Theresa May has confirmed there will be no Government cash to fit sprinklers in tower blocks, triggering accusations she has broken a promise made after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
It is “up to the council to make decisions”, the Prime Minister told MPs – amid a growing furore over the multi-million pound bills that town halls face.
Nottingham, Croydon and Wandsworth have all had multi-million pound requests turned – even after being advised to carry out works by their local fire brigades.
Nevertheless, until now, ministers had said they would consider help “where works are essential”, even as they resisted applications.
However, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms May gave a firm no after a plea for assistance from a Labour MP in Nottingham
“How safe would she feel living on the 20th floor of Pine View or Southchurch Court in my constituency with one staircase and no sprinklers?” Lillian Greenwood asked.
The Prime Minister dismissed the question, saying: “Since Grenfell, much has been said in this House about sprinklers.
“There are a number of aspects that have to be looked at in relation to the safety of tower blocks.
“It is not the case that sprinklers are the only issue that needs to be looked at or addressed - nor is it the only solution to ensuring their safety.
“On expenditure by the honourable lady’s local council, it is of course up to the council to make decisions about what it wishes to do.”
Speaking afterwards, Ms Greenwood said: “The Prime Minister’s response to me today was disgraceful.
“After the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower she assured people living in council high rise blocks that action would be taken to keep them safe. Her answer today confirms that those were empty promises.”
Alok Sharma, the housing minister, declined Nottingham City Council’s request for help to install sprinklers inside flats and communal areas in 13 towers at a cost of £6.2m.
He told the council: “The fire safety measures you outline are additional rather than essential.”
The minister also told the London borough of Croydon, which wants to spend £10m on retrofitting sprinklers to 25 tall residential blocks: “It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that people are safe.”
Wandsworth wants to spend up to £30m on sprinklers in 100 towers but was told: “Support will not include general improvement and enhancements to buildings.”
Installing sprinklers in high rise buildings was one of the recommendations to come out of the inquest into the deaths of six people in the Lakanal House fire in Southwark in 2009.
The importance of sprinklers was reiterated by the London Fire Brigade last month, when Commissioner Dany Cotton claimed retro-fitting the devices “can’t be optional; it can’t be a ‘nice to have’. This is something that must happen.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies