Grenfell six years on: 80% of social blocks still lack sprinklers

Research published by Inside Housing shows that, six years since the Grenfell Tower fire, fewer than 1-in-5 high-rise social housing blocks have been fitted with sprinklers and only 1-in-8 with fire alarms, key pieces of equipment which the fire services confirm do save lives.

National tragedy: few of the obvious lessons of Grenfell have been put into practice, six years since the fire

The report’s publication, ahead of today’s sixth anniversary of the fire at the 24-storey tower in North Kensington in which 72 people were killed, also comes just a week since a blaze at a social housing block in Selhurst where there was no fire alarm and the residents had been given the same “stay put” emergency advice that had such a catastrophic effect at Grenfell.

That no one was killed or seriously hurt in last week’s fire at Hallam Court appears to be down only to the residents’ good sense, and a great deal of good fortune. Hallam Court residents had written to the building’s owners, Southern Housing, in May to express their strong concerns about safety, and the building’s flammable cladding.

According to the Inside Housing report, of 1,768 social housing blocks owned by 37 housing associations and councils across the country, just 334 have sprinklers fitted and 217 have a block-wide fire alarm.

Of the sprinklers, Inside Housing says, “181 have been fitted in a £93million programme by Birmingham City Council, meaning that in the rest of the country the figure drops to just 8.6per cent.”

In Croydon, the then Labour-run council retro-fitted sprinklers to all its taller residential tower blocks following the Grenfell Tower fire, covering a total of 1,250 flats across 25 blocks, which cost the council £10million in 2018-2019.

The Conservative Government refused to provide a single penny towards the cost of this work – even though a coroner’s report into the deaths of six people in the 2009 Lakanal House tragedy had recommended tighter controls on fire safety, and the installation of sprinkler systems in tower blocks. That Lakanal report was published four years before Grenfell.

Stay put: residents in Hallam Court had no fire alarm and had been given ‘stay put’ guidance

The government has described sprinklers as only “additional not essential” for fire safety.

As Inside Housing reports, “Both sprinklers and manual fire alarms are now required for new buildings, but there is no obligation to retrofit them under government guidance – with total reliance still placed on maintaining a building’s ‘compartmentation’ to enable residents to safely stay put during a fire.”

The National Fire Chiefs Council has called on the government to make it mandatory to retrofit sprinklers in high rises, citing cited research showing that sprinklers suppress or contain fires on 99per cent of occasions, reducing the risk to life and property damage.

Charlie Pugsley, assistant commissioner for fire safety at the London Fire Brigade, said the numbers of sprinklers in high rises in the capital were “still very low”, adding that “we would like to see this increase”.

The Inside Housing report also exposes the weaknesses of the current “stay put” guidance, which seeks to ensure that a fire will stay within the flat of origin until it is extinguished by firefighters, through the use of fire doors, fire-stopping and walls and floors with two-hour fire resistance.

But the author of the Inside Housing report, Peter Apps, writes that, “this can be compromised by poor management and combustible materials on the external facade… or even by fire simply jumping up via open windows.

“It can also be undermined by modern construction methods, such as timber frame or modular, which can be more vulnerable to fire spread than traditional masonry construction.”

The LFB’s Pugsley told the online magazine: “The number of buildings in London with sprinkler systems is still very low and we would like to see this increase. Sprinkler systems, alongside other fire safety measures, can greatly reduce the impact of fires on people, property, homes and communities.

“We recommend sprinklers be fitted into any residential property on a risk-based approach, regardless of height, and consideration should also be given to the vulnerability of the residents.

“Sprinklers are not a luxury – they save lives and also reduce risk to the firefighters who have to tackle the fires.”

Read more: Tower developers used loophole to avoid fitting sprinklers
Read more: None of Croydon’s new school buildings have sprinklers fitted

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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2 Responses to Grenfell six years on: 80% of social blocks still lack sprinklers

  1. Don White says:

    … and when I asked Croydon back in January (and our local “something must be done” MP) whether sprinklers had actually been fitted into a local development, as promised by the developers to the Planning Committee years ago, do you know what their answer was?

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