'Consideration will be given' to installing sprinklers in Northampton flat block evacuated after failed fire safety test

Overslade House had to be evacuated after it was deemed unsafe
Overslade House had to be evacuated after it was deemed unsafe

The installation of a sprinkler system in a Northampton flat block is still under consideration despite the fact it was evacuated for failing fire safety tests.

Residents living in the 66 apartments at Overslade House in East Hunsbury were moved after an inspection by Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue deemed the homes unsafe on August 14.

But Northampton Borough Council cabinet member for housing and wellbeing, Stephen Hibbert, could not confirm that sprinklers would be installed.

"There is no mandatory requirement to install sprinklers. Consideration will be given, however, to the installation of sprinklers as part of the design," said Cllr Hibbert in response to a member of the public's submitted question to a full council meeting on Monday (December 11).

Fire safety in flatblocks is a big issue in the UK in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster on June 14 which claimed 71 lives. The victims were remembered in a service at St Paul's Cathedral yesterday on the six month anniversary of the tragic event.

In September, fire safety expert Paul Atkins told the BBC that sprinklers would have stopped the fatal fire from spreading, determining that they gave people a "99 per cent chance of survival".

The refurbishment of Overslade House can now begin because all the residents have been moved out.

Residents who spoke to the Chron in September said a small group of tenants would set fires outside. One woman claimed alarms were being left to ring long after fire crews attended building.

"When the alarm goes off here, no one leaves their house anymore," she said.

The design and layout for the block of flats are yet to be finalised, which is why a decision has not yet been made on the installation of the sprinklers.

Dave Pickard, NPH executive director of operations said: “We have recently found alternative accommodation for all of the residents at Overslade House.

"We are now able to carry out the surveys needed to establish a programme of building works.

"We expect to have some plans to share by April 2018. Meanwhile, we are keeping in touch with residents to discuss their individual housing needs.”

If designs for the new Overslade House do not contain a sprinkler system there is the possibility it could be retrofitted.

This is the case in the St Katherine's tower block, as indicated by Cllr Hibbert in his cabinet member report.

It read: "Work to refurbish St Katherine’s tower block – providing externally insulated cladding (all conforming to class 0 fire rating), new bin stores and an entrance lobby, upgrading all mechanical and electrical installations and installing a sprinkler system – will be completed by the end of March 2018."

Any sprinklers would likely need to be funded by the borough council after Prime Minister Theresa May told MPs in October there would be no Government cash to fit them in tower blocks.

“Since Grenfell, much has been said in this House about sprinklers," said the PM in response to Nottingham South MP Lillian Greenwood during Question Time.

“There are a number of aspects that have to be looked at in relation to the safety of tower blocks.

“It is not the case that sprinklers are the only issue that needs to be looked at or addressed - nor is it the only solution to ensuring their safety.

“On expenditure by the honourable lady’s local council, it is of course up to the council to make decisions about what it wishes to do.”