The council press office described it as “doorstepping” the Prime Minister, as MP Sarah Jones and council deputy leader Alison Butler were part of a group which handed in a letter signed by 15 local authorities to try to shame the Tory Government into fulfilling its pledges made over fire safety following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
It took the deaths of 72 people in Grenfell Tower in North Kensington in June 2017 for Croydon Council to realise that the taller residential council blocks in the borough lacked any sprinkler safety systems. Work began soon after the fire to retrofit fire sprinklers in 26 of its tallest blocks, across 1,250 homes, costing the council £10million from its existing housing budget. The council says that this programme is due to be completed next month.
Councils across the country have requested Government financial help towards the cost of fitting sprinklers, but have received nothing. This is despite calls for sprinklers to be fitted in high-rise blocks as essential fire safety measures, including from Dany Cotton, the commissioner of London Fire Brigade.
Today, local MPs from Birmingham and Sheffield and council figures from those cities and Butler, stood on the steps of No10 to hand over a letter signed by 19 leaders and cabinet members from local authorities nationwide asking for Government money towards their fire sprinkler programmes.
As well as the signatories who attended Downing Street today, the other councils are the Greater London Authority, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol, Nottingham, Solihull, Dudley, Wolverhampton and Sandwell.
The letter, addressed to James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for housing, communities and local government, states that his parliamentary committee recommended in June 2018 that “the Government should make funding available to fit sprinklers into council and housing association residential buildings above 18 metres”.
Sarah Jones, the Croydon Central MP who is a Labour spokesperson on housing, said, “The Government pledged after Grenfell to do ‘whatever it takes’ to keep people safe. But every single council which has asked for funding to install sprinklers has been refused by ministers.
“In London, Labour research revealed that just 4 per cent of tall council blocks currently have sprinklers. The government must step up.”
A 2013 report released after the Lakanal House fire which had taken place in south London in 2009 recommended the retrofitting of sprinklers in high-rise buildings. Those recommendations have sat on the desk of Tory housing ministers, including Gavin Barwell, without action.
Two-thirds of Londoners say they would feel unsafe living in a high rise block of flats that didn’t have sprinklers according to a YouGov poll released last month.
Sprinklers are a legal requirement in all new residential blocks over 30 metres (10 storeys). When introduced in 2007, this legal requirement was not retrospective, meaning the majority of tall blocks built before 2007 still do not have sprinklers.
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