Residents Planning Protest Over Sprinkler Charges

Council proposing recharging costs of sprinkler installation to all leaseholders

Wandsworth Council has made an application to the government's First-tier (property) Tribunal to check that it has powers to pass on the charge to leaseholders for sprinklers it intends to impose in every room of towerblocks in the Borough. There is now a growing campaign among leaseholders and Council tenants against this.

There is particular anger that the Council is using Housing Revenue Account money (made up of rents from Council tenants and service charges from leaseholders) to procure legal advice for its own case, but will neither make a similar sum available to the residents so they can fight it nor share the legal advice which it has obtained.

At the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on 13 September there is going to be a public protest starting at around 6:30pm. Independent councillor Malcolm Grimston will be presenting a paper to the meeting asking for funding for the residents as they defend themselves against the proposed scheme.

Cllr Grimston

Cllr Grimston told this website: "The Council has been trying to dismiss the growing opposition among residents as ‘a few leaseholders’. I believe the turnout at the demonstration organised for the next Housing Committee meeting, on September 13, will show them the real situation. Whether they choose to listen is of course a matter for them. I also think it is hugely unfair that the Council is going to spend a large amount of money from the rents and service charges of residents to take legal advice but is not allowing residents the same sum to defend themselves."

A spokesperson from the Alton Leaseholders Association told this website: "The situation of imposing the retro fitting of water sprinklers in buildings of 10+ storeys within 99 blocks within Wandsworth is, as many residents impacted have highlighted, a knee jerk reaction to what was obviously a terrible event (at Grenfell Tower). There has been little evidence to support this other than hiding behind the London Fire Brigade’s advice and trying to pass off the enforcement of this via a loose definition of ‘security’.

"The Council is using funds from the Housing Revenue Account to support this, which means that essentially funds which could be used for other more constructive purposes, such as improvement kitchens in tenanted property as an example, could be considered. Interestingly, the Council is using such funds to support its legal costs, though not offering to support the legal costs of the opposing view. The style of which this has been pushed might be questionable, for instance, it took some time before there was any public notification of these being charged back to leaseholders and perhaps shows why there is a need for more representation of leaseholders, similar to the Hammersmith & London borough quarterly Leasehold Forums. Fingers crossed the Council meeting on the 13th September will approve funding for the leaseholder challenge."

Wandsworth Labour say it is neither for nor against sprinklers, and that it is an issue of local democracy and proper consultation. Where residents want sprinklers, Wandsworth Labour will support them. On Sunday 2nd September they held a public meeting for all residents impacted by Wandsworth Council's sprinkler installation plans, in order to air the views and concerns of local residents who will be impacted by the final decision on fitting sprinklers in blocks of 10 stories or more.

Almost 6,500 residents living in 100 towerblocks in Wandsworth will be affected by the Council's decision to retrofit sprinklers. Each of these blocks have different needs, yet residents present at the meeting on Sunday night were furious that they have not been properly consulted by the Council.

Cllr Simon Hogg, Leader of Wandsworth Labour

After the meeting Cllr Simon Hogg, Leader of Wandsworth Labour, said, “It was fantastic to see so many residents, from across Wandsworth, come together last night at our public meeting for those impacted by the Council’s sprinkler installation plans.

“With almost 6,500 residents in Wandsworth affected, we want to ensure a proper consultation - currently, the Conservative Council is ignoring residents’ views. The Council needs to take note and listen to the safety concerns of local residents, and where sprinklers are essential, the Government needs to pick up the bill.”

Cllr Kim Caddy

Wandsworth’s cabinet member for housing Cllr Kim Caddy said, “In the immediate aftermath of the terrible events at Grenfell we announced proposals to spend £24m fitting sprinklers in all council-owned tower blocks of ten storeys or above. This would bring these council-owned high rise properties up to the same safety standard as all newly-built residential blocks of a similar height where sprinklers have been mandatory since 2007.

“Our approach has been backed by the London Fire Brigade, RIBA, The Mayor and a cross-party group of select committee MPs. There are of course many instances when consultation is appropriate, but it has never been that way on fire safety. If these questions were left up to a ballot, with some blocks agreeing to have sprinklers fitted but others choosing to reject them, it would mean identical tower blocks having different levels of protection. Such a two-tier safety approach would represent a complete abdication of our responsibility as a landlord and freeholder and could, heaven forbid, risk further tragedy.

“We hear what some of the leaseholders are saying which is why we have proactively sought a ruling from the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal so that the legal position is clarified, but what we have already said is that if they are required to make any contribution, this would be spread over a number of years on an interest free basis.”


September 4, 2018