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Fire safety upgrade works to top £400m in London

Fire safety improvement works to high-rise buildings are set to cost councils in London more than £400m, it has emerged. 

Remedial work including the installation of sprinklers and removal of cladding is set to total £405m, with £53m due to be spent in 2017/18, CN’s sister title Local Government Chronicle (LGC) has revealed

Communities secretary Sajid Javid announced yesterday that the government will not provide any funding to councils carrying out fire safety improvement works to tower blocks following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Instead, local authorities are to be given “flexibilities” to increase the borrowing cap of their housing revenue accounts or use money from their general funds to pay for the works.

A survey of the capital’s 32 borough councils and the City of London by London Councils, conducted before Mr Javid’s announcement and answered by 21 respondents, found that the combined costs to install sprinklers was expected to hit £262m.

A briefing to MPs, a copy of which has been seen by LGC, said six boroughs provided data showing the estimated cost of installing sprinklers across 265 blocks in those areas totalled £113m. 

“This implies an average cost of £426,000 per block, with the implied cost per block ranging from £188,000 to £615,000 at individual borough level,” the briefing said.

“One borough provided a sprinkler installation estimate of £2m for communal areas, but suggested that this could rise to £4.7m-£5.6m if sprinklers were also installed in individual properties.”

In July, the Department for Communities and Local Government vowed to engage with the construction industry to ensure increased workloads are “managed effectively” as contractors worked on safety measures following the Grenfell tragedy. 

LGC previously reported that Brent Council wrote to Mr Javid in July asking for assistance in funding a £10m programme of fire safety works, including retrofitting sprinklers.

However, the council claimed last week it had been told it will not receive any financial help for planned works on the council’s high-rise blocks. The blocks already meet existing fire safety standards.

Croydon Council has also started a £10m programme to retrofit sprinklers in its 25 tallest blocks and one sheltered block. The council said it wrote twice to the government requesting financial help but added it has not received any to date.

Labour’s Alison Butler, deputy leader and Croydon cabinet member for homes, regeneration and planning, said: “Although these improvements will impact on long-term council finances, we’ve always said we would deliver them with or without the government’s help.”

Appearing before the communities and local government committee this week, Mr Javid said councils should liaise with their local fire service to determine what “essential” works are needed, but added that the government “will not argue” with areas that decide to install sprinklers.

London Councils’ briefing also said remedial work to cladding systems on 38 blocks across 12 boroughs was expected to cost £53m.

“This implies an aggregate cost per block of £1.4m and, at an individual borough level, the implied cost per block ranges from £385,000 to £3.3m,” the document said.

A further £90m has been earmarked for upgrading fire doors, electrics and emergency lighting, among other remedial works.

In addition to this, boroughs identified £8m of “immediate, one-off” costs associated with staffing, carrying out specialist surveys, and sending out letters and flyers to residents in relation to this issue.

“The results of this survey demonstrate the significant costs of ensuring the safety of tower blocks and the increased pressures that these will place on London boroughs and their ability to maintain existing stock as well as build new homes,” the briefing said.

“The government announcement to return to increasing social rents by CPI+1% from 2020 is welcome, but as many of the costs of the fire safety remediation works are immediate this will not assist boroughs in the short term.”

As a result, London Councils has asked the government to provide extra funding (which Mr Javid has ruled out doing), increase councils’ flexibilities to use right-to-buy receipts to fund the works, or relax the HRA borrowing cap – something DCLG is exploring in detailed discussions with six out of 31 councils which have requested financial help

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