Council leader urges Chancellor to provide financial support to leaseholders over fire safety measures

Published: Wednesday 22nd November 17

Council leader Ravi Govindia has written to the Chancellor Philip Hammond in the wake of today’s Budget to request specific financial aid for Wandsworth leaseholders to help them pay their share of the cost of installing sprinklers in their homes following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The council has already announced it will be fitting sprinklers in 99 high rise blocks in the borough that are ten storeys or above to improve fire safety in around 6,400 homes.

The decision, which is based on advice from the London Fire Brigade, means the tallest blocks in Wandsworth will comply with building safety standards that have applied to all new-build high rise blocks since 2007.

The council has already identified and set aside £30m to cover the cost, but while council tenants will not need to pay a penny towards the overall bill, leaseholders who have bought their homes would be required to pay a modest share of the cost.

In his Budget speech in the House of Commons earlier today the Chancellor said: “This tragedy should never have happened and we must ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.”

He called on all social housing landlords to carry out safety works “as soon as possible” and added: “As I have said before, we will not let financial constraints get in the way of essential safety work.”

In his letter to Mr Hammond Cllr Govindia states: “I am writing to you following today’s budget and your very welcome call to all local authorities and housing associations to identify and carry out safety improvements in high-rise buildings as quickly as possible.

“This is exactly what Wandsworth Council has been doing. The safety of all our tenants and leaseholders is of paramount importance and we have been getting on with the job, moving quickly to identify and set aside £30 million of council resources to pay for vital safety measures such as replacing cladding and installing sprinklers. We have also set up fire watch patrols while these improvements are carried out, adding an extra layer of safety for our tenants. 

“Wandsworth has 99 blocks of 10 storeys or more, more than any borough in London, and I am proud that we are leading the way in ensuring that our residents get the highest levels of protection, especially in the wake of the terrible tragedy and loss of life that occurred at Grenfell Tower.

“We want to be absolutely certain that every one of our residents who lives in a council block is safe and we will do everything to now make sure that nothing like Grenfell ever happens here.

“This funding we have provided covers the costs of protecting all tenanted properties but not leasehold properties. Wandsworth, having pioneered right to buy, has over 1,358 leaseholders who would have to contribute towards these safety measures and not all will be able to afford the cost.

“You have said that you will not allow financial constraints to get in the way of any essential fire safety work, and we would like to request Government support to cover the costs for leaseholders and help ease the financial burden for them.”

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Recent comments

I am the leaseholder of two flats in Roehampton. My understanding is that the fire brigade have not advised the council that sprinklers are necessary in the blocks in Roehampton which are brick and concrete built and have no cladding. Any small fires in separate flats have been contained within the flat and there has never been any danger of the tragedy of Grenfell. Putting water sprinklers in each flat will cause immense and unnecessary disruption and could cause future damage should they be triggered unnecessarily as well as being very expensive for lease holders. I beg the council to reconsider.
Sue Hardwick

29 November 2017

It's great that Wandsworth is pressuring the government to live up to its early promises to help financially with any necessary fire prevention work after Grenfell. But I agree with other comments that Wandsworth must avoid knee-jerk, publicity-seeking responses to this tragedy and wait for proper practical guidelines to emerge from the various inquiries. In correspondence I've had with Wandsworth's Housing department, they seem to take a more practical view, conceding that many blocks in the borough are far safer than Grenfell and it will be probably some time before consideration is given to what remedial work they might realistically need, based on the latest advice prevailing at the time.
Peter Evans

28 November 2017

I have to say there's some unfortunate and divisive political posturing in this article, proudly stressing that council tenants 'won't pay a penny' while leaseholder will have to pay for their share of the work. Leaseholders are always reminded that council tenants do pay, through their rent and the council's Housing Revenue Account, for all those things that leaseholders pay for through their service charge. So why the difference here? It seems Wandsworth is happily going into their financial reserves for their tenants but claiming they have no alternative but to charge the leaseholders. Maybe they're preparing the ground for guaranteeing support for this work in any residents' consultation exercise!
Peter Evans

28 November 2017

Thus far, having seen 8 of the 42 Fire Risk Assessments for the Roehampton & Putney Heath ward, for 7 of them, it states in Question 2.6.8 ‘Are Sprinkler systems present?’ and the response is ‘Not Required’. If there is now a need for water sprinklers does this mean that the buildings were unsafe? Altogether from the 2016 and 2017 service charges for one block which is going to have retro-fitted water sprinklers we’ve paid about £12.5k and for some leaseholders, especially those on low incomes or retired this must already be very daunting, and now to have this looming must be quite worrisome. Some information on ongoing maintenance and costs would also be good to know.
Steve Fannon

27 November 2017

As a live-in leaseholder of an eleven-storey Council block, unsurprisingly, I fully support the Council's attempt to obtain Government funding to support its safety measures following the Grenfell tower disaster. However, should they fail, one can only conclude that the fitting of sprinklers in high-rise blocks is not seen as essential but merely desirable. The Fire Brigade have given Council blocks a 'clean bill of health' following previous regular inspections - a fact that is not negated by the Grenfell Tower fire. Many leaseholders will find it very difficult to pay for the enforced fitting of sprinklers in their homes especially if they are currently paying for window replacement works at £9,000+.
Michael Salt

