Councils urge safety changes cover existing buildings too, as Jenrick announces sprinkler review for new highrise homes

Robert Jenrick MP (Demo)

THE residents of existing highrise buildings deserve the same protections as those proposed for new blocks of flats, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.

Lord Porter, the LGA’s building safety spokesperson, has urged ministers to support councils to retrofit sprinkler systems into older highrise residential buildings. He was responding to the Government’s announcement of a consultation on proposals for all newbuild highrises to reduce the height at which such systems become mandatory.

“Residents have a right to be safe and to feel safe in their homes and automatic fire suppression systems, which can include sprinklers, can offer that strong reassurance,” Lord Porter said. “We are pleased the Government has listened to the LGA and fire professionals and plans to lower the height at which sprinklers are required in new buildings.

“Those living in older blocks deserve the same level of protection and the Government also needs to commit to helping councils with the costs of retrofitting sprinklers in older tower blocks, as it has done in respect of remedial work for social housing blocks with flammable cladding.”

Currently, the height at which a sprinkler system must be installed stands at 30 metres (around 10 storeys) and above. The consultation proposes reducing this to 18 metres (approximately six floors) or “other relevant thresholds”.

In a statement to the House of Commons on building safety, housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick MP told MPs: “Firstly, I am consulting on changes to fire safety regulations for new build blocks of flats. We will seek to commit to requiring sprinkler systems as standard in a wider range of new flats. I am minded to reduce the height at which those sprinklers are required down to 18 metres. I’m open to hearing evidence for other relevant thresholds and I will be led by the evidence wherever that takes us.”

But Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey MP asked: “Why, two years and three months after that terrible Grenfell tragedy, are 324 high rise blocks still cloaked in the same dangerous Grenfell style cladding? And why have 72 private block owners not even got a plan in place to fix the problem?”

In addition to the consultation on sprinkler systems, the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) also announced the immediate formation of a new Protection Board with the Home Office and National Fire Chiefs Council. This is, the ministry said, intended to provide “further reassurance” to residents of high-risk residential blocks that any risks are identified and acted upon.

Funding of up to £10 million a year will support the board to provide “expert, tailored” building checks and inspections. The Government said that if necessary, the board will inspect all residential buildings in England deemed at high risk by 2021.

The board will operate until a new building safety regulator is established to oversee the new regulatory regime for buildings and legislation on a new building safety regime is introduced, the Government said.

It is claimed that the board’s work will ensure building owners are acting on the latest safety advice and keeping residents updated, and that interim measures are in place in all buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding.

As of 12 September, the Government is opening the application process for its £200 million fund to accelerate the pace of the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM from privately-owned buildings.

“Residents’ safety is our utmost priority and we are making vital improvements to ensure buildings are safe,” Jenrick said when he announced the measures.

“I have listened to concerns on sprinklers from residents and building owners and our proposals are an important step forward in shaping the future building safety standards.

“The new Protection Board will make sure building owners don’t flout the rules, as well as ensuring fire safety risks in other buildings are being addressed.”

As for the funding to remove unsafe cladding, the secretary of state said that “inaction will have consequences” and that private building owners will be named and shamed.

“There is no excuse for further delay – and for building owners to fail to take action now would be frankly disgraceful,” he added.

The 12-week fire safety consultation on sprinklers and other measures forms part of the first proposed changes to building regulations in England covering fire safety within and around buildings. It runs until 28 November.

Building safety minister Lord Younger said: “I’m determined to ensure buildings across the country are safe for residents and the opening of our private sector fund and commitment to new building safety legislation is an important step in driving that forward. This Government is acting and I’m calling on all building owners and developers to step up and make any changes needed to ensure their buildings are safe.”

Lord Porter added: “Providing councils with £4 million to carry out the vital task of identifying tower blocks with other forms of dangerous cladding is positive. The Government also needs to make sure it fully protects leaseholders living in private buildings from the potentially crippling cost of removing dangerous cladding from their homes.”

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