'No Money Available’ From Government for Tower Block Fire Sprinkler Retrofits
With figures revealing that only one in 50 of the UK’s social housing tower blocks has full sprinkler systems, the government has since revealed that no funding will be put towards funding the retrofit of existing tower blocks.
With last year showing a 21% increase in fire deaths and, since then, cuts being made to emergency services across the UK, many are remonstrating that more should be done to protect the homes of those that remain vulnerable in high-rise flats.
The Prime Minister has turned in the direction of city councils to take the lead in ensuring fire sprinkler retrofits are installed, insisting it is “up to the council to make decisions”.
City councils, including Nottingham, Croydon and Wandsworth, have all had requests for fire sprinkler installations turned down, after being advised to implement retrofits with the support of their local fire brigades.
This has stirred debate as to who should foot the bill — the government, the councils, or landlords — and how much a retrofit for a tower block would cost in the first place.
Backed up by expert opinions, read on to learn more about how retrofit fire sprinkler systems are the best solution to protect the vulnerable and how much they would cost in high-rises.
Uncertainty: who should fund the cost of fire sprinkler retrofits?
A number of UK councils have complained that the government has rejected applications for funds to assist with retrofitting fire sprinklers in public sector apartment blocks.
Alok Sharma, the housing minister, declined Nottingham City Council’s request for help to install sprinklers inside flats and communal areas in 13 towers at a cost of £6.2m. He told the council: “The fire safety measures you outline are additional rather than essential.”
Although blunt, this statement is factually correct. The government has ruled that sprinklers are “essential” in new build high-rises taller than 30 metres in England, but there is currently no such requirement for fire sprinkler retrofits in existing structures.
The housing minister also told the London borough of Croydon, which wants to spend £10 million on retrofitting fire sprinklers into 25 tall residential blocks, “It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that people are safe.”
Following the death of six people in the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009, a coroner has previously recommended that the government should encourage housing providers to retrofit sprinkler systems. Action needs to be taken to resolve the issue. The longer different parties jostle for position over who pays the cost, the longer high-rises go without the protection of fire sprinklers. We hope that it won’t take another tragedy to be the trigger for change.
The cost of retrofits
Chris Johnson, executive vice president at property insurer FM Global, has suggested that the cost of fitting sprinklers is “the same as the cost of a well-fitted carpet and underlay, which provides protection and support”.
This may very well be the case. For example, the retrofit installation of the occupied 13-floor Callow Mount tower block in Sheffield — funded and directed by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) — yielded a total of £1,150 per flat for the installation.
The installers chose BlazeMaster® CPVC material for the fire sprinkler systems, which meant cost savings through quicker installation times (as little as 1 day per flat) and material costs.
Growing support for fire sprinklers
Terry McDermott, Chief Fire Officer of Derbyshire Fire and Rescue service, has previously stated: “sprinklers are the most effective way of suppressing or extinguishing fire.” He also cited research into 2,294 fires in buildings fitted with sprinklers, finding that more than 90% of fires were either controlled or extinguished by the sprinkler systems.
Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, said he would have to wait for the results of an official investigation into building regulations and fire safety before deciding whether to make retrofitting sprinklers a legal requirement for all tower blocks.
Such a review is being conducted by the government and has already received support and recommendations from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Within these recommendations, RIBA claim that the fire brigade should be supporting building control authorities to enhance the fire risk assessment process for high risk buildings.
Chief Commissioner for The London Fire Brigade, Dany Cotton, has also been fervent and outspoken about the entire brigade’s belief that retrofitting fire sprinklers for social housing blocks is a necessity: “I support retrofitting – for me, where you can save one life then it’s worth doing. This can’t be optional, it can’t be a ‘nice to have’ – this is something that must happen.”
How BlazeMaster can help
We are aware of the need to consider costs in the fire protection industry to become a more profitable business. This is why we have published our cost-saving report, which is set to save you money on fire sprinkler installations in 2018.
The report makes direct comparisons between the costs that can be saved by using a BlazeMaster CPVC fire protection system over traditional systems like steel, particularly in retrofit situations.
Our goal is to educate the industry on how both costs and lives can be saved with retrofit fire sprinklers and how the introduction of BlazeMaster CPVC fire sprinkler systems will help to achieve both.