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24 February 2020
A new pilot project by Southend Council aims to retrofit every high-rise tower block with sprinkler systems. The council will be asked this week 'to agree that one tower block has a sprinkler system installed’. If successful it will be followed by a full programme of installations across high rise blocks. The full programme will benefit from an extra £5million which would be allocated to fund the entire retrofitting of sprinklers in tower blocks over 4-6 years.
It is expected that it will cost £400,000 for each tower block, at present Southend Council have estimated that the average cost of retrofitting would be £2,500 per flat – although this doesn’t include ‘the costs of water tanks, core pumping systems and other ancillary works”. However, this price may change as a result of an assessment of the pilot project.
South Essex Homes, who manage the council’s housing, have already to their credit ‘carried out a number of fire safety works including a review of fire doors, floor levelling and the installation of photo-luminescent signage… with ongoing maintenance of fire doors will continue as these are damaged and vandalised regularly’.
The Governments recent fire safety regulations reform which included ‘lowering the threshold for sprinkler requirements from high rise buildings taller than 18 metres to those taller than 11’ - may have inspired the council to start this new project. Whilst the new reform only applies to newly built towers Southend Council wants to ensure that all residents have the same level of safety – regardless of whether they are living in a newly built tower block or not.
“Fire safety in our council homes is a top priority of this joint administration and I am pleased to recommend that this pilot project takes place, with the intention that a full programme is carried out across council-owned tower blocks.
“A full programme will require a large amount of coordination and investment, but I believe that this work is important to both ensure the safety of our residents and provide the high-level reassurance they need and deserve. The impending appointment of a contractor to do level 4 risk assessment on some council-owned homes is also very welcome and I look forward to this work going forward.”
Says Ian Gilbert, Leader of the Council.
In addition, fire safety campaigner Colin Nickless welcomed the news saying it was the “ultimate aim” of his campaign ... “if they are going down this route, I am glad and there has been a lot of people supporting this. But I would like to see all tower blocks retrofitted with sprinkler systems.
Mr Nickless claims that 'a five or six-year wait' for the retrofitting to happen 'is too long as it leaves them open to have a tragedy.' He also stated an initial pilot scheme makes the idea vulnerable to political changes as “they may agree on a pilot scheme now but then what if another administration comes in and says we don’t agree and there isn’t the money?”