£80,000 Spent Trying To Force Leaseholders to Pay for Sprinklers

Council wanted to make residents of high rise blocks cover cost of retrofitting

Campaigners outside Wandsworth Council. Picture: Claire Gilbert

Wandsworth Council spent more than £80,000 in legal fees for a failed tribunal to make residents pay for sprinklers to be installed in their tower blocks.

Before Christmas, the First Tier Tribunal struck out the council's application for a ruling which would entitle it to retro-fit sprinklers in every room of all leasehold flats in council-owned buildings, which are 10 or more storeys high, as part of fire safety measures.

The council wanted to enter flats without the leaseholder's consent and make them pay for both the cost of the fitting and maintaining the sprinkler systems as part of a service charge.

Some estimates suggested this could have been up to £4,000 per property.

Independent councillor Malcolm Grimston, obtained the figures from the council, which showed it had spent £84,500 on legal, fees.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service he said it was a “substantial sum of money and that doesn't count the time that the officers spent on the project as well, and could have spent on doing other things.”

He added: “I'd had a problem all the way along because the actions being taken despite a huge number of residents signing petitions and sending in things saying they just didn't want a blanket approach.

“Clearly across the 100 high rise blocks there are a lot of different structures, some that might benefit from sprinklers, some might not. But a single programme never seemed palatable to most of the residents and the council was using their money from the Housing Revenue Account to take the legal action.

“So I thought it was only fair that the residents should know at least how much of their money was being used against their interests.”

The council said it did not allocate or record staff time for specific tasks so it was not possible to provide a meaningful estimate on staff time.

It confirmed the work associated with the application was absorbed within the housing management function and the costs are not passed on to leaseholders.

At this month's full council meeting, cabinet member for housing, Kim Caddy, confirmed the council will not be appealing the decision, and will return to it after the results from Grenfell Inquiry 2 are published, alongside government advice.

The battle over the sprinklers had been running for nearly a year-and-a-half since the council reviewed fire safety in the borough's high-rise buildings after the Grenfell Tower Tragedy in 2017

According to a council report, there are 100 blocks of 10 storeys or more containing 6,420 residential flats in the borough

The tribunal's written decision said “the council are not entitled to ask for a blanket determination of leaseholder rights”, and that “if the council wish to fit the sprinkler systems then they must consider each block of flats individually and if necessary make an application to the tribunal on a block by block basis.”

The council previously said it was “disappointed” with the result of the decision.

It noted that sprinklers are required by law in all new blocks over 30m due to their record in helping improve fire safety, and said the tribunal sought to ensure that all residents of council tower blocks were entitled to similar levels of fire safety.

Sian Bayley - Local Democracy Reporter

February 14, 2020

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