Government 'refused to help' fund Leeds tower block sprinklers

The government has been criticised for refusing to help fund sprinklers for all Leeds tower blocks following the Grenfell fire disaster.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 3rd October 2018, 5:39 pm
Updated Friday, 5th October 2018, 12:11 am
Leeds City Council is spending 10m on sprinklers for the 116 tower blocks in the city.
Leeds City Council is spending 10m on sprinklers for the 116 tower blocks in the city.

A Leeds City Council scrutiny meeting was told the local authority had received a "sound 'no'" from former Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, after it asked for financial support.

A total of £10m is being spent on placing sprinklers in every one of the city's 116 tower blocks, which the council will pay for in full.

Mr Javid was talking to local authorities across the country over fire safety measures until he was promoted to Home Secretary in April this year.

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Mr Javid was Communities Secretary before departing for the Home Office earlier this year.

Leeds' director of housing and resources, Neil Evans, said that cash was "not an issue" with regard to taking action, but that it could have been spent on other services had the government stepped in.

He said: "Money was requested for sprinklers, but the government came back to us and said they wouldn't support us with the sprinklers programme.

"We are getting on with it ourselves, but it was a pretty sound 'no', frankly.

"The government is saying that they would assist councils who don't have the money, which I think is a strange way of putting it.

Emergency services were praised for their response to a fire at Cottingley Tower on Monday.

"Clearly we have choices to make. But when we've provided £10m to do the sprinklers that's £10m we could have used for other things which we had plans for.

"It's not a question of not having the money, but it's a question of making choices."

The meeting was told that Leeds tower blocks did not have the same cladding linked to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which claimed the lives of 72 people in June 2017.

Mr Evans said that while the sprinklers programme was being extended, high rise flat residents "should not be alarmed" if their block did not have one yet.

He added: "People should be assured that just because they don't have a sprinkler doesn't mean that their block is at risk.

"The purpose of the sprinkler is to put a fire out in a flat and help save individuals who might not otherwise be able to escape.

"Our protection systems from fires are sound."

Deputy council leader Debra Coupar said that money would be spent to help keep tenants safe.

She said: "As a local authority we've one of the highest number of tower blocks in the country.

"We have invested in fire safety over the years previous to Grenfell and we'll continue to do that.

"But the name of the minister who we've been corresponding with since Grenfell, and who we requested assistance from, is Sajid Javid."

Meanwhile, emergency services were praised for their response to a tower block fire in Cottingley on Monday.

Eight fire crews from across West Yorkshire attended the blaze, which started in a 20th floor apartment. No-one is believed to have suffered serious injuries.

It is believed the fire was discovered by a cleaner as she went about her duties on Monday morning, and she promptly called 999.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: "The government intends to undertake a technical review of building regulations covering fire safety matters and will publish a call for evidence in the autumn.

"Possible changes to the guidance, including on the use of sprinklers, will be considered in this review."