Labour hits out at ministers after probe reveals vast majority of council tower blocks lack sprinklers

Posted On: 
2nd July 2019

Labour has criticised ministers for failing to heed calls to retrofit sprinklers on high-rise council blocks, ten years after a London flat blaze killed six people.

The aftermath of the fatal fire at Lakanal House, south London, in 2009
PA Images

An investigation by the party found that 95% of local authority-owned tower blocks in England taller than 30 metres do not have the systems installed.

The findings come a decade after a blaze which ravaged Lakanal House in Camberwell and claimed the lives of half a dozen residents.

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Sprinklers have been a legal requirement in all newly built high-rise blocks since 2007.

But Labour say the Government has “refused” to face up to council demands for help to fit the devices on older buildings, despite pleas for more cash in the wake of the Grenfell fire of 2017, in which 72 people died.

The party cites a letter signed by councils in England's 15 largest cities which says that “a number of local authorities have either consulted or drawn up programmes to retrofit.”

The costs for some authorities’ sprinkler programmes are set to exceed £30m however, they claim.

Shadow Housing Minister Sarah Jones has led the investigation through Freedom of Information requests, private surveys, data from 354 councils and Arm’s Length Management Organisations.

She said: “The Lakanal House fire showed the clear need for sprinklers in all tall housing blocks. Yet a decade on, nothing has changed.

“We know ministers ignored years of warnings prior to Grenfell, and two years after 72 people died they are still refusing to make blocks safe.

“It is simply a contradiction in terms for the government to suggest that sprinklers are essential in new buildings whilst ignoring calls for them in older buildings.

"This creates a two-tier system, hierarchy of harm where social housing tenants are disproportionately affected.

“Sprinklers save lives. That’s why Labour is calling for a Government Fire Safety Fund to fund councils fully with sprinklers and other essential fire safety work.”

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said the Lakanal House fire should have been a “turning point”, but that ministers ignored the group’s warnings.

“This government has overseen one appalling fire safety failure after another. Sprinklers can catch a fire early, allowing occupants more time to escape, and reducing the risks faced by firefighters at the scene.

“We’ve been crystal clear on this: all new high rise buildings should be built with sprinklers.

“Sprinklers should be retrofitted to any building deemed necessary by a fire risk assessment as part of a wider campaign to improve fire safety.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “Everyone has the right to feel safe and secure in their own home.

"Sprinklers are just one of a range of measures which can be used to ensure people are safe - building owners are responsible for the safety of their buildings and we expect them to take advice from relevant experts and decide whether or not to retrofit sprinklers.”