'Adverse' finance situation for Yorkshire council after post-Grenfell funds denied

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Yorkshire’s largest local authority faces “adverse” financial implications after the Government rejected its plea for help with funding a multi-million-pound upgrade to fire safety measures in high-rise homes following the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Following the tragedy which claimed the lives of 72 people, Leeds City Council identified £32m would be needed to fit sprinkler systems across its 116 social and sheltered blocks.

The remains of Grenfell Tower. Credit: PA.

The remains of Grenfell Tower. Credit: PA.

On the eve of the first anniversary, a council report reveals that the Government’s decision not to contribute towards a request for the full amount is likely to have an “adverse effect on other parts of our investment plan, as we divert more funding to the fire safety programme” in Leeds.

Following the blaze which tore through the 24-storey block in Kensington, London, on June 14 last year, it was revealed sprinklers were not fitted during its renovation in 2016.

In the aftermath of the disaster – the subject of a public inquiry – a report by a London Assembly committee which investigated fire safety referenced the Chief Fire Officers Association, which said in 2013 that sprinklers have almost eliminated fire deaths wherever they are installed.

Leeds City Council currently proposes to fit sprinklers to 37 high-rise blocks deemed to be of “higher risk” because of their height, the number of staircases, whether they are sheltered homes, findings of Fire Risk Assessments and a previous history of fires.

The new report by Phillip Charlton, investment strategy manager of property and contracts at the council, reads: “We wrote to the Government in January 2018 to request funding to support the increased costs in our fire safety programme, particularly in relation to sprinklers.

“This was declined, as the installation of sprinklers was considered non-essential.

“There will therefore likely be an adverse effect on other parts of our investment plan, as we divert more funding to the fire safety programme.”

In the past five years, about £17m has been spent on fire safety works in social housing high-rises and sheltered properties in Leeds under a Fire Safety Concordat agreement with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. This included the installation of water suppressant systems, referred to as sprinklers.

In the wake of the disaster, the council’s programme was “reviewed and strengthened” to include the installation of sprinkler systems to more high-rise blocks.

The council’s executive board last November approved the spending of £10m on the 37 higher-risk blocks.

The authority has spent £2.2m on fire safety in the last 12 months.

A further £22m would be required to fund the installation of sprinkler systems to all 116 of the council’s high-rises.

Executive member for communities Coun Debra Coupar stressed that no Leeds council blocks were identified as at risk in the same way as Grenfell, and said the additional programme is being provided “as an extra reassurance to tenants”.

Meanwhile, measures to replace cladding on three buildings in the Mixenden area of Calderdale, and on Landmark House in Broadway, Bradford, are under way. Work on new fire-resistant cladding on Hanover Tower in Sheffield is expected to start later this year and will take about seven months to complete.