Work has begun to install sprinklers in 1,250 council-managed flats in tower blocks in Croydon, but the Tory government continues to refuse to provide any financial assistance towards the £10million costs, despite the horrific tragedy at Grenfell Tower earlier this year.
It is widely thought that the Grenfell Tower fire might have been avoided, or the terrible death toll of 70 people might have been reduced if recommendations of a coroner’s inquiry into a previous tower block fire had been implemented by various housing ministers, including the former Croydon MP, Gavin Barwell.
Six people died in a fire in Lakanal House in Camberwell in 2009.
The coroner’s report into that tragedy recommended tighter controls on fire safety, and the installlation of sprinkler systems in tower blocks. That report was published four years before Grenfell.
Croydon Council announced that it was to act on those recommendations in the days after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and today unveiled the first flat where the work has been completed. Only another 1,249 to go…
The council is retrofitting fire sprinklers in its 25 tallest blocks and one sheltered block. Work has now finished on the first flat, at College Green in Upper Norwood. The sprinklers will be fully operational once they have been installed in every flat in the block and connected to new water tanks.
Work begins in the coming weeks on the block’s remaining flats, whose residents have been invited to two coffee mornings where they can view the new sprinklers and talk with the project team.
The council has sent an update letter to all residents in the blocks due to get sprinklers over the coming months, 25 of which are 10, 11 or 12 storeys high, plus the eight-storey sheltered block in Addiscombe.
These blocks will all get the same kind of equipment as in the first flat, which now has six sprinklers hidden behind a flat white disc near ceilings. Sprinklers pop out of the disc and spray a fine water mist at a wide angle only when a fire is in that room. This kind of targeted sprinkler reduces the risk of false alarms and water damage, coupled with fire breaks in place that limit spread between neighbouring flats and floors.
Croydon Council twice wrote to the government requesting help in paying for the project’s estimated costs. On one occasion, the minister actually lied to parliament, claiming that he had not received any approaches from local authorities seeking financial assistance towards these essential, life-saving works.
The council also requested greater borrowing powers to consider further fire safety improvements in future. No such government financial assistance has been provided to date.
Alison Butler, the council’s cabinet member for homes, said: “Although these improvements will impact on long-term council finances, we’ve always said we would deliver them with or without the government’s help.
“Now we’ve done the first flat, we’ll plan ahead to continue these essential works, and we will keep residents informed through letters, the council website and via our wardens and housing staff.”
The application of planning laws and building regulations in Croydon continues to have a pick-and-mix approach when it comes to fire safety.
Croydon’s tallest residential tower, the private development at Saffron Tower, meanwhile remains without any sprinkler system, after its developers exploited a loophole in planning laws to avoid the additional expense of fitting sprinklers in the 43-storey building. The owners maintain that the building has other safety measures which will keep all its residents safe.
And, as an Inside Croydon investigation earlier this year revealed, none of the 35 new school builds in Croydon constructed since 2012 have any sprinklers fitted. The London Fire Brigade maintains that the lack of sprinklers in schools could have “devastating” consequences.
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