Minister says sprinkler ‘loophole’ needs to close

Minister says sprinkler ‘loophole’ needs to close

CARL SARGEANT, Communities Secretary for the Welsh government, participated in an inquiry in Wales into high rise fire safety.

BBC News reported on the inquiry, which took place on Wednesday and aimed to look into the safety of the country’s high rise blocks after seven buildings across the country failed cladding tests.

The Welsh Assembly’s equality, local government and communities committee heard evidence in a one day inquiry at the Senedd, following revelations earlier in the summer that cladding samples from blocks in Swansea Newport had failed the government’s safety tests.

In detail, the inquiry was set to discuss ‘current measures in place across Wales’. It aimed to ‘identify any gaps or weaknesses in the current system’, as well as ‘assess the effectiveness of guidance currently on offer’ to residents, and ‘whether their voices are being heard’. At the inquiry, the ‘merits of sprinklers’ were debated, and it emerged that ‘thousands of new homes in Wales could be built without sprinklers, despite a law which makes it a compulsory fire safety measure’.

Welsh Government head of planning Neil Hemington stated that ‘sites registered before the law took effect were exempt’, while, Communities Secretary Carl Sargeant responded this was ‘inappropriate’ and vowed to try to ‘close that loophole’. The Home Builders Federation (HBF) in turn noted that ‘such a situation was common when rules change during the building process’, while Wales became the first country in the world to make sprinklers compulsory in 2011.

Mr Hemington confirmed and added that since 2014, sprinklers had to be fitted in all new ‘high risk’ buildings like hotels and halls of residence, with the measure ‘extended to cover all new buildings in 2016’. He added that some of the larger housebuilders ‘pre-registered sites before 2016, which meant they locked themselves into an earlier set of building regulations’.

He continued: ‘So some of the houses now which have build regulations process started before 2016 are not including sprinklers. You just have to submit a plan with a boundary on it .... it was quite an easy exercise to allow that to happen.’ In addition he told the committee that he would ‘try to get a more precise estimate of the number of houses involved’.

Mr Sargeant also gave evidence, and stated: ‘My understanding is that there are many thousands of homes that are yet to be built which have effectively circumnavigated the sprinkler measure. My personal view is that is inappropriate and we've had discussions about how/if we can close that loophole.’

The HBF noted in turn that ‘some homes, the specification and costs for which were already approved under the building regulations before the introduction of the new standard’ would not have sprinklers fitted, stating that ‘the number of such homes will diminish as existing sites are built out, as is commonplace whenever there are changes to regulations part way through the house building process’.