If the contractors who this week finished retro-fitting sprinklers on a residential block in Upper Norwood continue their work at a similar pace, it would be 2035 before all of Croydon’s towers have the fire safety system fitted.
Fortunately, the pace of progress on this essential work has now begun to pick up.
The council set about fitting sprinklers to its residential blocks of 10 storeys or taller a week after the Grenfell Tower tragedy last June, in which more than 70 people lost their lives.
This week, eight months later, Croydon Council announced that it had completed fitting sprinklers in the first of 26 buildings, at College Green, Upper Norwood.
The £10million programme of works is being undertaken on Croydon’s 25 tallest blocks, plus an eight-storey sheltered block. The council is going ahead with the work despite the Tory government so far refusing to provide any financial help for the scheme. It was delays by Tory ministers – including Gavin Barwell when he was MP for Croydon Central and minister for housing – which failed to implement recommendations of a coroner’s report into a previous tower block fire tragedy which meant that there were no sprinklers in Grenfell.
And now Conservative ministers are going back on solemn pledges, made to local authorities last summer, to help fund such improvement works.
Croydon’s determination to put into practice the lessons of Lakanal House, in Southwark, and Grenfell, is to be commended.
But the progress so far has been very slow. At a similar rate, if each block was retro-fitted in succession, then the whole project could take 17 years. The council has never elaborated on why the project began with work on only one of the 26 buildings.
Fortunately, the pace of the works is picking up, with council contractors having begun work on three more blocks, including a second block in College Green. Work on the next five high-rises starts in the coming weeks for tenants in South Norwood.
“We invested in our sprinkler programme because we feel it is essential to our residents’ safety in response to the Grenfell tragedy,” said Alison Butler, the council’s cabinet member for homes and stuff.
Each flat getting the upgrade has around six sprinklers hidden near ceilings behind a flat white disc. These pop off when the room temperature hits 57 degrees Celsius, then at 67 degrees they spray a fine water mist at a wide angle. The sprinkler will only be triggered in the room affected by fire.
The council says that 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. The system also has alarms that mean London Fire Brigade is alerted when sprinklers are activated.
Kevin McKenzie, London Fire Brigade borough commander for Croydon, visited the first College Green block during testing, and said: “Sprinklers play a significant role as part of an appropriate package of fire safety measures in reducing the impact of fire on people, property and the environment, so we welcome this because it gives residents reassurance.
“London Fire Brigade has long been campaigning about the benefits of sprinklers, which save lives and property and also improve firefighter safety.
“Croydon Council proves it’s possible to retrofit sprinklers, and more boroughs and housing owners should follow its lead to protect their most vulnerable residents, including those with mobility issues.”
McKenzie might be lobbying Butler and the council to start retro-fitting sprinklers to school buildings, too. The LFB is in favour of schools having sprinklers fitted, for all the obvious reasons. Research by Inside Croydon has found that not a single new school or school extension built in Croydon since 2012 has been fitted with sprinklers.
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