Work is “a matter of urgency” – council leader.
Birmingham City Council’s residential tower blocks are to be fitted with sprinkler systems and other fire suppression measures following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, where 79 people are known to have died.
City Council leader John Clancy has confirmed that the council will as a matter of urgency look at the 213 blocks of flats it owns to assess what work needs to be undertaken to reassure tenants that their homes are safe.
Cllr Clancy said he was prepared to find up to an estimated £31 million to retro-fit measures which reduce the risk of fire and help tenants to feel safer. The council leader wants Britain’s biggest councils to lobby the Government to help pay for fire suppression measures in all of the country’s local authority residential tower blocks and has written to the leaders of Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield councils asking for their support. The nine cities plus Birmingham form the Core Cities group, representing the largest councils in the UK and are home to scores of tower blocks.
Cllr Clancy said he hoped Core Cities and other local government organisations would put pressure on the Government to come forward with a financial package to help councils meet investment in fire suppression measures such as the cost of fitting sprinklers.
Cllr Clancy intends to prioritise council spending on a rolling programme to install sprinklers, regardless of whether the Government makes a financial contribution. One idea under consideration if Government funding is not forthcoming is to pay for the tower block fire prevention strategy from capital receipts – cash raised through selling assets owned by the council.
Cllr Clancy said: “The dreadful events in London have understandably triggered an outburst of public anger and demands that councils need to do far more to protect tenants living in high-rise blocks. “I became council leader pledging that every child, every citizen and every place matters. Now is the time to underline that promise by recognising that as a council we have a duty to provide the best possible fire protection for our tenants, and we will do whatever it takes to keep people safe.
“But the cost of doing this for all local authorities with tower blocks is certain to be substantial and beyond the means of austerity-hit councils to afford in a timely fashion. The Government should accept this is a national emergency that fully justifies establishing a fund to allow councils to fit sprinkler systems as a matter of urgency.
“If the Government fails to respond appropriately, I believe our tenants would expect work on less important building projects to be delayed so that we can make sure our tower blocks are safer places to live in. It should also be recognised that a city-wide programme to fit fire-suppression measures will generate significant employment opportunities for Birmingham, creating skilled jobs and apprenticeships and underpinning the council’s commitment to inclusive economic growth.”