Social housing budget used for fire safety works

Social housing budget used for fire safety works

MANCHESTER COUNCIL has had to delay social housing improvements in order to fund essential fire safety works on its high rise blocks, due to no government funding.

Manchester Evening News reported on the announcement by the council that it would spend £16m improving fire safety in its residential tower blocks, at the expense of delaying ‘a range of planned upgrades to flats’. The council said that it has had ‘no money from government’ to help make the blocks safe, so the upgrades – including ‘new bathrooms’ in flats – ‘will now be delayed to pay for’ the fire safety work.

Among the work to be undertaken includes installing sprinklers in all of its flats run by arms length management organisation Northwards ‘unless tenants specifically say they do not want them’. This will also be undertaken at 11 other blocks owned under private finance initiative (PFI) schemes in Brunswick and Miles Platting. Added to the sprinkler installations will be a £5.2m spend on ‘essential’ fire safety improvements ‘to ensure flames cannot spread through the towers’.

Without the extra funding from the government, the funding will ‘have to come’ from budgets ‘normally used to upgrade social housing stock’, which also includes lift replacement, rewiring and roof upgrades, with the council having spent the 18 months since the Grenfell Tower fire ‘investigating what extra measures needed to be brought into keep tenants and leaseholders safe’.

While none of the council’s high rises had combustible cladding, it was told by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service that it recommended ‘all flats be fitted with sprinklers’. A ‘high-level’ fire risk assessment programme also identified ‘millions of pounds’ worth of mandatory work required to improve compartmentation,.

While a tenant consultation found that the majority were happy to have sprinklers installed, residents of the Collyhurst high rise objected, meaning that ‘as a result the council is unlikely to force anyone who strongly does not want sprinklers to have them installed’.

Suzanne Richards, Manchester council’s executive member for housing and regeneration, said: ‘Since the proposals to install sprinkler systems in council-owned high rise properties were endorsed by members last year we have undertaken consultation with residents with our social housing partner Northwards Housing.

‘Test flats were set up to show residents how the system will look once installed and to ensure they understand the benefits and to myth bust some popular misconceptions about building-wide sprinkler systems. The installation works will also be scheduled to incorporate other improvement works to Northwards properties to limit disruption as much as possible.

‘Taking advice from both government and the fire service, we believe sprinkler systems are an appropriate response to further improve fire safety in council-owned high-rise properties – in conjunction with robust fire assessments.’