Birmingham City Council to fit sprinklers in tower blocks

Birmingham City Council’s residential tower blocks are to be fitted with sprinkler systems and other fire suppression measures following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, where 79 people are known to have died.

City Council leader John Clancy has confirmed that the council will as a matter of urgency look at the 213 blocks of flats it owns to assess what work needs to be undertaken to reassure tenants that their homes are safe.

Cllr Clancy said he was prepared to find up to an estimated £31 million to retro-fit measures which reduce the risk of fire and help tenants to feel safer.

The council leader wants Britain’s biggest councils to lobby the Government to help pay for fire suppression measures in all of the country’s local authority residential tower blocks and has written to the leaders of Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield councils asking for their support.

The nine cities plus Birmingham form the Core Cities group, representing the largest councils in the UK and are home to scores of tower blocks.

Cllr Clancy said he hoped Core Cities and other local government organisations would put pressure on the Government to come forward with a financial package to help councils meet investment in fire suppression measures such as the cost of fitting sprinklers.

Cllr Clancy intends to prioritise council spending on a rolling programme to install sprinklers, regardless of whether the Government makes a financial contribution.

One idea under consideration if Government funding is not forthcoming is to pay for the tower block fire prevention strategy from capital receipts – cash raised through selling assets owned by the council.

Cllr Clancy said: “The dreadful events in London have understandably triggered an outburst of public anger and demands that councils need to do far more to protect tenants living in high-rise blocks.

“I became council leader pledging that every child, every citizen and every place matters. Now is the time to underline that promise by recognising that as a council we have a duty to provide the best possible fire protection for our tenants, and we will do whatever it takes to keep people safe.

“But the cost of doing this for all local authorities with tower blocks is certain to be substantial and beyond the means of austerity-hit councils to afford in a timely fashion.

“The Government should accept this is a national emergency that fully justifies establishing a fund to allow councils to fit sprinkler systems as a matter of urgency.

“If the Government fails to respond appropriately, I believe our tenants would expect work on less important building projects to be delayed so that we can make sure our tower blocks are safer places to live in.

“It should also be recognised that a city-wide programme to fit fire-suppression measures will generate significant employment opportunities for Birmingham, creating skilled jobs and apprenticeships and underpinning the council’s commitment to inclusive economic growth.”


Notes to editors

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy we have reassured tenants that:

  • All Birmingham City Council blocks have a current fire risk assessment
  • We inspect our blocks on a daily basis and any fire risks are identified and dealt with as a priority
  • We liaise closely with West Midland Fire service
  • We have a programme of fire stopping works

Housing officers wrote to all tower block tenants on Monday and we are planning visits to all tower block tenants to discuss any concerns they may have .

All Birmingham councillors and MPs have been briefed, enabling them to reassure people with concerns in their own wards and constituencies.

We have visited all 213 tower blocks and all our fire checks are up-to-date

Background info on cladding

The current capital investment programme includes external wall insulation which is different to the over cladding with ACM cassette rain screen and curtain walling that appears to have been used on Grenfell Tower.

The council has used insulated render systems to externally clad/insulate BCC tower blocks.  The products that have been used are Structherm, Weber, Alumasc and all are class O or “low risk” as described in the national building regulations.  They have also attained BS8414 part 1 (fire performance of external cladding systems).  They have been used on 16 tower blocks.

Below is the definition of BS 8414.

