Sajid Javid condemned for failing to commit funding for tower block sprinklers in wake of Grenfell Tower fire

Labour warns failure to act is ‘a neglect of government’s responsibility to worried residents’

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Sunday 22 October 2017 18:11
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Fire chiefs have said that no one has ever died in a fire in a building with properly fitted sprinklers – which were not present in Grenfell
Fire chiefs have said that no one has ever died in a fire in a building with properly fitted sprinklers – which were not present in Grenfell

A senior Cabinet minister has been condemned for refusing to say whether he would commit Government cash to fit sprinklers in tower blocks in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid repeatedly failed to confirm that ministers would give councils money to retrofit sprinklers in all high-rises, despite backing for the safety measure from fire chiefs.

Town halls, including Nottingham, Croydon and Wandsworth councils, say they have had multimillion-pound funding requests for sprinklers turned down by the Government following the devastating blaze in the west London building, which killed around 80 people.

Theresa May told MPs last week that town halls were responsible for making decisions on the fire safety measures, which attracted criticism over how councils would fund the improvements.

Mr Javid said he had to wait for the results of an official probe into building regulations and fire safety before deciding whether to make retrofitting sprinklers a legal requirement for all tower blocks.

Safety assessments are being carried out across the country and that “whatever essential fire safety work needs to happen, should happen, and if the assessment is that requires sprinklers, then that should happen too”, he said.

But he refused to commit to funding the work, telling The Andrew Marr Show: “We will provide them with the capacity to access those funds and that can be done in a variety of forms. We’re working out exactly what’s the best way.”

Mr Javid added: “We will make sure that any essential work by any local authority, they will get the support they need to make sure it’s done, and that’s the most important thing, that the work’s done.”

Installing sprinklers in high-rise buildings was one of the key recommendation from an inquest into the deaths of six people in the Lakanal House fire in Southwark in 2009, and fire chiefs have said that no one has ever died in a fire in a building with properly fitted sprinklers.

Mr Javid said all new tower blocks since 2007 are required to have sprinklers but there was no legal requirement to retrofit sprinklers.

Referring to Grenfell Tower, he added: “The correct response after this terrible tragedy was to review that law and many other fire safety measures.

“And it’s exactly why we asked Dame Judith Hackitt to have an independent review of both the building regulations, which I think there are clearly questions around that, and also fire safety measures, and that’s the correct way to look at it.

“When she reports back, and those recommendations whatever they are, and I’m not going to second-guess them, they will be taken very, very seriously, that’s the correct way to do this.”

Labour accused Mr Javid of “neglect” towards high-rise residents and urged the Government to offer immediate funding to help councils.

Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey said: “Conservative ministers were told four years ago to get sprinklers retrofitted into high-rise buildings following two fatal tower block fires, but failed to act.

“Today, even after the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower, Sajid Javid has confirmed the Government is still refusing to provide any funding to install sprinklers.

“This is a neglect of government’s responsibility to worried residents across the country. Ministers should act now and help fund these vital fire safety measures, starting with the highest risk blocks.”

The Independent recently revealed that the Metropolitan Police has advised Kensington and Chelsea Council to block the release of correspondence that would shed light on what action was taken to mitigate fire risks at Grenfell Tower.

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