Councils face an “unprecedented funding gap” in improving tower block fire safety unless the Government helps them pay for it, the first council retrofitting sprinklers since the Grenfell tragedy has warned.
Croydon council have written to request a face-to-face meeting with the housing minister to discuss the “long-term financial burden” of implementing its £10 million sprinkler programme without funding help.
In the months since the council committed to retrofitting sprinklers in 26 of its tallest residential tower blocks, the Department for Communities and Local Government has twice refused to either contribute towards Croydon’s programme or relax council borrowing powers, says a council statement.
A council spokesperson said its deputy leader Cllr Alison Butler has written a third letter to Minister of State (Communities and Local Government) Alok Sharma MP requesting money towards Croydon’s sprinkler programme, adding that rejecting councils investing in fire safety improvements post-Grenfell would only worsen the situation.
Cllr Alison Butler wrote: “Croydon’s fire safety programme will cost £10 million from our Housing Revenue Account, placing a significant long-term financial burden on other ring-fenced council projects.
“Croydon may be the first council to invest in urgent measures post-Grenfell, but we recognise that others have far more homes. In London alone, many are also still tackling cladding issues under your department’s instruction. Therefore, the full cost will not become clear for months to come, if not years.”
She added: “Without your help to provide extra funding, local authorities like Croydon that take the initiative on post-Grenfell fire safety in both council and private housing face an unprecedented funding gap.”
Councillor Butler also said the Government was adding to councils’ financial burden by asking them to do extra checks on private blocks’ fire safety and intervening in leaseholder disputes.
Croydon was the first council in the country after the Grenfell fire to announce on 19 June it would pay for and install sprinklers in residents’ individual flats as part of its response, the statement added.
Work began in October on the first of 25 blocks with 10-12 storeys, and one eight-storey sheltered block. (Source: Croydon council press release)