At the Council Committee meeting of 11 October, amongst the many questions, it seemed that two were related to water sprinklers. At this meeting, all three of the Roehampton & Putney Heath ward Councillors (Carpenter, McKinney and Ambache) attended.
In section 8, Questions to the Leader of the Council, the following questions and answers were provided. It would be interesting to receive comments from readers regarding these?
(2) Sprinkler Systems: Question raised by Councillor Hogg to the Leader of the Council:
The BBC and other media have reported that the Department of Communities and Local Government has written to a number of Councils (including Wandsworth) who have asked for Central Government funding for the installation of Sprinkler Systems in their High Rise blocks, advising them that they regard this expenditure as „Additional expenditure‟, not „Essential expenditure‟ and so have declined to fund it.
Would the Leader confirm that the DCLG has given Wandsworth such an indication?
If the Government is correct in its classification of Sprinkler Systems as „Additional expenditure‟, would the Leader confirm that a statutory consultation of leaseholders would be required if such expenditure is to be recovered from leaseholders?
Would the Leader further confirm that should such costs not be recovered from leaseholders, then they would fall to the General Fund, rather than the Housing Revenue Account?
I can confirm to the Councillor that the Government has made a general statement that no additional funds would be made available for either the works to replace cladding systems or any other fire safety measures, including the installation of sprinklers. The London Fire Brigade, although a strong advocate for the retro-fitting of sprinklers in high rise blocks, have stated that sprinklers sit alongside a suite of other fire safety measures and should not be considered separately.
The fact that the Government may not fund the Council‟s programme of sprinkler installation does not have a bearing on the chargeability of such works to leaseholders. The legal advice indicated that the Council under the terms of its standard lease can undertake work that improves the security of the block and in doing so protects residents and their possessions. As sprinklers unquestionably offer this additional protection the Council‟s view is that the works are necessary rather than optional and should be rolled out across all blocks over 30m tall in line with the requirements for a newly built block of the same height. In these circumstances, the Council is under a strict obligation to bill and collect service charges that fall due under the terms of the lease.
I was delighted to note that Cllr Hogg‟s colleagues on the HROSC wholeheartedly endorsed the Council‟s commitment to this programme, demonstrating that when it comes to measures to improve the safety of our residents in high rise accommodation that some matters are above political posturing.
I can confirm that the programme will take some years to deliver, allowing residents to plan for the cost of the works. The Council has also agreed to extend the interest free re-payment period to 48 months for resident leaseholders, easing the financial impact of the works.
Whilst the Council consults with residents on all major works it is a statutory requirement to do so if the works are chargeable under the terms of the lease, and the appropriate notices and residents‟ meetings will be confirmed as the programme unfolds.
The costs of all works to the Council‟s managed housing stock falls to the Housing Revenue Account, as do all service charges collected, so there will be no impact on the General Fund.
(36) Sprinklers: Question raised by Councillor Grimston to the Cabinet Member for Housing:
Does the Cabinet Member have sprinklers in every room of her home?
If not, would she support the Government if it came to her and explained that it was going to install sprinklers in her home at a cost of £3-4,000 whether she wanted them or not?
Is she aware that living in a house she would be more likely to die if a fire broke out than if she lived in a 10+ storey tower block?
Councillor, if I lived in a high rise block with a single stairway as a means of escape I would certainly be reassured to know that both my property and those of my fellow residents were fitted with sprinkler systems. If I was looking to purchase or rent a property in a new high rise development sprinklers would be in place as a mandatory requirement as they are presumably regarded as an essential fire safety measure in taller buildings. Whilst you continue to use statistics to pursue your individual agenda to oppose the installation of sprinklers your views are not shared by the London Fire Brigade Commissioner or her senior staff or indeed a number of coroners or the Building Research Establishment or the Chartered Institute of Housing or it would seem any other elected members on this Council. It remains obvious and true that it is much more difficult to evacuate from a high rise block in the event of an incident and fires at height are harder to tackle; measures such as sprinklers that are proven to improve the safety of residents should be welcomed by members rather than resisted.
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- Alton Regeneration Watch website – http://www.altonwatch.org.uk/page5.html
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