Croydon and Birmingham join forces over fire sprinkler funding call

(L-R) Robert James, Alison Butler, Sharon Thompson and Hazel Simmonds
Published: Tuesday, 23rd October 2018

Birmingham City Council continued their call for Government to fund sprinklers in social housing nationwide after a visit today (Tuesday) to Croydon’s near-complete programme.

Days after the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June last year, both Birmingham and Croydon announced they would retrofit sprinkler systems in their high-rise tower blocks.

Croydon was the first council to begin its fire sprinkler retrofitting programme in 26 of its tallest blocks last autumn. This is costing the council £10 million from its housing budget and delaying other necessary long-term repairs like bathroom or kitchen upgrades.

Croydon will have completed all 26 blocks before Christmas and today showed one of these buildings with sprinklers and broader refurbishments to senior representatives from Birmingham, which will begin installing its own in the coming months.

Along with officers and contractors involved in the project, Croydon Council deputy leader Councillor Alison Butler accompanied both Councillor Sharon Thompson, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods, and its acting corporate director for place Robert James around a 10-storey block at College Green, Upper Norwood.

The visit included meeting Brian Black, one of the College Green residents to get the new sprinklers who had witnessed last year’s Grenfell Tower fire 10 miles away from his eighth-floor flat. The 69-year-old said: “I was delighted when I heard that Croydon Council was going to do this and I was surprised how quickly they were off the blocks, and a very good thing it is that they are doing. To retrofit them is costly but what value do you put on people’s lives? They give such peace of mind.”

Since the Grenfell tragedy, Birmingham City Council and Croydon Council have unsuccessfully requested a funding contribution from Government ministers This is despite calls for sprinklers to be retrofitted in high-rise blocks, including from shadow housing minister and Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones, and Dany Cotton, the commissioner of London Fire Brigade.

Councillor Butler said: “Croydon Council’s fire sprinklers programme to make our taller tower block residents even safer is nearly finished, but it will hit us hard financially because the Government has not lifted a finger to help.

“It’s been difficult enough for Croydon to find £10 million to fit sprinklers and do other works in 26 blocks, but Birmingham needs to do over 200, so we urge Government to see sense and help councils like ours afford these essential upgrades.”

Councillor Sharon Thompson said: “All residents in Birmingham have a fundamental right to feel safe in their own homes. Following the tragedy at Grenfell, we carried out visits to all of our 10,500 tenants to ensure that as a local authority, we were listening to them and so that we understood their concerns. This is why we are committed to spending £31m to retrofit sprinklers; because those that are living in the 213 high-rise tower blocks across the city need them to be able to feel safe.

“Recommendations from both the Hackitt Report and Government have outlined the importance of listening to residents and the need to give tenants a voice. This is exactly what we have already started doing and we will continue to put in place additional steps to strengthen and formalise this process. However, £31m is a huge cost for a single authority to bear and Government need to play their role to enable us to support our citizens.”

Croydon Council is installing sprinklers in over 1,250 flats across the borough. These are in the council’s tallest blocks of 10-12 storeys, plus an eight-storey sheltered block. To date, 23 of the 26 have been completed.

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