Leeds council blocks to be retrofitted with sprinklers

Leeds council blocks to be retrofitted with sprinklers

LEEDS CITY Council is hiring extra staff to retrofit sprinklers at eight ‘priority’ council owned high rises, following the Grenfell Tower fire last June.

Leeds Live reported on the announcement by the council, which will see sprinklers retrofitted at the eight blocks at a cost of over £1.2m. Before the Grenfell Tower fire, the council had already fitted sprinklers at six of its blocks, which ‘mainly’ housed older people ‘extremely vulnerable in the event of a fire’. That work had been completed at Queensview, Marsden Court, Rycroft Green, Burnsall Court, Crescent Grange and Queenswood Court.

The Grenfell Tower fire however caused the council to carry out a review, in which it decided to retrofit sprinklers at eight other blocks ‘as a matter of urgency’, with these prioritised due to housing vulnerable residents as well as having ‘greater occupancy, high number of storeys and a history of fires’. These buildings include Cottingley Heights and Cottingley Towers, Gamble Hill Croft and Gamble Hill Grange, Naseby Grange, Crescent Towers, Marlborough Towers and Parkway Towers.

In a report, the chief officer of the council’s building services stated: ‘The council has previously identified that none of its tower blocks are at risk from the same form of cladding as used at Grenfell Tower and that all the cladding systems used on blocks owned and managed by Leeds City Council have been tested and approved.

‘However, as a result of the tragic events at Grenfell Towers it was decided to prioritise the remaining retro-fitting of sprinkler systems to Leeds City Council’s high-rise blocks […] it is expected that the proposed strategy will add a further layer of protection to tenants, reflecting on the vulnerability of individuals in our blocks and the recommendations of fire chiefs. This is not a solution that purely relies on sprinklers in order to prevent the spread of fire. It is felt that this approach offers the most timely and cost effective way forward.’

An existing agreement with fire safety firm Armstrong Priestly was capped in terms of cost and time frame, with the report asking financial chiefs to ‘rescind this and form a new partnership’ for the next three years worth up to £3.7m, with £2.5m left over to ‘be spent on other blocks’. The council also plans to recruit 15 new staff members in the building service team ‘at a cost of just under half a million pounds’ in order to help complete the project.

Looking to the long term, the report estimated that it could cost the council £22m to retrofit all of its council blocks with sprinklers, with these ‘likely’ to be put out to tender in the next 18 months. Earlier today, it was announced that a privately owned high rise student flat block in the city centre will see cladding removed and replaced after inspections.

Debra Coupar, the council’s executive member for communities, said: ‘We have now completed our sixth-retrofit of sprinklers in Leeds City Council tower blocks. This sits aside a revised and more detailed investment strategy in fire safety measures in all of our estate. As part of this work, we will also be continuing to explore the potential of retrofitting sprinklers in more of our tower blocks.

‘Through our strategy, we are mainly targeting blocks of flats which are reserved for older residents and our most vulnerable tenants, who could potentially be more at risk in the case of a fire. It is important to recognise that these works are complex, disruptive for residents and take time to complete effectively.

‘This is part of an ongoing fire safety investment strategy which has focused on fire-stopping measures which have been shown to effectively prevent fires from spreading in our blocks. None of our blocks have the types of exterior cladding or insulation which have failed recent government fire tests.

‘We believe there needs to be urgent consideration by national government of the need to retrofit sprinklers in all multi storey blocks. This should not be subject to a postcode lottery but based on sound evidence and advice. Practical consideration also needs to be given to the capacity of the industry and the level of resource needed to achieve this on a national level.’