Council demands answers from Government over £8.4 million for post-Grenfell fire safety work

Manvers Court in Sneinton is among the Nottingham City Homes buildings which will get sprinklers. (Picture: Google Maps)

Nottingham City Council has again asked the Government for £8.4 million to install sprinklers in 13 tower blocks, accusing it of breaking promises made in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The authority decided to put the systems in all the high-rise property run by Nottingham City Homes following the London fire, which caused the deaths of 80 people in a council-run block which had no sprinkler system.

The changes were promised by the council and its arms-length housing company Nottingham City Homes in the weeks after the June fire, which called into question the safety of high-rise buildings across the UK.

Councillors requested funding from the Government – which had promised support to councils wanting to pay for extra safety measures after the disaster.

But its initial requests were denied because the Government said it considers the sprinklers ‘additional not essential’ to make the buildings safer.

Councillors are now again appealing to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the new housing minister Dominic Raab, who replaced Alok Sharma in Theresa May’s ministerial reshuffle this week.

And the authority says if it won’t give out the money the Government could help the council deal with having to borrow it to pay for the work.

In a letter to Mr Raab, the council’s portfolio holder for Planning, Housing and Heritage, Councillor Jane Urquhart, says: “It is disappointing that you have continued to deny requests for funding for fire safety works, despite public assurances to the contrary.”

She asks Mr Raab to reconsider, and if the Government remains unwilling to provide direct funding, that he instead raises the council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) debt cap by £8.5m.

This would provide an annual subsidy to cover the interest on the additional £8.5m the council will need to borrow for the work, she says.

Councillor Urquhart said: “The Government recognises the lifesaving benefits that sprinklers can provide, and has said money will not stand in in the way of vital safety work, but has so far turned down our requests for funding.

“We are now requesting that at the very least it adjusts our HRA debt cap so that, as CIPFA recognises, other important housing improvements and developments – which the Government also wants us to carry out – can still go ahead.

“We plan to move ahead with our programme of works in early spring and so we are seeking a swift response from Government so we are clear on the funding arrangements.”

The fire at Grenfell Tower, North Kensington, is believed to have claimed the lives of at least 80 people.
(Picture: Natalie Oxford, cc-by-sa-4.0)

This move is supported by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) which has this week pointed out that under the current Prudential Code, councils can only take on borrowing which is “affordable, prudent and sustainable”.

In the case of the Housing Revenue Account, this means debt taken on to build new homes is justified by extra rental income generated.

But sprinklers provide no extra income and come with a maintenance price tag as well as the borrowing cost – leading CIPFA to warn that in the absence of government funding, cutbacks to other programmes will be required to make the borrowing affordable.

Following a similar appeal in October, a spokesman for the Government told Notts TV: “Public safety is paramount which is why, following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we set up a comprehensive building safety programme to ensure a fire like this can never happen again.

“Building owners are responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe for residents and we expect building owners to fund fire safety measures. But councils should contact DCLG as soon as possible to discuss their position if they have any concerns about funding fire safety works.”

Notts TV has contacted the Government for a response to the latest appeal.