  • The BS 8414 test methods provide a robust methodology for determining the fire performance characteristics of external cladding systems. The standard is divided into two parts:
  • Part 1 provides a test method for assessing the fire performance of non-loadbearing external cladding systems applied to the face of the building. This can also be used to test rainscreen overcladding and external wall insulation systems.
  • Part 2 provides a test method for assessing the fire performance of non-loadbearing external cladding systems fixed to and supported by a structural steel frame.
  • These test methods were developed by BRE, based on over thirty years of knowledge and extensive research programmes carried out in this field, and were developed to address the challenges of testing and classifying the evolving designs and materials being brought to the market. The test methods were first published as British Standards in 2002 and are carried out in specialist laboratories, such as the Burn Hall at BRE in Watford, where they are performed on external wall systems at full-scale incorporating joints and corner details together with fixings, insulation, fire breaks, cavities and all other elements of the system construction as appropriate. The standard  evaluates whether a cladding system – when subjected to  a simulated fire in a compartment, breaking out of an opening (such as a window) in an external wall – will result in excessive fire spread up the outside of the building and its potential to re-enter at a higher level
  • We comply fully with manufacturer’s installation instructions which have been passed by the British Board of Agrément (industry standard).  Some systems include a horizontal fire break.

Birmingham City Council has taken the above approach following the change in legislative requirements and reported recommendations as a result of previous fire safety incidents such as Lakanal Tower in London and Shirley Towers in Southampton.

Ofsted inspectors find ‘notable progress’ in Birmingham children’s services

An Ofsted report, following a monitoring visit to examine the progress of children’s services since its latest full inspection in September last year, has found the city council “is making steady progress, and has taken some important steps in improving services for its children and young people”.

Ofsted inspectors visited the council in May to review progress made in the areas of help and protection. They examined case records and spoke to families receiving services, as well as social workers and managers.

They found that “although substantial further progress is required before services are consistently good, in a number of key areas children in Birmingham are receiving better and timelier services. Against a long-standing history of failing to provide good services for children, this represents notable progress”.

Additionally the report found:

  • Improved management oversight
  • Assessments of children’s needs largely completed without delay and are more child focused, with an improved quality of analysis in most cases
  • When children are at immediate risk of significant harm, this is quickly recognised and effectively responded to
  • Staff morale is generally good

The Leader of Birmingham City Council, Councillor John Clancy, said: “The latest Ofsted inspection demonstrates beyond doubt that Birmingham Children’s Services’ long journey of improvement is marching firmly in the right direction.

“The Inspectors found ‘notable progress’, were satisfied that most concerns about children’s welfare are being dealt with promptly, and concluded that almost all children are now receiving the right level of service.

“I made it clear when becoming council leader that improving children’s services would be my first priority. I am therefore particularly pleased to note Ofsted’s finding that children and young people in Birmingham at immediate risk of significant harm are quickly recognised and effectively responded to.

“As the Ofsted report correctly points out, substantial further progress is required before services are consistently good. There is no room for complacency and I will not be satisfied until Birmingham Children’s Services are rated as excellent.”

Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children and families, added: “I’m very pleased to see that the steady progress we have made is being recognised; this reflects a tremendous amount of work from a huge cast of people who have worked tirelessly to get the best outcomes for our children and families.

“Of course we recognise – as does Ofsted – that there is still a long way to go; we have always said that we would need to build strong foundations before we can ensure sustainable improvements.

“However, this is tangible evidence that we are heading firmly in the right direction and I know there will be no complacency as we continue on our improvement. This is a great step forward, building strongly on improvements found in our last Ofsted full inspection.”


Standing shoulder to shoulder with Manchester

Joint statement from Cllr John Clancy, Cllr Robert Alden and Cllr Jon Hunt.

Birmingham stands firm with our friends in Manchester today.

Our thoughts and our prayers are with the victims, their families and everyone affected by a barbaric act of terror.

This is a dark day but we know that our towns and cities will not be beaten by terror. People will respond as they did in Manchester last night with kindness, bravery and a resolve not to be cowed into submission.

The normal business of Full Council will continue here in Birmingham today and Cllr Anne Underwood will be installed as the city’s new Lord Mayor. Understandably Cllr Underwood feels it would be inappropriate to continue with the planned civic dinner this evening and has decided to postpone the event. We fully support her decision. However we will re-schedule the event for a later date.

Today though we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Manchester.