Southend Council approves scheme that could see sprinklers in all tower blocks

Council leaders have agreed to launch a pilot scheme that could lead to all high-rise tower blocks in Southend being retrofitted with sprinkler systems.

Members of Southend Council’s cabinet voted in favour of the pilot scheme on Tuesday afternoon, making way for one high rise block to be retrofitted 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.

It comes after the Government announced a series of reforms that will require towers taller than 11 metres to have a sprinkler system.

While the reforms only apply to new builds, the council has said it wants all residents to have the same level of safety so they will consider retrofitting existing blocks.

Councillor Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, said: “Fire safety is a serious and ongoing focus of our work. We continue to review the safety of many of the blocks the council owns.

“We are still waiting for definitive guidance from the government but we are not sitting back, we are testing what we can do and how it can be rolled out to the borough.”

He added that retrofitting all tower blocks would be a costly and “significant piece of work” but it is “only right” it is carried out.

Councillor Martin Terry (Ind), who oversees public protection, said: “I am delighted with this and would like to thank officers. Residents should be assured no stone has been left unturned with our approach to this.

“We have gone beyond the necessary steps.”

Fire safety campaigner Colin Nickless has been urging the council to carry out the work for several years and welcomed the news saying it was the “ultimate aim” of his campaign.

However, he has called on the council to take action sooner as he fears that if there is a change of administration and the plans are abandoned by a different political party, it could mean just the pilot scheme block getting the retrofit.

He said: “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.”

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter