£22m post-Grenfell fire safety plan for Leeds tower blocks

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Leeds City Council needs to spend £22million on upgrading safety measures at its high rises - and is creating a special tower blocks task force to implement them - in the wake of the Grenfell fire tragedy, the YEP can reveal.

Permission is due to be signed off next week for the rollout of a sprinkler system “retro fitting” programme at eight more tower blocks in the city, as well as other safety measures, at a cost of up to £3.76m.

Six council blocks in the city have already had their existing sprinkler systems upgraded.

But the council admits that the scope and estimated costs of the work needed have spiralled, and a long term investment of around £22million is now required in “additional sprinkler works resources” to truly safeguard the city’s high rises.

It also admits it is under added time pressures, as the existing contract for the initial rounds of work expires in a year.

The authority is now launching an 18 month drive “to get plans and funding in place for the wider programme”.

The council has pledged to spend £10m of its own resources on the project, which it will claim back from the Government. It will also lobby Ministers for the remaining £12m.

A brand new 15-strong team is also being hired to support the wider rollout programme with “complementary enabling works” over the next three years.

News of the Leeds proposals comes six months after the Grenfell tragedy, and as the Government faces mounting pressure over its failure to approve any requests from councils for extra cash to do essential safety upgrades to their tower blocks.

A parliamentary select committee heard earlier this week that while 36 cash-strapped councils have approached the Government, none have had the extra funding approved.

The director general of building safety at the ministry of housing, communities and local government, Tamara Finkelstein, told MPs that 10 local authorities have been asked to supply extra information and four are in final stage conversations.

Pressed repeatedly to confirm that no council has had extra funding or borrowing permission approved, she insisted that “conversations are progressing case-by-case” with these local authorities, and “it is not preventing essential work from happening”.

“We would not see anybody in that position where they are not able - where they are doing essential work - to make the buildings safe,” she said.

“We will give them the borrowing headroom or financial flexibilities they need, so they do have that confidence.”

In a new report seen by the YEP, which is due to get approval next week, Leeds City Council says the rollout “will add a further layer of protection to tenants, reflecting on the vulnerability of individuals in our blocks and the recommendations of fire chiefs”.

But it stresses: “This is not a solution that purely relies on sprinklers in order to prevent the spread of fire. It is felt that this approach offers the most timely and cost effective way forward.”

The report adds that works to the value of £1.2million have already been earmarked for eight “priority” blocks, leaving “further scope” for £2.56 million to be spent subject to approval.

But it also notes that the existing contract - which expires in a year - “did not anticipate the level of investment now required to ensure all these priority schemes get addressed in a timely manner”.

Leeds City Council started “retro-fitting” - i.e, upgrading - of sprinkler systems in its high rise blocks before the Grenfell Tower tragedy, with work initially focused on blocks reserved for older people.

The authority has insisted that none of its tower blocks are at risk from the same form of cladding used at Grenfell Tower and that all the cladding systems used on its blocks have been tested and approved.

However, as a result of Grenfell, the decision was taken to “prioritise” a quicker rollout.

Work has already been completed at Queensview, Marsden Court, Rycroft Green, Burnsall Court, Crescent Grange and Queenswood Court.

Two other blocks at Sherburn Court and Carlton Croft are managed under PFI contracts and discussions continue with the contractors for work to be done in April.

The council launched a wholesale review of its high rise safety following the Grenfell Towers tragedy.

Buildings were earmarked for extra work on the basis of various factors, including the vulnerability of the tenants, history of previous fires and the type of gas installations in the building.

The newly earmarked Leeds tower blocks are Cottingley Heights, Cottingley Towers, Gamble Hill Croft, Gamble Hill Grange, Naseby Grange, Crescent Towers, Marlborough Towers and Parkway Towers.