Dundee City Council is being urged not to retrofit sprinklers in the city’s 11 multis to prevent another Grenfell-style tragedy – despite including them in all of its new-build flats.
The local authority may not install fire suppression measures because the law does not require it, and because it would be too much work.
The recommendation from a senior council officer has been fiercely criticised by Moyra Samuels, a founding member of the pressure group Justice4Grenfell, who described the decision as “prioritising cost over human lives”.
A report from Elaine Zwirlein, executive director of neighbourhood services, states: “Currently there is no requirement for fire suppression systems to be retrospectively fitted to (multis).”
That is despite the fact the authority has been “futureproofing” new-build developments with suppression measures.
Ms Zwirlein’s report adds that retrofitting fire protection systems would have “considerable implications” on the structure of the buildings, with “significant obstacles” to be overcome.
The council also says the cladding used in city multis is not combustible – and that they are designed to stop fire spreading.
However, Ms Samuels – who visited Dundee last year to warn of the risk of a repeat of 2017’s Grenfell Tower disaster – said such difficulties were secondary to the preservation of life.
She said: “Human life should take priority. Often these decisions are made with cost implications as the deciding factor rather than human lives.
“Yet again we are seeing an example where decisions are made to drive down costs rather than preventing Grenfell from happening again.
“We should be ensuring that working-class people are safe in their homes. And the older buildings are probably the buildings that need them the most.”
She added that there was evidence that sprinklers save lives.
“They give the fire service a good chance of fighting a fire and give residents more time to get out. It makes a difference because every minute counts in a situation like Grenfell,” she said.
An investigation by the BBC following the tragedy found 480 people were hurt in high-rise fires in Scotland between 2009 and 2017 – just one of those was in a flat fitted with sprinklers.
The most recent estimates suggest there are as many as 1,000 households in Dundee’s multis – about 14% of the city’s homes.
A spokesman for Dundee City Council insisted the safety of tenants was of “paramount importance” to the authority.
He said: “Fire suppression systems are only one part of the fire safety of a building that is made up of the fabric, layout, management and operation.
“The presence or absence of such systems cannot be taken in isolation as a solution to making a building safe.”
An investigation by news website Huffpost has revealed the council responsible for Grenfell made £129m selling property while cutting costs at the tower.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea saved £300,000 by choosing a cheaper, highly flammable cladding for the building during a refurbishment.
Installation ‘highly effective in preventingthe spread of fires’
The decision not to install sprinklers in older Dundee multis comes after the Scottish Government agreed to adopt a Bill which makes sprinklers a legal requirement in new social housing.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart, who introduced the Bill, also consulted on retrofitting suppression measures – but that did not find favour with ministers.
Mr Stewart said sprinklers are “highly effective” at preventing the spread of fires, with no multiple blaze deaths in properties where they have been installed.
He added: “While there is no requirement at the moment for fire suppression systems to be retrospectively fitted in high-rise flats, with the tragic experience of Grenfell I believe that sprinklers, while not the only answer to preventing fire deaths, are another tool in the box that can be used.”
Industry body BAFSA estimates sprinklers can be retrofitted for between £1,500-£2,500 per flat.
In the wake of Grenfell it embarked on a project at Callow Mount, a multi-storey block in Sheffield built in 1962, to assess the feasibility of retrofitting sprinklers.
BAFSA concluded that it was possible to carry out the work “without causing disruption”.
Danny Doherty, BAFSA Scottish co-ordinator, said the work is not without its challenges.
But he added: “There are many examples of when these challenges have been overcome.”
The National Fire Chiefs Council believes installing sprinklers in older high-rises would make them safer – but the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has yet to take a decisive stance.
Assistant Chief Officer Ross Haggart said: “The public can rest assured that we continue to work closely with local authorities and housing associations to ensure the safety of occupants in high-rise buildings.”