Today marks 10 years since the Lakanal House fire in Southwark, where six people – including young mothers and their infant children – were killed when flames and smoke spread through a council-owned high-rise.
Yet an investigation conducted by Sarah Jones, the MP for Croydon Central and Labour’s parliamentary housing team, has discovered that despite that tragedy, and the subsequent Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 when 72 people died, the situation remains that 95 per cent of England’s social housing tower block homes are without sprinkler systems.
In 2013, the coroner who led the inquest into the Lakanal fire recommended that social landlords should retrofit sprinklers in their tower blocks. Successive housing ministers in Tory-led governments, including the former Croydon MP, Gavin Barwell, ignored those recommendations and failed to implement them.
Information gathered by shadow housing minister Jones and her team found that among 2,107 council-owned tower blocks taller than 10 storeys, only 112 had sprinklers fitted.
“The Lakanal House fire showed the clear need for sprinklers in all tall housing blocks,” Jones told Inside Croydon today.
“Yet a decade on, nothing has changed. We know ministers ignored years of warnings prior to Grenfell, and two years after 72 people died, they are still refusing to make blocks safe.
“It is simply a contradiction in terms for the government to suggest that sprinklers are essential in new buildings whilst ignoring calls for them in older buildings.
“This creates a two-tier, hierarchy of harm in which social housing tenants are disproportionately affected.”
Sprinklers have been legally required in new residential buildings of 10 storeys or higher since 2007, but the regulations do not apply retrospectively.
Labour wants the government to spend £1billion installing sprinklers in the country’s social housing tower blocks and to carry out other fire safety measures.
The government claims that buildings can achieve an appropriate level of fire safety without sprinklers.
Following the Grenfell fire, Croydon’s Labour council took the belated decision to heed the Lakanal coroner’s warnings and fit sprinklers in its high-rise residential blocks, work which is close to completion. But Tory government promises immediately after Grenfell to provide funding to local authorities to fit sprinklers as an essential safety precaution have gone unfulfilled.
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