothing compares to them in saving lives’.

Ann Jones, Labour AM for the Vale of Clywd, pushed reforms through the Welsh Assembly on sprinkler retrofitting, and added: ‘After 30 years in the fire service, I saw many firefighters coming back from incidents of fires where they had lost people, and the devastation that that causes. I decided I was going to try to put in a system that would help fire safety, and for me, sprinklers in all new build homes was that opportunity.’

London Fire Brigade (LFB) also responded to the investigation, with commissioner Dany Cotton commenting that ‘I think Grenfell should be a turning point. I support retrofitting - for me where you can save one life then it's worth doing. This can't be optional, it can’t be a nice to have, this is something that must happen. If that isn’t one of the recommendations (of the Grenfell Tower inquiry) then I will be so very disappointed’.

LFB also stated on its website that ‘now is the time for action’ for sprinklers in both residential high rises and schools, Cotton adding that ‘the tragic fire at Grenfell has thrown fire safety into the spotlight and while we are not pre-empting the findings of the Inquiry, now is the time to remind Government of life-saving recommendations we have been making for years.

‘We are calling for residential tower blocks to be retrofitted with sprinklers and they should be mandatory in all new school builds and major refurbishments. Sprinklers are the only fire safety system that detects a fire, suppresses a fire and raises the alarm. They save lives  and protect property and they are especially important where there are vulnerable residents who would find it difficult to escape, like those with mobility problems.

‘My priority is to save lives but I can also make an economic case for sprinklers. It costs around £1,500 - £2,500 to retrofit a flat, while the cost of refurbishing a one-bedroom flat after a fire is about £77,000’. On sprinklers in schools, the LFB noted that its crews were called ‘to over 80 fires a year’, with ‘millions of pounds’ wasted repairing fire and water damage.

Cotton added on this point that ‘for years builders, developers, local authorities and private housing providers have ignored the clear benefits of sprinklers. It’s not just about homes, we go to around 80 fires in London schools every year. Fires in schools cause major disruption to pupils, breakfast and after school clubs are cancelled and often, a costly repair bill could have been avoided. If they are incorporated from the design stage, sprinklers are around 1% of the total build cost’.