The lack of a sprinkler system is among safety failures that contributed to the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The Fire Protection Association said they would have “undoubtedly” saved lives.
Theresa May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell delayed a review into fire safety regulations for tower blocks when he was Housing Minister.
One policy the Government did manage to review during the same period was rules on sprinkler systems in schools in England – which are compulsory in Scotland and Wales.
The last Labour government introduced an “expectation” that new schools would include sprinklers through a document called the Building Bulletin 100 (BB100).
In July 2016, the Government held a consultation on the BB100 document, saying “it needed simplifying and it was far too long.”
One month later, the Department for Education announced it was dropping the expectation that new schools should be fitted with sprinklers.
The rule introduced by Labour stated:
“That it is now our expectation that all new schools will have sprinklers fitted.”
The Tories’ amended document says:
“The Building Regulations do not require the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety and therefore BB 100 no longer includes an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them.”
Education Secretary Justine Greening took decision just a week after a major fire at a school in Chichester which destroyed 15 classrooms before being put out by a team of 75 firefighters.
The announcement appears to have disappeared from the Government’s website, but the widespread criticism of the decision remains…
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner
A disgrace, Tory Ministers are to remove requirement to have water sprinklers fitted to new schools,sneaking announcement out on DfE website
— Angela Rayner MP (@AngelaRayner) August 31, 2016
Peter Jules of the Chief Fire Officers Association
“This is a retrograde step that doesn’t make any sense. Sprinklers don’t just save lives, they prevent fires from spreading and causing significant damage and disruption to our children’s education.”
Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack
“The Government’s decision to remove sprinklers from all newly built schools is irresponsible, dangerous and a false economy. The Secretary of State for Education needs to admit the Government was wrong on this issue, and reintroduce the expectation that all newly built schools will have sprinklers. Anything less is putting teachers’ and children’s lives at risk alongside their right to an uninterrupted education, whilst putting the lives of firefighters at risk as well.”
National Union of Teachers general secretary Kevin Courtney
“The Government’s change of policy on sprinklers is illogical and this is only compounded by the secrecy around who actually supported the change. Failure to provide this information gives the impression that the consultation was not undertaken in good faith and that the decision had already been taken.”
Association of British Insurers
“The ABI and our members have serious concerns over what appears to be a weakening of advice on the installation of automatic fire sprinklers in new build schools. We believe that this will significantly reduce the number of schools installing vital risk mitigation measures and potentially means an increase in the number of fires in school buildings, putting at greater risk the safety of pupils and staff.”
And last night the Tory MP David Amess, who is chair of the all-party group on fire safety, said: “It is crazy that all new school buildings, as a matter of course, do not have sprinklers immediately fitted.”
“We’ve asked for a review of building regulations. We’ve been waiting 11 years.” – Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety Group pic.twitter.com/ElJsNN1fOw
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) June 15, 2017
There are 1,500 fires in education establishments every year. But there’s no corner the Tories won’t cut in the name of austerity…