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By Baroness Smith of Llanfaes
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We don't need an inquiry on whether water puts out fire - we need sprinklers

3 min read

Retro-fitting sprinklers saves lives, saves homes and saves money, says Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.

One thing the Government should immediately do in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy is the compulsory retro-fitting of sprinklers in all tower blocks, major residential buildings, and student accommodation.

Earlier this week, the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid  MP, told the House of Commons that the recommendations of the Coroner’s report into the fire at Lakanal House had been implemented ‘fully’. But many people who live in blocks will know that this is simply not true, as even during refurbishments in recent years their buildings have not been retrofitted with sprinklers.

After the Grenfell Tower fire residents in tower block and others across the country will be concerned that they could be at risk. They need reassurance – and installing sprinklers would do just that.

When challenged on this Tory Ministers want to hide behind the fact that there is an official Inquiry. An Inquiry is certainly needed both on how the Grenfell fire happened and who is to blame, as well as wider social issues about the treatment of social housing residents in general.

But we don’t need any inquiry on whether water puts out fire. The work could begin immediately. And there should be no foot-dragging because of costs.

Expert opinion suggests that an entire retro-fit of sprinklers in a tower block like Grenfell would cost just £200,000. That’s just a fraction of the overall cost of the refurbishment that did take place, and which may have been a factor in the disaster.

Lives might have been saved by just a relatively tiny investment. This is clearly the most important issue. But the Government opposition to spending the necessary money is even more frustrating because they ignore all the losses that are prevented.

Buildings with sprinklers are much better at actually containing fires. Lives are saved, building damage is minimised, residents are not displaced to the same extent, or sometimes not at all. Their treasured possessions are not all destroyed. Insurers and others take account of this and premiums fall.

This Government claims to know the price of everything it is opposed to funding. But it knows the value of nothing when it comes to the benefits of public spending.

This cynicism must end. The survivors of Grenfell and all the residents of large buildings deserve better. Retro-fitting sprinklers saves lives, saves homes and saves money. It is essential this Government gets on and does it.

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

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