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Government must act now to avoid another Grenfell Tower catastrophe – fit fire sprinklers to high rise buildings now

2 min read

The Government should not wait for the inquiry to conclude that water puts out fire, says Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott MP.

The concerning news that only 2% of council and housing association-owned tower blocks investigated by BBC Breakfast have full sprinkler systems, should be met with immediate action by the Government.  Of those buildings, 68% have just one staircase through which to evacuate. These conditions are distressingly similar to Grenfell Tower. People in high rise blocks across the country are uneasy, fearing a repeat of Grenfell Tower in their homes. And no one wants another Grenfell. The Government should not wait for the inquiry to conclude that water puts out fire.  It should have acted before Grenfell, when two separate coroner’s reports into fatal fires in high rise buildings recommended the retrofitting of fire sprinklers.

The London Fire Brigade Commissioner supports the retrofitting of sprinklers, saying it is not optional and must happen. In my view, this should include high rise private and student accommodation.  It would be a travesty if the Government drags its feet on this. In the wake of the Grenfell fire, Phillip Hammond quibbled over the effectiveness of fitting fire sprinklers. There has been a plethora of expert evidence making the case for years. As long ago as 2013, the Chief Fire Officers Association’s report on sprinklers stated that ‘there are no cases on record where multiple fire deaths have occurred in buildings with working sprinkler systems’ It also states that ‘no lives have been lost in the UK due to fire in homes fitted with domestic sprinkler systems.’ Around the world, major fires in high rise buildings have seen lives saved by sprinkler systems.   Experts say that installing fire sprinklers to Grenfell would have cost £200,000. A fraction of the costs of the refurbishment to the tower, which included fitting cladding which may have contributed to the spread of the fire.  With 173 buildings fitted with similar cladding across the country, and 165 failing building safety tests carried out following the Grenfell fire, fitting sprinklers cannot be delayed by concerns over costs. The tragic loss at Grenfell Tower has more than made the case for the government immediately providing funding for retro-fitting sprinklers.  Sprinklers saves lives and homes. With the understandable distrust, pain and loss the survivors of Grenfell Tower are facing the Government must show it has learnt lessons. It must move on retrofitting sprinklers and do so quickly.

Diane Abbott is the Labour Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and Shadow Home Secretary

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