Leeds council in ‘adverse’ situation after funding denied

Leeds council in ‘adverse’ situation after funding denied

THE CITY council has said that ‘adverse’ financial implications will arise after it saw funding for sprinklers rejected by the government.

Yorkshire Evening Post reported on the council’s concerns after the government ‘rejected its pleas for help’ with funding a large upgrade to fire safety measures for its high rises. Leeds City Council had identified around £32m would be needed to retrofit sprinklers across its 116 social and sheltered housing blocks, with the government declining to assist with funding because it deems sprinklers ‘non-essential’.

Earlier this year, the council had reported it would press on with fitting sprinklers at eight ‘priority’ blocks at a cost of £1.2m, hiring extra staff to undertake the work. It had estimated in the same report that it could cost £22m to retrofit all council blocks with sprinklers, with these ‘likely’ to be put out to tender in the next 18 months. In total, 37 blocks in Leeds are considered of ‘higher risk’ due to their height, number of staircases, whether they are sheltered homes, findings of fire risk assessments and previous history of fires.

A new report by Phillip Charlton, the council’s investment strategy manager of property and contracts, stated: ‘We wrote to the Government in January 2018 to request funding to support the increased costs in our fire safety programme, particularly in relation to sprinklers. This was declined, as the installation of sprinklers was considered non-essential. There will therefore likely be an adverse effect on other parts of our investment plan, as we divert more funding to the fire safety programme.’

The last five years has seen around £17m spent on fire safety works in social housing high rises and sheltered properties in the city under an agreement between the council and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, which has seen fire safety doors installed alongside fire stopping and compartmentation works, while a programme to install sprinklers was also introduced. This was ‘reviewed and strengthened’ to include retrofitting for more blocks ‘than initially planned’.

Last November, the council approved a £10m spend on the 37 ‘higher-risk’ blocks, with £2.2m spent in the last year on fire safety, and a further £22m required to ‘fund the installation of sprinkler systems to all 116’ of its blocks.

Debra Coupar, executive member for communities, stated that no blocks were ‘at risk in the same way as Grenfell’, with the extra programme provided as ‘an extra reassurance to tenants’. She added: ‘We are confident that with the measures already in place, fires are not able to spread in our blocks, and our work to install sprinklers will provide additional protection, particularly for vulnerable individuals in flats.’

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that the government’s advice ‘is clear’ that it is for the owner to decide on retrofitting sprinklers, adding: ‘Since the tragic events at Grenfell Tower, we have taken steps to ensure the immediate safety of all high rise buildings. We are going to fully fund the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding by councils and housing associations, estimated at £400 million.

‘As Dame Judith Hackitt points out in her report, no single fire safety measure - including sprinklers - can be seen as a panacea.’