Council to fit sprinklers in tower blocks

Published: Thursday, 22nd June 2017

Birmingham City Council’s residential tower blocks are to be fitted with sprinkler systems and other fire suppression measures following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London.

City Council leader John Clancy has confirmed that the council will as a matter of urgency look at the 213 blocks of flats it owns to assess what work needs to be undertaken to reassure tenants that their homes are safe.

Cllr Clancy said he was prepared to find up to an estimated £31 million to retro-fit measures which reduce the risk of fire and help tenants to feel safer. All Birmingham City Council blocks have sprinklers in the communal bin areas.

The council leader wants Britain’s biggest councils to lobby the Government to help pay for fire suppression measures in all of the country’s local authority residential tower blocks and has written to the leaders of Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield councils asking for their support.

The nine cities plus Birmingham form the Core Cities group, representing the largest councils in the UK and are home to scores of tower blocks.

Cllr Clancy said he hoped Core Cities and other local government organisations would put pressure on the Government to come forward with a financial package to help councils meet investment in fire suppression measures such as the cost of fitting sprinklers.

Cllr Clancy intends to prioritise council spending on a rolling programme to install sprinklers, regardless of whether the Government makes a financial contribution.

One idea under consideration if Government funding is not forthcoming is to pay for the tower block fire prevention strategy from capital receipts – cash raised through selling assets owned by the council.

Cllr Clancy said: “The dreadful events in London have understandably triggered an outburst of public anger and demands that councils need to do far more to protect tenants living in high-rise blocks.

“I became council leader pledging that every child, every citizen and every place matters. Now is the time to underline that promise by recognising that as a council we have a duty to provide the best possible fire protection for our tenants, and we will do whatever it takes to keep people safe.

“But the cost of doing this for all local authorities with tower blocks is certain to be substantial and beyond the means of austerity-hit councils to afford in a timely fashion.

“The Government should accept this is a national emergency that fully justifies establishing a fund to allow councils to fit sprinkler systems as a matter of urgency.

“If the Government fails to respond appropriately, I believe our tenants would expect work on less important building projects to be delayed so that we can make sure our tower blocks are safer places to live in.

“It should also be recognised that a city-wide programme to fit fire-suppression measures will generate significant employment opportunities for Birmingham, creating skilled jobs and apprenticeships and underpinning the council’s commitment to inclusive economic growth.”


Background notes

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy we have reassured tenants that:

  • All Birmingham City Council blocks have a current fire risk assessment
  • We inspect our blocks on a daily basis and any fire risks are identified and dealt with as a priority
  • We liaise closely with West Midland Fire service
  • We have a programme of fire stopping works

Housing officers wrote to all tower block tenants on Monday and we are planning visits to all tower block tenants to discuss any concerns they may have .

All Birmingham councillors and MPs have been briefed, enabling them to reassure people with concerns in their own wards and constituencies.

We have visited all 213 tower blocks and all our fire checks are up-to-date

Background info on cladding

The current capital investment programme includes external wall insulation which is different to the over cladding with ACM cassette rain screen and curtain walling that appears to have been used on Grenfell Tower.

The council has used insulated render systems to externally clad/insulate BCC tower blocks.  The products that have been used are Structherm, Weber, Alumasc and all are class O or “low risk” as described in the national building regulations.  They have also attained BS8414 part 1 (fire performance of external cladding systems).  They have been used on 16 tower blocks.

Below is the definition of BS 8414.

The BS 8414 test methods provide a robust methodology for determining the fire performance characteristics of external cladding systems. The standard is divided into two parts:

Part 1 provides a test method for assessing the fire performance of non-loadbearing external cladding systems applied to the face of the building. This can also be used to test rainscreen overcladding and external wall insulation systems.

Part 2 provides a test method for assessing the fire performance of non-loadbearing external cladding systems fixed to and supported by a structural steel frame.

These test methods were developed by BRE, based on over thirty years of knowledge and extensive research programmes carried out in this field, and were developed to address the challenges of testing and classifying the evolving designs and materials being brought to the market. The test methods were first published as British Standards in 2002 and are carried out in specialist laboratories, such as the Burn Hall at BRE in Watford, where they are performed on external wall systems at full-scale incorporating joints and corner details together with fixings, insulation, fire breaks, cavities and all other elements of the system construction as appropriate. The standard  evaluates whether a cladding system – when subjected to  a simulated fire in a compartment, breaking out of an opening (such as a window) in an external wall – will result in excessive fire spread up the outside of the building and its potential to re-enter at a higher level

We comply fully with manufacturer’s installation instructions which have been passed by the British Board of Agrément (industry standard).  Some systems include a horizontal fire break.

Birmingham City Council has taken the above approach following the change in legislative requirements and reported recommendations as a result of previous fire safety incidents such as Lakanal Tower in London and Shirley Towers in Southampton.

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