Sprinklers

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th July 2019.

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Photo of Navin Shah Navin Shah Labour

There is an outcry for retrofitting of sprinklers in high-risk and high-rise buildings. The Coroner in 2013, after the Lakanel House fire ten years ago, recommended consideration of ‘retrofitting of sprinklers systems’ in high-rise flats. The Leader of the Opposition this month has stressed the need for retrofitting of sprinklers and called for radical changes to legislation. The Dep Mayor and Fire Commissioner too have supported retrofitting of sprinklers in high rise residential blocks and supported London Assembly’s report to make installation of sprinklers mandatory in residential and buildings where vulnerable people may be at risk. What steps have you taken to help to retrofit high-risk buildings accommodating vulnerable people in London?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Assembly Member Shah, thank you for raising this important issue and for your work on the Assembly’s report, Never Again, which looked into this in great detail. We must do everything possible, as I said to Assembly Member Dismore, to ensure a fire like that at Grenfell Tower never happens again. This includes retrofitting existing buildings to improve their safety and ensuring that new buildings are built to the highest fire safety standards. I have called on the Government to provide funding to retrofit existing buildings with sprinklers and I support the LFB’s campaign on this issue. Buildings that accommodate vulnerable people should be prioritised in any retrofitting programme.

This month I wrote to the Government about fire safety standards in care homes following the serious concerns raised by the LFB and called again for sprinklers to be made mandatory in these buildings. In May [2019] I wrote to the Government in response to its consultation on fire safety in schools, urging them to listen to the LFB’s advice and make sprinklers mandatory in all new schools and in major refurbs too. Additionally, my Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, Fiona Twycross [AM], recently hosted boroughs and housing providers at an event focused on promoting good practice with sprinklers, which I was very pleased to be able to attend. The Deputy Mayor, the Fire Commissioner [Dany Cotton QFSM] and London Councils also wrote to the Secretary of State calling for further action on fire safety from the Government, including on sprinklers.

In terms of new buildings, building regulations should be changed to require sprinklers in all purpose-built blocks of flats, schools, homes and buildings where vulnerable people live, such as care homes and sheltered accommodation, as well as buildings of any type over 18 metres. For the first time, my draft London Plan includes a specific policy that requires all development proposals to achieve the highest standards of fire safety and it encourages the use of automatic fire suppression systems, such as sprinklers. I also support the national Labour Party’s proposal for a new Decent Homes Standard, which would include the retrofitting of sprinklers to existing blocks.

Photo of Navin Shah Navin Shah Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor, for the work you, as well as the LFB, do for additional fire safety that is so desperately and urgently required. The Government’s failure to accept the no-brainer of retrofitting sprinklers in high-rise buildings is putting lives at risk of both residents as well as firefighters.

Given this reckless lack of action from the Government, I wish to raise two questions to you. Will you put in place a strategy to identify possible sources of funding to retrofit sprinklers in high-rise buildings, residential buildings, in London?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

In relation to funding we have in City Hall, the funding we receive on housing is ring-fenced for housing. We cannot breach the conditions that we have been given for the funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. What I have done is used the reserves we had and also raised council tax to support the LFB in relation to the additional equipment it needs, learning the lessons from Grenfell Tower. That was, roughly speaking, £6 million in year one and that will be £6 million going on some of this new equipment we have now received. We simply do not have the funding from City Hall.

Photo of Navin Shah Navin Shah Labour

I appreciate the funding constraints here. It is a question of seeking other partners from the industry and so on to see how, from City Hall, from your office, we can prioritise this so that something is done rather than waiting forever.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I am really happy to arrange for the Deputy Mayor [for Fire and Resilience] to meet with you to discuss potential funding options. I am more than happy to look at potential funding options. The obvious one is the Government, but if there are other options, of course we will look into that.

Photo of Navin Shah Navin Shah Labour

Yes. The second question is that you mentioned a report for sprinklers to address immediate problems of high-risk buildings recommended the setting up of this London sprinkler retrofitting fund. That was £5 million over a five-year period. I fully appreciate the funding constraints that we have and so during the draft budget discussions I came up with an initiative saying that to kick-start in London retrofitting of sprinklers, you could allocate something like, let us say, £1 million worth of funding for retrofitting purposes, which would have put £1,000 toward 570 dwelling units, which would then be safer than they currently are.

Can I urge you once again to prioritise funding for sprinklers to kick-start this very important initiative and show London means business when it comes to fire safety of our residents?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The good news is there has already been a kick-start in London, because some councils have used their own funding to install sprinklers in buildings in which they are the landlord, so there has already been a kick-start. If you are suggesting starting work in London leads to a kick-start, some councils have done that.

However, the reality is that affects a fraction of the homes in London. That is just those social rent homes. What about those that are private; what about those care homes; what about halls of residence; what about commercial buildings; what about schools? That is why we need a proper plan from the Government to address this issue. Yes, some councils are doing this and we support them in relation to doing this. The LFB is helping. I support the national Labour Party for raising the Decent Homes Standards, which will lead to retrofitting on sprinklers, but what we need is proper investment from the Government.

Photo of Navin Shah Navin Shah Labour

Deputy Chairman, I will just conclude by a comment that strategically this is something which also needs to be looked at by your officers to see what we can do to help the councils and initiate our own retrofitting fund process for sprinklers. Thank you, Mr Mayor.