At the Housing and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee, 18th January 2018, Agenda item 3 – ‘Borough Residents’ Forum – Report of meeting on 11th January 2018 (Paper No. 18-11)’ was discussed.
The retro-fitting of water sprinklers was discussed under section ‘Par. 2. Fire safety update (Paper No. 18-12)’ and the comments were;
“We received a report (Paper No. 18-12) by the Director of Housing and Regeneration on retro-fitting sprinklers in high rise blocks in the Council’s housing stock and an update concerning recladding works to Sudbury House, SW18 (Southfields) and Castlemaine, SW11 (Latchmere).
The Council’s response to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower is underpinned by the absolute commitment to improve fire safety for all the residents of the authority’s high-rise stock. In accordance with expert advice this included bringing our blocks up to current new build standards through a proposed programme of retro fitting sprinklers.
In recognition of concerns raised by some leaseholders over the proposed works, the report recommends that the Council makes a proactive application to a First Tier Property Tribunal to ensure that the leaseholders’ voice is listened to and to seek a clear decision on the Council’s ability to undertake the works. Leaseholders would be encouraged to submit their views to the Tribunal and their points would be fully considered before any decision was made. In addition, the report details the revised advice from the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority in regards automatic fire suppression systems and provides an update on recladding works which have commenced at Sudbury House, SW18 (Southfields) and are due to be undertaken at Castlemaine, SW11 (Latchmere).
On 6th December 2017, the Assistant Commissioner Dan Daly, Head of Fire Safety and the LFEPA, issued a Refreshed Sprinkler Position Statement to LFEPA members. The refreshed position on “Automatic Fire Suppression Systems is that the LFEPA recommend AFSS in:
While current Building Regulations recognise that all new residential buildings in excess of 30m height should be provided with AFSS, LFB are of the opinion that this should be extended to existing buildings and that the appropriate height is 18m in both cases on the basis of a risk assessment of the buildings. The LFB have, therefore, recommended AFSS are fitted in:
- All new residential developments over 18m in height (which is equivalent to 6
- Existing residential blocks over 18m in height (retrofitting), subject to a risk based
approach that should include consideration of the vulnerability of the residents.
- AFSS is mandatory in all new school builds and as part of major refurbishments.
Care homes and sheltered (specialised) accommodation
- and sheltered (specialised) accommodation.
- Existing residential care homes and sheltered (specialised) accommodation (retrofitting), subject to a risk based approach that should include consideration of the vulnerability of the residents.
- All homes occupied by the most vulnerable in our communities.
- All other residential properties which include hotels, hostels and student accommodation, over 18m in height.
- All new London Fire Brigade buildings.”
The report in particular identifies the intention to retrofit sprinkler systems in the Council’s sheltered schemes. The Director of Resources comments that a positive Housing Revenue Account capital budget variation of £24 million was approved in July 2017 (Paper No. 17-243) specifically in relation to the installation of sprinklers in Council owned social housing blocks of ten floors and above. Should the scheme be extended to include sheltered housing properties in line with the London Fire Brigade’s updated advice, a further positive Housing Revenue Account capital budget variation would need to be recommended for approval at the appropriate time as there is presently no financial provision made.
With regards to the cladding costs at Sudbury House and Castlemaine a positive Housing Revenue Account budget variation of £6 million was also originally approved in July 2017. Due to the increase in the estimated cost of these works it is now necessary to include an additional provision totalling £12.286 million in the Housing Revenue Account framework and capital bids considered elsewhere on this agenda for approval.
In response to questions we were advised that the cost of the cladding works would not be re-charged to leaseholders as the cladding has now been determined to be defective, and as such must be removed. The Director of Housing and Regeneration explained that the Leader of the Council and the Housing and Regeneration Department have made written representations to the Government requesting assistance with the costs for both re-cladding and the retro-fitting of sprinklers. The Director added that a meeting has been organised with civil servants to discuss this issue further albeit it is possible that the Government may only be willing to offer loans, or extend permission to borrow rather than a grant.
Ms Ireland, speaking on behalf of Edgecombe Hall Estate RA, stressed that the leaseholders she had spoken to were very suspicious and concerned that the Council would not disclose the legal advice it had received to residents in relation to the retrofitting of sprinklers. The Director of Housing and Regeneration advised that despite the legal advice being privileged (as a matter of course a council would not release legal advice where this might be required to defend a council’s action in future litigation) and exempt from Freedom of Information requests, the Council had made public the clause in the standard Wandsworth right to buy lease. In the view of counsel the Council reserves the right “to do such things as the Council may decide are necessary to ensure the efficient maintenance, administration or security of the Block”. The Director added that the legal opinion is that this provision enables the Council to retro-fit sprinklers in individual leasehold flats. However, as it is only opinion, the Council proposes to make a proactive application to a First Tier Property Tribunal to test that opinion and ensure that leaseholders are given an opportunity to make their case; and to seek a clear decision on the Council’s ability to undertake the works, i.e. the Tribunal would determine whether the legal opinion gives the Council the right to retro-fit sprinklers.
