Grenfell Tower tragedy 'must be a turning point for fire safety laws'

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London’s fire chief today issued a plea for the Grenfell Tower tragedy to become “a turning point” for fire safety laws.

Commissioner Dany Cotton urged ministers to toughen regulations following claims that successive governments had failed to do enough. 

On the eve of the Grenfell public inquiry, which opens tomorrow, she called for all high-rise flats to be retrofitted with sprinkler systems. 

Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s inquiry will investigate how at least 80 people died when the North Kensington block went up in flames in June, with an initial report due by Easter. 

Ms Cotton said: “Grenfell should be a turning point. I support retrofitting — for me where you can save one life then it’s worth doing. This can’t be optional, it can’t be a ‘nice to have’, this is something that must happen. If that isn’t one of the recommendations then I will be so very disappointed.”

Plea: Dany Cotton said sprinklers “can’t be optional … this is something that must happen” (Rex Features)

Sprinklers have been compulsory in new-build high rises since 2007, but the requirement was not retrospective. Grenfell Tower was built in 1974.

A BBC investigation has found that just two per cent of council and housing association-owned tower blocks have full sprinkler systems in place. Of these, 68 per cent have just one staircase through which to evacuate. 

Ms Cotton told the Standard: “While we are not pre-empting the findings of the inquiry, now is the time to remind government of life-saving recommendations we have been making for years. The Brigade is calling for residential tower blocks to be retrofitted with sprinklers and they should be mandatory in all new school builds and major refurbishments.”

Fire crews are called to over 80 fires a year in London’s schools and, in most cases, sprinklers are not fitted.

Government policy states that retro-fitting is a matter for landlords. 

Several London boroughs, including Croydon, Brent and Hammersmith & Fulham, have announced multi-million-pound fire safety packages, including sprinklers, for their residential blocks since the disaster. 

After the Lakanal House fire in Southwark in 2009, in which six died, the coroner recommended that ministers “encourage” housing providers to  retrofit sprinklers in high-rise flats.

A former Tory housing minister, Mark Prisk, has admitted that not enough time had been spent reviewing fire safety in recent years and that ministers should do more.  

A Communities and Local Government department spokesman said it had commissioned an independent review of building regulations and fire safety.

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