All Southend tower blocks could be fitted with sprinklers after Grenfell review

Every high-rise tower block in Southend could be retrofitted with sprinkler systems under new plans announced by Southend Council.

After the Government announced reforms to fire safety regulations, including lowering the threshold for sprinkler requirements from high rise buildings taller than 18 metres to those taller than 11, the council is considering retrofitting all of its tower blocks.

The Government reforms will apply only to new build towers but the council says they want to ensure all residents have the same level of safety.

Initially the council aims to carry out a pilot scheme, with one high rise residential block being retrofitted with a full sprinkler system at a cost of £400,000.

If the works are considered effective, an extra £5million would be allocated for all the blocks to be retrofitted over a period of between four and six years.

A council report explains that the average cost of retrofitting the blocks could be up to £2,500 per flat but this “does not include the costs of water tanks, core pumping systems and other ancillary works”.

The full costs will be assessed during the pilot.

Councillor Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, said: “Fire safety in our council homes is a top priority of this joint administration and I am pleased to recommend that this pilot project takes place, with the intention that a full programme is carried out across council owned tower blocks.

“A full programme will require a large amount of coordination and investment, but I believe that this work is important to both ensure the safety of our residents and provide the high level reassurance they need and deserve.”

Fire safety campaigner Colin Nickless welcomed the news saying it was the “ultimate aim” of his campaign.

He said: “If they are going down this route, I am glad and there has been a lot of people supporting this. But I would like to see all tower blocks retrofitted with sprinkler systems and a five or six year wait for that to happen is too long as it leaves them open to have a tragedy.

“It is brilliant but it needs to be all of the building and needs to be done a lot quicker.”

Mr Nickless further cautioned an initial pilot scheme makes the idea vulnerable to political changes.

He continued: “They may agree a pilot scheme now but then what if another administration comes in and says we don’t agree and there isn’t the money?”

The plan will be discussd by the council’s cabinet next week.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter