Just one in 50 (2%) of the UK’s social housing tower blocks has a full sprinkler system, according to a new investigation released on the eve of the public inquiry into the Grenfell fire disaster.
A Freedom of Information request by BBC Breakfast also found that 68% of the council and housing association-owned blocks have just one staircase through which to evacuate.
Some 30% of the blocks investigated had cladding, though not necessarily the kind blamed for the rapid spread of flames at Grenfell.
Six people in the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009 (Carl Court/PA)
In 2007, sprinklers were made compulsory in new-build high rises over 30 meters tall in England, but there is no requirement for retro-fitting to older properties.
Following the death of six people in the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009, a coroner recommended that the Government should encourage housing providers to retrofit sprinkler systems.
The issue is likely to be a focus of the Grenfell inquiry, which holds its first public hearing on Thursday.
London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton told the BBC: “I think 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.”
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Public safety is paramount.
“Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government established a comprehensive building safety programme to ensure a fire like this can never happen again.
“This included commissioning an independent review of building regulations and fire safety. We will consider this issue in light of the recommendations of this review and the findings of the Public Inquiry.”
The BBC questioned 56 local authorities and housing associations in towns and cities and received responses relating to about half of the UK’s estimated 4,000 tower blocks.