Housing developers 'consistently ignoring' sprinkler safety advice, says London Fire Brigade

Government must step in to force installation of life-saving safety measure, urges commissioner

Chris Baynes
Monday 11 February 2019 17:10
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Housing developers are “consistently ignoring” advice to fit potentially life-saving sprinklers in their buildings, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) has warned.

Ministers have been urged to force building companies to install the safety measure in all new residential blocks in England, with the UK’s most senior firefighter claiming the industry had shown “it cannot self-regulate”.

LFB commissioner Dany Cotton suggested new legislation could help avert disasters like the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 71 people died in June 2017. “Sprinklers are not a luxury, they save lives,” she said. ”We think they’re essential in every high-rise building.”

The brigade said each year it informed “thousands” of developers planning buildings in the capital that sprinkler systems were “crucial”.

But an audit of purpose-built or refurbished flats in 2016 found only two out of 15 blocks spot-checked had had the safeguard installed.

In England, sprinklers are only a legal requirement in new residential blocks taller than 30m. Sprinklers are mandatory in all new domestic buildings in Wales and in residential buildings including care homes, sheltered housing and schools above 18m in Scotland.

“To ignore brigade fire safety advice is reckless and the government needs to act now to stop that happening,” Ms Cotton said. “Developers should be required to include sprinklers in more buildings and especially in purpose-built residential blocks and homes of the vulnerable.

“Our spot check shows that the building industry cannot self-regulate on sprinklers and so the government must step in.”

A government consultation on building regulations – launched in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire – will end in March.

Communities secretary James Brokenshire said he would “carefully” consider the LFB’s advice alongside other submissions. He added sprinklers “can be effective” but “are one of many fire safety measures that can be adopted”.

Ms Cotton urged England to join Scotland and Wales in enforcing “proper action”, calling developers’ arguments against installing sprinkler systems “shameful”.

“I think that some developers ignore our advice because they think that sprinklers cost a lot of money or cause potential damage,” she said.

“But that’s just not the case. When you start the building off the initial cost is about 1 per cent of the build cost to fit a sprinkler. It’s a no-brainer.”

The LFB also called on the government to “look urgently” at retro-fitting sprinklers into older residential blocks.

The 67m Grenfell Tower was not fitted with a sprinklers during a £9.2m renovation a year before the deadly fire. Experts have said the measure could have been installed throughout the 24-storey west London building for about £200,000.

Only 4 per cent of council housing blocks in the capital have sprinklers fitted, according to research published by the Labour Party last year.

Clive Betts, chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, said: “The fire brigade are the experts and we should act on their advice.

“The government should take heed of their warnings and initiate urgent action to make the most vulnerable buildings more resilient to fire.

“When the evidence shows such a reluctance to provide acceptable fire safety for buildings, firm action is needed.”

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The British Property Federation, which represents developers and owners, said the LFB’s “proposals for regulatory change should be taken seriously”.

“Everyone should feel safe in their home and sprinklers can help provide that assurance in blocks that are high-rise or where residents are vulnerable,” added Ian Fletcher, the federation’s director of real estate.

Additional reporting by PA

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