Croydon Council last night announced that it is to fit sprinklers in all of its residential tower blocks which are 10 or more storeys tall, in a scheme expected to cost £10million.
It makes Croydon the first local authority in the country to respond to the dreadful fire last week at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington.
The move, announced by the Labour-run council’s deputy leader Alison Butler, was immediately praised by John Healy MP, Labour’s shadow spokesman on housing at Westminster, and was publicly supported by the opposition Conservative group at Croydon Town Hall, in a rare outbreak of commonsense in the interests of the borough’s residents.
But the hundreds of residents living in 25 tall blocks in Croydon will have to wait for three months before the slowly grinding wheels of formal council process will give a green-light for the essential safety work to get underway.
The council will not “bring forward” the proposal until a cabinet meeting to be held on September 18. While there is another cabinet meeting scheduled for July, it seems that does not give council officials enough time to draft any emergency measures to permit the multi-million expenditure, nor to find the money to pay for it.
Next Monday’s full meeting of the council is the last one until October 30 – a gap of more than four months – as our 70 councillors take their summer recess. This comes just a couple of weeks after most council business was on shutdown for two months during the General Election campaign, when most councillors were spending much of their time delivering campaign leaflets.
“The announcement is welcome, of course,” one councillor told Inside Croydon. “But nothing’s going to make it happen for three months. I hope we don’t have any fires in our tower blocks in the meantime. This is surely worthy of some urgent, emergency action by the council?”
It is now four years since a coroner’s report on the Lakanal House fire in Southwark, where six people died in 2009, recommended that sprinklers should be fitted to all residential tower blocks. Few, if any, local authorities have acted on those recommendations. A succession of Tory housing ministers, including the former MP for Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell, ignored the potentially life-saving proposal.
The London Fire Brigade maintains that there has never been a loss of life in any tower fitted with spinklers.
Grenfell Tower, in common with many of around 4,000 other residential blocks around the country which were built in the 1960s and 1970s, did not have any sprinkler system fitted. The official death toll in the disaster has reached 58, although news agencies are reporting that there could be more than 50 other fatalities, based on testimony from relatives and missing persons still unaccounted for nearly a week after the fire.
Croydon Council moved last week to conduct an urgent review of recent building work on all its residential towers and other safety measures. Most of its taller towers, none of which are more than 12 storeys, are in South Norwood, New Addington and Waddon.
The council safety review is still on-going, although it seems that none of Croydon Council’s towers are fitted with the kind of cladding which some suggest was a factor in the speed with which the fire at Grenfell spread, and the intensity of the blaze.
In a letter sent to all Croydon’s tower block residents over the weekend, Stephen Tate, the council’s “director of district centres and regeneration”, wrote: “We understand you may be concerned about the type of cladding used on your block. We can confirm that the type used is different to that in Grenfell Tower. Having said this, the council is conducting an immediate and thorough review of the materials used, their quality and design. We will carry out inspections over this weekend and into next week.”
Tate also wrote, “Making sure that residents in flats are kept safe in the event of a fire is one of our top priorities. All Croydon Council accommodation meets national and London Fire Service’s standards on fire safety. We carry out annual fire-risk assessments to all communal areas of our council blocks of flats and maisonettes to identify any works needed to protect escape routes, and make any necessary repairs, replacements and improvements.”
Residents have been promised a further written update by this coming Friday.
Croydon Council’s fire safety review covers all 16 council blocks over six storeys high that have cladding, plus another 23 without cladding.
In a statement issued by the council, they said, “Since 2009 Croydon has invested around £10million in upgrading fire safety in its council stock, and the council has also installed sprinklers in six special sheltered accommodation blocks for the elderly.”
Addressing last night’s cabinet meeting, Butler said, “This council is committed to installing fire sprinklers in 25 council blocks with 10 storeys or taller because last week’s tragedy showed we all need to bolster fire safety measures for our residents. I will also be writing to the Government challenging them to give us more support in our plans to make our borough safer.
“In the meantime, we will continue to work with London Fire Brigade to ensure our housing continues to meet fire safety standards, and we will respond to any recommendations that emerge from the Grenfell Tower investigation.”
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