Southend high rises could see sprinklers fitted

Southend high rises could see sprinklers fitted

NEW PLANS from Southend Council could see ‘every high-rise tower block’ in the town retrofitted with sprinkler systems, as a response to the government’s fire safety reforms.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette reported on the plans announced by the council, which came ‘after the government announced reforms to fire safety regulations’ earlier this year, including lowering the threshold for sprinklers in high rise buildings 18m and above to 11m and above. As a consequence, the council is ‘considering’ retrofitting all tower blocks it is responsible for, even though - as the news outlet noted – the reforms ‘will apply only to new build towers’.

Despite this, the council said it wanted to ‘ensure all residents have the same level of safety’, with an initial pilot retrofitting scheme intended first in one high residential block at a cost of £400,000. Should this prove ‘effective’, an extra £5m would be allocated for retrofitting all blocks ‘over a period of between four and six years’, with an average cost of £2,500 per flat – though this ‘does not include the costs of water tanks, core pumping systems and other ancillary works’.

Full costs for the scheme would be assessed during the pilot scheme, a council report noted, with the plan to be discussed by the cabinet. Council leader Ian Gilbert commented: ‘Fire safety in our council homes is a top priority of this joint administration and I am pleased to recommend that this pilot project takes place, with the intention that a full programme is carried out across council owned tower blocks.

‘A full programme will require a large amount of coordination and investment, but I believe that this work is important to both ensure the safety of our residents and provide the high level reassurance they need and deserve.’

Additionally, local fire safety campaigner Colin Nickless welcomed the news and noted it was the ‘ultimate aim’ of his own campaign in the region. He added: ‘If they are going down this route, I am glad and there has been a lot of people supporting this. But I would like to see all tower blocks retrofitted with sprinkler systems and a five or six year wait for that to happen is too long as it leaves them open to have a tragedy. It is brilliant but it needs to be all of the building and needs to be done a lot quicker.’

He also warned that the pilot scheme makes the idea ‘vulnerable to political changes’, adding in turn that ‘they may agree a pilot scheme now but then what if another administration comes in and says we don’t agree and there isn’t the money?’.