Southwark council could be landed with a £100m bill if sprinklers are recommended for all of its housing.
The borough’s housing chief admitted she had “no qualms” in forking out the huge sum to keep residents safe, after a fire safety expert was called in to carry out a review of Southwark’s housing stock.
It comes after the tragic Grenfell Tower blaze earlier this month, which police believe claimed the lives of at least 80 people.
Councillor Stephanie Cryan, deputy council leader and cabinet member for housing, said it could cost almost £100million to install sprinklers in all council housing, with ongoing maintenance, if recommended by the review.
A feasibility study carried out in 2013 after Camberwell’s Lakanal House fire inquests found sprinklers could cost anywhere between £30million and £112million for 103 general need blocks, plus the cost of asbestos removal where required.
Sprinklers were installed in properties housing vulnerable residents, such as sheltered housing and hostels, following the Lakanal fire – but an independent report recommended the council focused on compartmentalisation rather than installing them in all housing blocks.
“If it’s the right thing to do then it will be done – we can’t use the cost element to not do anything because that really isn’t acceptable,” Cllr Cryan told the News.
“But my worry is, if there’s no funding from Government on this, it does mean that other things will have to be put on hold or slowed down so I’m calling on Government to either fund us for this or allow us to increase our borrowing on the housing revenue account.
“You can’t put a price on safety; Central Government needs to step up to the bottle and they need to actually say ‘we are going to help and support you to do this across the country’.”
Cllr Cryan said she herself had grown up living in a tower block on a council estate – and that she did not think they were “inherently” unsafe.
“I loved living in a tower block – I don’t think they’re inherently unsafe and I think actually in light of what’s been happening there will be more checks and measures in place to ensure that safety,” she said.
“The fact is we’ve spent a lot of time and work making sure that our homes are as safe as they possibly can be and compartmentalisation means that you can stay put even if you are high – because the fire brigade should be able to get there and put out the fire, no matter how high it is.
“In tower blocks now, because of new building regulations, any block over 30 metres in height has to have sprinklers, so there are more stringent fire regulations in place for new builds.”
The independent review will look at whether fire safety measures are up to scratch in individual flats in the council’s 174 tower blocks, as well as other buildings such as schools and libraries.
Dual inspections will be carried out, with a fire safety team, a technical manager from the council’s repairs team, and a housing officer present so that any issues picked up can be fixed as soon as possible, rather than going through the usual repairs process.
Any recommendations following the review will be considered for low-rise buildings across the council’s housing stock – not just high-rise.
The owners of other buildings such as hotels, private landlords, housing associations, and the NHS have also been encouraged to carry out fire risk assessments.
When asked whether private leaseholders would have to foot the bill for any potential work following the review, Cllr Cryan said she already planned to write to the Housing Minister about her concerns surrounding the issue – and also to Southwark’s three MPs, who would pass on her concerns in a letter to the Prime Minister.
The outcome of the review is expected to be made public in a report by autumn.
Any residents with concerns can contact the council at firstname.lastname@example.org