20/07/2018 14:27 BST

Government 'Should Repay' £31m To Birmingham City Council For Post-Grenfell Fire Safety Changes

A housing committee report said there should be 'funding available' for sprinklers in local authority blocks.

Mike Kemp via Getty Images

Birmingham City Council has written to the government to demand £31 million to be paid back in to its coffers, after an investigation found that the government should be the ones to pay for the installation of fire safety sprinklers in council-owned tower blocks. 

Birmingham’s council, which has the largest council housing stock in the country, began replacing sprinklers across the city in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster last year, and hopes to complete the work by 2020.

But officials had warned its 10,500 tower block tenants that it would have to cancel housing renovation work, or borrow money, to cover the cost before. 

With the release of the House of Commons housing committee report on Thursday, the council, Europe’s largest local authority, has demanded the cost be reimbursed.

The committee made a range of recommendations on high-rise safety, including outlawing combustible materials from all buildings and stopping conflicts of interest, such as builders appointing their own safety inspectors.

The committee stated: “Where structurally feasible, sprinklers should be retro-fitted to existing high-rise residential buildings to provide an extra layer of safety for residents. The Government should make funding available to fit sprinklers into council and housing association-owned residential buildings above 18 metres, and issue guidance to that effect to building owners in the private sector.”

Birmingham MP Jack Dromey urged the Government to make a £19.4m contribution towards the city council’s costs, claiming it had treated council tenants as “second class citizens.”

The Labour MP for Erdington said: “One year on, despite all the warm words from Ministers, they have a failed to honour their pledge to help Birmingham City Council carry out the necessary work advised by the West Midlands Fire Service to retrofit sprinklers to Birmingham’s 213 tower blocks.

“The delay in making Birmingham’s tower blocks safe is putting lives at risk.”

Dromey said the delay was exposing the disparity between privately-owned blocks, which already have sprinklers under current regulations, and the council-owned homes, which are older. “It is these blocks that desperately need the retrofitting of sprinklers to make them safe,” he said. 

“The Government should not treat social tenants as second-class citizens whilst they continue to delay in providing the necessary funding to make their homes safe.”

The committee also concluded a ban on flammable cladding for new high-rise buildings being considered by the Government in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy does not go far enough.

Combustible materials must be urgently outlawed in all existing tower blocks and other high risk buildings, such as residential homes, hospitals, student accommodation and hotels, MPs said.

Ministers were also told to introduce immediate reforms to complex building safety rules “before more lives are lost”.

The industry is “riven with conflicts of interest” such as builders choosing their own inspectors, manufacturers picking lenient product testers and Fire Rescue Authorities inspecting the work of their own commercial trading arms, MPs said.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “There is nothing more important than keeping people safe in their own homes and we agree fundamental reform of the regulatory system is needed.”