Wales politics

London fire: UK ministers 'should take leaf from Wales' on sprinklers

Ann Jones
Image caption Ann Jones says sprinklers are a "fire fighter ready and waiting in every room 24/7"

The UK government should take a leaf from Wales and make sprinklers compulsory for new buildings, an AM has said.

Labour AM Ann Jones got a law passed in the assembly that made it compulsory for new homes in Wales to have sprinkler systems.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, she called for UK ministers to put fire safety higher up the agenda.

She said they should "stop talking about the costs".

Ms Jones said UK ministers, who do not have jurisdiction over housing regulations in Wales, had strongly opposed the assembly legislation.

She said she was "astonished" at how ministers inflated the costs of such systems.

Thirty people are now known to have died and many more are missing after Wednesday morning's Grenfell Tower fire.

The blaze broke out shortly before 01:00 BST on Wednesday in the block of flats in west London which was built in the 1970s.

Wales has the tightest regulations on sprinklers in the UK - they must be installed in all new builds and refurbishments.

The Vale of Clwyd AM said her law, which applies to all houses and flats built in Wales since January 2016, was strongly opposed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG).

"What I would like to see is the UK government now taking a leaf from Wales - Wales has become the first country to make the fitting of sprinkler systems mandatory, and I would like to see the UK government and the ministers put a commitment that they will put fire safety higher up the agenda - that they will stop talking about the costs because, for me, it's a small amount of money to have."

She told BBC Radio Wales that she got the law through "despite huge opposition from UK ministers in CLG and officials in CLG, who didn't want to see this legislation going through because they were aware that if it goes through in Wales it would then have a knock-on effect in England".

"I was astonished to see how UK ministers could inflate costs of installing sprinkler systems and yet we see the tragedy that's happened today and if the Lakanal House recommendations [after a 2009 tower block fire in south east London in which six people died] had been carried out and if there had been more emphasis put on the recommendation that tower blocks should be retro-fitted with sprinklers then perhaps we wouldn't be seeing the tragedy that we've got."

Image caption Grenfell Tower was gutted by fire in the early hours of Wednesday

Ms Jones said that while her legislation does not require the "retro-fitting" of sprinklers "I would urge everybody to look at whether they can".

Regulations in England mean that only buildings constructed since 2007 and which are taller than 30m are required to have sprinklers fitted. This requirement wasn't applied retroactively so did not apply to Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974.

Existing high-rises in England must have them fitted if a fundamental change is made to the structure or use of the building.

These regulations are the same in Northern Ireland. In Scotland all new residential buildings taller than 18m must be fitted with sprinklers.

Although in Wales, since last year, all new and refurbished residential accommodation must have sprinklers nowhere in the UK is it a requirement to retroactively fit sprinklers in existing buildings.

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