An investigation by the Labour Party has revealed that the vast majority of social housing tower blocks in England are still without life-saving sprinkler systems, ten years after the fatal Lakanal House fire which prompted a series of calls to install sprinklers in tall social housing blocks in the years prior to the Grenfell Tower fire.
Ten years on from the Lakanal House fire, which took the lives of six people on the 3rd July 2009, Labour has renewed its calls for a £1bn Fire Safety Fund to finance vital safety work and retrofit sprinklers in high-rise social housing blocks.
Sprinklers have been a legal requirement in all new high-rise blocks since 2007. But for over two years since the Grenfell disaster, which left 72 people dead, ministers have refused to help fund retrofitting of sprinklers in social sector blocks – despite repeated pleas from cash-strapped councils wanting to install the devices.
Published following the two-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, Labour’s investigation has found that 95% of local authority-owned tower blocks taller than 30 metres do not have sprinkler systems installed.
The investigation, led by Shadow Housing Minister Sarah Jones, used Freedom of Information requests, private surveys and publicly available data to compile information from 354 councils and Arm’s Length Management Organisations (ALMOs).
A recent letter to the government signed by local authorities in England’s 15 largest cities and hand delivered to 10 Downing Street called for a government fund for sprinkler retrofitting. According to the letter, “a number of local authorities have either consulted or drawn up programmes to retrofit.” However, the costs for some authorities’ sprinkler programmes are set to exceed £30m.
In the face of an ever-widening funding gap for local government, with council budgets being cut by a projected 77% from 2010 to 2020, councils are still being denied the crucial funding they need, while the Government continues to claim that the retrofitting of sprinklers is non-essential work.
Commenting, Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister Sarah Jones MP said “The Lakanal House fire showed the clear need for sprinklers in all tall housing blocks. 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 system, hierarchy of harm where social housing tenants are disproportionately affected.
“Sprinklers save lives. That’s why Labour is calling for a Government Fire Safety Fund to fund councils fully with sprinklers and other essential fire safety work”