6 months have passed since the Grenfell Tower fire broke out on 14th June 2017. Claiming 71 lives and causing over 70 other injuries, the incident brought the country to a standstill as questions were raised around health and safety in social housing tower blocks and as to whether this disaster could have been avoided.
In 2007, sprinklers became compulsory in all new build high rises over 30 metres but no such provision was made for the retro-fitting of sprinklers to older properties.
However following the death of six people in the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009, Coroner Frances Kirkham wrote to then Communities Secretary Eric Pickles with her views and whilst she did not expressly say that sprinklers must be installed in all high-rise blocks, she did recommend that the government should “encourage” housing providers responsible for high rise flats “to consider the retro-fitting of sprinkler systems”.
According to the government, all actions were recommended but sadly “encouraging” housing providers to “consider” retro fitting sprinkler systems is very different from enforcing it and consequently as the Grenfell Inquiry has progressed, it is no surprise to see this issue taking centre stage. Indeed, with just 2% of the UKs social housing tower blocks having a full sprinkler system, it is little wonder.
And with so much public furore surrounding Grenfell and the backing of respected authorities such as London Fire Brigade Commissioner – Danny Cotton - it seems that it will only be a matter of when and not if this work should commence preventing similar incidents ever happening again.
With procedural hearings scheduled for 11th and 12th December 2017, the picture will start to become a lot clearer as we move forwards and whilst it certainly won’t be a quick process, our Property and Maintenance team will be watching with great interest as things evolve.