This post was first published by Croydon Advertiser on 19/06/2017.
Croydon’s tallest council blocks to have sprinklers installed after Grenfell Tower tragedy
Sprinklers will be installed at 25 of Croydon Council’s tower blocks following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Regulations in England currently mean that only buildings constructed since 2007 and which are taller than 30 metres are required to have sprinklers fitted.
However, recommendations were made following a previous fatal fire in a block of flats that providers of housing should consider retro-fitting sprinkler systems into tower blocks.
The Department for Communities and Local Government says it wrote to councils encouraging them to consider this move, following a coroner’s recommendation after the 2009 Lakanal House fire, in Camberwell, in which six people died.
The government did not change building regulations, though, and since the Grenfell Tower fire housing ministers, including former Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, have been criticised for not acting fast enough to review them.
In Croydon, only six council sheltered accommodation buildings for the elderly had sprinklers installed after the recommendation.
These are Southsea Court, in Broad Green, Truscott House, in Thornton Heath, Brookehurst Court, in South Norwood, Frylands Court, in New Addington, Toldene Court, in Coulsdon, and Freeman Court, in Norbury.
Asked why sprinklers were not installed in other blocks, Croydon Council’s cabinet member for housing, regeneration and planning, Alison Butler, said on Friday: “I think what we had done was what we thought was necessary at the time and this is including working with the fire brigade but after that report came out we did do £10 million of fire safety precautions across our housing stock.
“Certainly we will look at all options at this time.”
Following this pledge, at a cabinet meeting tonight, it was unexpectedly announced that all housing blocks with 10, 11 or 12 storeys would have sprinklers installed. The council will bring a formal proposal to cabinet in September.
Fewer than 1% of council tower blocks nationwide are currently fitted with sprinklers, the BBC has reported.
Speaking on Friday, Cllr Butler said she would need to go back and “look at the records”, as the Labour council was not in administration at the time of the inquest, to see why sprinklers were only installed in the six sheltered accommodation blocks.
Cllr Butler was unable to break down exactly how the £10 million which has gone on fire safety improvements since 2009 has been spent.
“We are open to looking at anything that we believe would improve safety in our council blocks at this time,” Cllr Butler added.
In a statement released on Monday night, Cllr Butler announced: “This council is committed to installing fire sprinklers in 25 council blocks with 10 storeys or taller because last week’s tragedy showed we all need to bolster fire safety measures for our residents.
“I will also be writing to the government challenging them to give us more support in our plans to make our borough safer.”
The Advertiser has asked how the retro-fitting would be paid for and whether sprinklers would be in every flat or just communal areas.
We approached a number of the major developers of some of Croydon’s tallest buildings to find out about their fire safety precautions last week.
Berkeley Homes, which built the 43-storey Saffron Square under 2006 building regulations, said it has fire alarms, a “wet riser system” and a smoke ventilation system. The Advertiser has asked whether it has sprinklers.
Inspired Assets Management, which developed a number of office blocks in Croydon into homes under permitted development, which means it doesn’t need planning permission, said it is one of the few residential developers that installs sprinklers in communal areas and inside apartments.
The Advertiser is waiting to hear back from other developers.
Croydon Council, which is expecting its own review into fire safety to be concluded by this weekend, says none of its housing blocks have the cladding used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.
A total of 16 council blocks over six storeys high have cladding, while another 23 do not. Independent checks have confirmed the materials used in four of the blocks with cladding are good-quality and fire retardant.
It is not clear whether the other 12 council blocks with cladding have yet been checked.
Berkeley says Saffron Square has a “double-glazed, heat-toughened glass facade encased in an aluminium sub frame”.
A spokeswoman added: “The steel casing between the floors is designed to [stop] the fire spreading vertically.
“We have fire breaks throughout the cladding system and between the apartments and each floor.”
Below is a list of the council-owned tower blocks and their heights.