Housing boss agrees to ‘full review’ into whether to put sprinklers in all tower blocks

News Desk (22 June, 2017) Housing

Grenfell fire ‘changes everything’ say council housing bosses

17650Photo: SWNS

Southwark Council’s housing boss has agreed to a “full review” of whether sprinklers should be installed in all of the council’s 174 high-rise blocks, following the tragic Grenfell tower fire.

An influential committee of Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors recommended on Monday that the council should look again at whether to put sprinklers in flats for blocks that are seven storeys or taller.

The councillors questioned Southwark’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing, Stephanie Cryan, on how the authority has responded to the disaster in Kensington and Chelsea last week, which has claimed at least 79 lives.

Cllr Cryan and director of housing, Gerri Scott, both emphasised that Grenfell “changes everything” and that “nothing is off the table”.

On Tuesday, Cllr Cryan then posted on Twitter: “Have ordered a full review to be carried out on all @lb_southwark high rise blocks and look if need for sprinklers and other measures.”

Comparisons have been drawn between the Grenfell fire, and the 2009 tower block fire in Lakanal House, Camberwell, which claimed six lives.

Following inquests into the deaths of the six Lakanal House victims, a coroner recommended to the council in 2013 to consider installing sprinkler systems in tower blocks. The council decided sprinkler systems would be unnecessary and too expensive, and instead spent £62m on other fire-safety measures.

Last week Cllr Cryan wrote to residents saying: “Southwark has carried out a huge programme of works in recent years to improve the safety of our tower blocks.”

All Southwark Council blocks are equipped to tackle fires using a “containment strategy”, which relies on fire resistant walls and doors to contain fires within rooms and stop them spreading. All “habitable rooms” (which excludes communal hallways and stairwells) are fitted with smoke and/or heat detectors.

But at Monday’s meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Cryan agreed the option of installing sprinklers would be revisited. Ms Scott also told the committee that an outcome of the government’s Grenfell inquiry (announced by Prime Minister Theresa May on June 15) might be that national regulations would be updated to make sprinkler systems compulsory.

Ms Scott said: “It might be, apart from anything else, that we will be compelled by government to put in sprinklers. “The DCLG [Department of Communities and Local Government] appears to be thinking that might be a recommendation, and of course we will respond and do whatever it takes.

“But we don’t necessarily want to wait for the government to tell us what to do. We’ve spent a lot of time and money quite rightly, because we’ve had to in Southwark, and we’ve tried to be ahead of the game because we’ve had good reasons to. This is about quickly deciding whether our standards are currently fit for purpose, and if not, what we should do.”

Cllr Cryan also agreed that she should lobby the government to give Southwark, and other councils, greater freedom to borrow millions of pounds for its Housing Revenue Account (which holds money specifically for maintaining council housing).

The committee heard that this money would be crucial in implementing a new programme to install sprinklers in the council’s 174 tower blocks.

*?Southwark Council announced on Tuesday that fire-safety meetings, to reassure residents, will be held at Old Kent Road and Dockhead fire stations, “in the next fortnight” but was unable to confirm dates for the meetings before this newspaper was published. The council has also asked that residents with concerns about the safety of their homes should use a dedicated email address: firesafetyconcerns@southwark.gov.uk.

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