27 November 2017

I completely agree with another previous comment that the council's blanket approach is knee jerk and unscientific and the announcement of a Borough-wide plan made without any significant consultation with the stakeholders. The plan ignores and invalidates the recommendations of the recent fire safety review of our 11 story concrete block where the fitting of sprinklers was deemed to be unnecessary! The Council has been spinning this action as an essential 'improvement'. If their properties have suddenly been deemed to be 'unsafe', then this action is indeed remedial and the Council should solely bear the cost as is being done by many other Councils across the country.
Charles

27 November 2017

I live in a high rise block for which the council is freeholder I do not feel that sprinklers are really necessary and strongly object to a cost expected to be several thousand pounds.
N.Plummer

25 November 2017

Just wait for all the 'local wags' to start setting off all sprinkler systems in high rise blocks.
Liz D

25 November 2017

Grenfell was a disaster waiting to happen. The Cladding was the main problem. Please remember that thin sheets of Aluminium metal burn well, and are not difficult to set alight. Consider Wandsworth's tower blocks: Many have solid walls with no external cladding - Fitzhugh comes to mind. Fitting sprinklers will do little good! So, why is Wandsworth going in for the unnecessary, and frightening people into believing that sprinklers are essential? Why are other councils not charging Leaseholders the cost of necessary work?
Paul E

24 November 2017

It has been demonstrated that the reason of the extend of the fire was due to the cladding, external layer of the building. Installing sprinkler in the home of residents would only mitigate suh a problem and would not avoid a repeat if such a cladding was present. In essence as often, the measure is oversize compared to the problem. Having said that installing sprinklers in communal areas such as corridors and staircases could be a good idea. P.S.: I am wondering how wouldlook spriner systems in people home! Probably an unsighful display of pipes networked around the sprinklers themselves. Being water fed, would also create a hazard with electrica aliances in home and c/would even trigger fires.
Gilles

24 November 2017

A mandatory retrofit installation of sprinklers in all ex local authority blocks is clearly unnecessary if the block is completely dissimilar to Grenfell Tower in composition and internallly and externally. I live in the Ethelburga Tower. I have seen the recent fire safety report and while the council has been asked to comply with various extra safety measures sprinklers were NOT recommended. I have lived in this Tower for more than 20 years as a leaseholder.
Melanie Ensor

24 November 2017

If the freeholder wishes to carry out this sort of work I suspect they will have to comply with their legal obligations and serve s.20 notices before they carry out the work. The sooner Wandsworth Council stop selling of the their housing stock, to get votes, the better.
Richard

24 November 2017

My flat is in a 11-storey block that has concrete floors, concrete ceilings and brick walls. It has four flats on each floor that are served by two separate fire escapes. This design and construction is far safer than the new builds that constructed of combustible materials and have 10-20 flats on each floor. The council's blanket approach is knee jerk and unscientific. There has been no consultation with residents. Not impressed.
Penny

24 November 2017

The London Fire Brigade has no authority on Building Regulations. Especially after their responsibilities have not been ascertained for the Grenfell Disaster. There are many fire attenuation measures that should be considered before fitting sprinklers. I will fight in the courts the leonine imposition on such cost on leaseholders.
Fabien GUERET

24 November 2017

What evidence is there (beside the recommendations of the London Fire Brigade) is that we need water sprinklers in our homes? My concrete block has no cladding and there hasn't been a fire since I have lived here (20 years). If you are going to install sprinklers, why not in the hallways and the stairwell? Regarding leaseholders surely the Council should pay for something the leaseholder doesn't even want. Wandsworth Council and Councillors think that leaseholders have unlimited amounts of money to pay for their pet projects. As I live in a concrete highrise I can't even get a mortgage on my property so where does the Council think we can get the money? does it want to become a moneylender as well making a healthy profit on interest?
Imogen Brewer

24 November 2017

why now. we bought these flats in good faith and expected them to be safe. The council is retrofitting these therefore should not be passing the costs on. Hammersmith and Fulham council are not passing on the charges so why is Wandsworth. What happens where people cannot afford these charges on top of the £8000 they have already been charged for shoddy window repairs in Tunworth crescent
anne kearns

23 November 2017

It seems odd that leaseholders, who must surely have complied with the Council's fire regulations at the time they signed their lease, are now being asked for a lot of money (not at all modest, judging from what I have read in the papers) to cover the Council's failures.
susan lofthouse

23 November 2017

I am a leaseholder, the council is not leading the way, Fulham are paying all costs for the sprinklers so are most other councils, that is leading the way, costs est 4k each! shame on you we have had our own quotes done, no more than 1800 each if all flats are done?? wbc are AGAIN going to rip off the already annoyed cash cow leaseholders. we have set up a group to fight this profiteering.. THE SPRINKLERS ARE NOT NECESSARY IN OUR APARTMENTS, HISTORY SHOWS FIRE DOES NOT SPREAD! EVERY FLAT IS A SELF CONTAINED FIRE COMPARTMENTATION. WE HAVE NO CLADDING OR FLAMMABLES.. PROFITEERING SCANDAL YOU WILL NOT GET AWAY WITH THIS ONE. PLEASE PRODUCE REPORTS OF ANY FLAT FIRE SPREADING OUT OF TH ORIGINAL FLAT IN ANY OF THESE BUILDINGS? YOU CANT!
amug

23 November 2017