The Director of Housing and Regeneration stated that he fully understood and appreciated that leaseholders and residents would have concerns regarding disruption and aesthetics associated with retro fitting sprinklers in their homes. In recognition of these concerns, officers are currently fitting out a sprinkler “show flat” which would demonstrate the most up to date and unobtrusive sprinkler systems currently available and which may be viewed by residents and elected members for their information in due course.
The Director of Housing and Regeneration stressed that safety of our residents is of paramount importance to the Council. The Director advised that the assumption that concrete blocks are always safe and that fires only spread in cladded blocks is not correct. The Director referred to the fire in Manchester on 30th December 2017 where fire had spread to multiple floors of a 12-storey block (the fire had started on the ninth floor and spread to the eighth, tenth and eleventh floors before it was brought under control); and in Belfast in November 2017 where the blaze damaged flats on the ninth and tenth floors before it was brought under control. The Director also advised of a lender now declining mortgage applications for properties not fitted with sprinklers which may raise further concerns for the Council’s leaseholders. Clearly, by retro-fitting sprinklers, the Director advised that the Council would also be seeking to protect leaseholder’s interests in their property.
Concerns were raised that based on the quality of some major works resulting in ongoing snagging, reassurance would be required that the same would not apply to the retro-fitting of sprinklers. The Director of Housing and Regeneration advised that the Council’s Major Works Programme across our estates was in the region of £30 million. He added that just because one contract was not going well did not mean that other contracts were not progressing well. The Director accepted that there would be concerns about the retro-fitting programme if residents had had a bad experience with works to their block, and stated that the retro-fitting programme needed to be and would be well managed.
In response to questions on how consultation with leaseholders was envisaged by officers, it was confirmed that the best method of how resident views could be gathered was still being considered by officers. The Assistant Director stressed that the Council wished to encourage residents to put their views forward so consultation with individuals would still take place. In addressing the Tribunal, it was suggested that views may be best presented through a ‘conduit’/a representative group putting the views of residents as opposed to individuals addressing the Tribunal. The Assistant Director was open to receiving views from Forum members on how to develop the consultation process with residents. He also confirmed that the Housing and Regeneration Department had details of those who had objected to the retro-fitting of sprinklers.
Concern was raised that as the cladding costs had increased by 100% from the original estimate of £6 million to an estimated cost of £12.286 million (to include an additional provision), would the estimated cost of retro-fitting sprinklers also increase. The Director of Housing and Regeneration advised that Wandsworth was a defined geographic area and one of the largest contract areas for the retro-fitting of sprinklers in London given the number of residential towers in its ownership. As such, the Director was hopeful that these factors would help to drive down prices given the scale of contract that would be awarded. We were further advised that currently such work represented a small market, but the industry would grow as demand increased further for the retro-fitting of sprinklers.
The Opposition Speaker of the Housing and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Councillor White, requested a breakdown of the additional costs for the cladding work and questioned why the increase in re-cladding works had occurred. Officers agreed that this information would be made available to Councillor White but that aspects of the information might be commercially confidential which could limit the level of information that could be made public. The Director of Housing and Regeneration advised that our consultants have explained the reasons for the increases in costs and have stated that the market has moved to a risk averse position given that such works would have a very high level of visibility and reputational profile. The Director added that the successful tenderer was still considerably cheaper than the other tenderers despite the increase in costs. The Assistant Director (Housing Management) was also able to confirm that other councils in London had also seen significant increases in costs relative to original cost estimates. In response to further questions, the Assistant Director (Housing Management) advised that the cause of the fire at Grenfell was the subject of an on-going enquiry. However, the Assistant Director stated that non-flammable products must be used to replace cladding that does not meet standards and present a significant fire hazard. We noted the contents of the report”.
Please note that all information is provided on a best efforts basis and that readers should make their own efforts to review and assess the provided content.
Email us at – email@example.com – and let us know of any concerns/thoughts you may have or add a comment at the end of the blog entry in the ‘Leave a Reply’ section.
To receive blog articles as they are uploaded please ‘follow’ the blog.
Or email your Roehampton and Putney Heath Councillors at;
Or email your local Member of Parliament at;
For a different view of Roehampton, especially the Alton Estate