Homeless families, elderly tenants and those with vulnerabilities are to be given priority when it comes to installing life-saving fire protection measures, councillors in Wandsworth agreed last night.
Members of the housing overview and scrutiny committee voted in favour of prioritising the installation of sprinklers in the borough’s 25 sheltered housing blocks and its 15 temporary accommodation buildings.
This process work will commence shortly and is poised to be followed by the installation of sprinklers in 100 of the borough’s tallest tower blocks.
The decision to install sprinklers in Wandsworth’s high rise buildings of ten storeys and above was taken in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell tower tragedy where 72 people lost their lives.
Since that decision the Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade Dany Cotton, the London Assembly, The Mayor, RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and a cross party group of select committee MPs who specifically looked into the issue of fire safety in tower blocks, have all called for sprinklers to be installed in high rise residential buildings.
The council’s policy on sprinklers has also been endorsed by MPs from all parties on The council’s policy on sprinklers has also been endorsed by MPs from all parties on The Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) select committee, which studied fire safety in residential tower blocks.
In July it concluded that sprinklers should be should be retro-fitted to existing high-rise residential buildings., which studied fire safety in residential tower blocks. In July it concluded that sprinklers should be should be retro-fitted to existing high-rise residential buildings.
One of their main recommendations was that “where feasible, sprinklers should be fitted to all high-rise residential buildings to provide an extra layer of safety”.
Since 2007 sprinklers have been mandatory in all new build blocks of ten storeys and above. Retrofitting them to council blocks of the same height will bring these blocks up to the latest recommended safety standards.
The value of sprinklers was highlighted earlier this summer at one of the council’s newest temporary accommodation blocks in Nightingale Square in Balham, where a chip pan fire was extinguished before the fire brigade arrived – with minimal fire or water damage to the property, leaving the young mother and her one-year-old child residing there completely unharmed.
Cabinet member for housing Cllr Kim Caddy said: “In the immediate aftermath of the terrible events at Grenfell we announced proposals to install sprinklers in all our tower blocks of ten storeys or above.
“This would bring these high rise properties up to the same safety standard as all newly-built residential blocks of a similar height where sprinklers have been mandatory since 2007.
“Last night we voted to go even further and ensure higher safety standards for some of our most vulnerable tenants. We will now begin work installing sprinklers in all our sheltered housing blocks and all the buildings we own that provide temporary accommodation to families that have been made homeless.
“When those works are completed we intend to begin installing sprinkler systems in our remaining 99 tallest tower blocks.
“Our carefully considered approach as a responsible landlord and freeholder is based on a number of factors, not least the very clear and unambiguous advice of the London Fire Brigade and its Commissioner, the Royal Institute of British Architects and most recently and significantly the cross-party select committee group of MPs who examined this issue in great detail.
“Some people think this issue should be left up to a ballot, with some blocks agreeing to have sprinklers fitted but others choosing to reject them.
“This would mean identical tower blocks having different levels of protection. Such a two-tier safety approach would represent a complete abdication of our responsibility as a landlord and freeholder and could, heaven forbid, risk further tragedy.
“We understand and appreciate that some leaseholders who live in our taller blocks but who’ve bought their homes are unhappy with our proposals partly on the grounds of cost.
“This is why we have proactively sought a ruling from the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal so that the legal position about whether or not they need to make a financial contribution is clarified. This is an important issue for them and one we have some sympathy for, which is why we have already said that if they are required to make any contribution at all, this would be spread over a number of years and would be on an interest free basis.”
The council has installed sprinklers in two show flats so that tenants and leaseholders can see for themselves how the system works and how unobtrusive the equipment is. This can be viewed here on this short video.