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Council demands ministerial meeting over fire safety funding

The deputy leader of Croydon council has demanded a face-to-face meeting with the housing minister over an ‘unprecedented funding gap’ to improve tower block fire safety.

Alison Butler, who is also the London borough’s cabinet member for homes, regeneration and planning, has written to Alok Sharma, calling for a meeting to discuss the ‘long-term finance of burden’ of implementing a £10m sprinkler programme without help from central government.

In the months following the Grenfell tragedy, Croydon has committed to retrofitting sprinklers in 26 of its tallest tower blocks.

But the London borough has claimed the Department for Communities and Local Government has twice refused to either contribute to this programme or relax the local authority’s borrowing powers.

Now Cllr Butler has called in her letter to Mr Sharma for a face-to-face meeting and added that rejecting councils investing in fire safety improvements, post Grenfell, would only worsen the situation.

In her letter, Cllr Butler writes: ‘Croydon’s fire safety programme will cost £10 million from our housing revenue account, placing a significant long-term financial burden on other ring-fenced council projects.

‘Croydon may be the first council to invest in urgent measures post-Grenfell, but we recognise that others have far more homes. In London alone, many are also still tackling cladding issues under your department’s instruction,’ the letter adds.

‘Therefore, the full cost will not become clear for months to come, if not years.’

Cllr Butler also said the government was adding to councils’ financial burden by asking them to do extra checks on private blocks’ fire safety and intervening in leaseholder disputes.

Croydon was the first council in the country after the Grenfell fire to announce on 19 June it would pay for and install sprinklers in residents’ individual flats as part of its response.

Work began in October on the first of 25 blocks with 10-12 storeys, and one eight-storey sheltered block.

‘Without your help to provide extra funding, local authorities like Croydon that take the initiative on post-Grenfell fire safety in both council and private housing face an unprecedented funding gap,’ the letter adds.

Last month, shadow housing minister John Healey accused the government of failing survivors and tower block residents as the six-month anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy approached.

Mr Healey claimed the government has ‘failed to make good many of the promises made to Grenfell survivors and to the country’.

A spokesman for the DCLG commented: ‘Public safety is paramount and following the Grenfell Tower tragedy we set up a comprehensive building safety programme to ensure a fire like this can never happen again.

‘While building owners are responsible for funding fire safety measures in their properties, we have been clear councils should contact us if they have any concerns about funding as we will consider financial flexibilities for essential work to make a building safe.

‘We have received additional information in a letter from Croydon council and we will respond in due course,’ added the spokesman.

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