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Whitehall not funding fire safety work promised after Grenfell, say councils

Councils claim funding measures such as the installation of sprinklers from their own budgets would mean less money to invest in new council homes.

Councils have claimed Whitehall is refusing to meet promises to fund fire safety improvements in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Local authorities claim that funding measures such as the installation of sprinklers from their own budgets would mean less money to invest in new council homes or pay for running repairs on existing stock.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) insisted it had not declined any requests for funding but had asked local authorities for more details about their plans.

Officials said if councils had concerns about funding “essential” fire safety measures they should contact DCLG as soon as possible.

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Communities Secretary Sajid Javid (David Mirzoeff/PA)

But Jane Urquhart, who holds the housing portfolio on Nottingham City Council, said the works planned on high-rises in her area were considered “additional rather than essential” by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We found that really difficult to understand given that in the refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament sprinklers are considered essential, so we thought it was quite incredible that they were essential for the Houses of Parliament but not essential for residents of high-rises.”

The Labour councillor added: “Safety must come at the top of the list and the works that we have considered will be done; the impact will be that fewer new homes will be built and our other housing will not have the repairs that it needs.”

Adam Hug, leader of the Labour opposition group on Westminster City Council, said his authority faced similar problems getting money from Communities Secretary Sajid Javid’s department to pay for the installation of sprinklers and removal of cladding.

“Ultimately these are things that the London Fire Brigade says have to be done and ultimately the cost is having to be borne by the housing revenue account, which is tenants’ rents and service charge fees,” he said.

“Councils across the country are asking the Government for the help that Sajid Javid promised and they are being told ‘no, only in exceptional circumstances when you literally don’t have the money in any form’.”

He said Westminster stood to lose about £20 million to pay for the work: “That means either 100 affordable homes can’t get built or it means that for 20 or 30 years our residents are going to not have their damp dealt with, when things break not being repaired.”

He added: “It’s a national civil emergency across the country, councils have complied with the regulations that have been there and the Government is not stepping up to the plate.”

The Guardian reported that other councils, including Croydon and Wandsworth, had also had requests for funding declined.

A DCLG spokesman said: “Where a local authority has concerns about funding essential fire safety measures, they should contact DCLG as soon as possible to discuss their position.

“The Department has written to Nottingham, Croydon and Wandsworth councils inviting them to provide more detail about the works they propose. To date these authorities have not submitted this information.”

DCLG has also written to Westminster Council to say it would consider removing financial restrictions if barriers stand in the way of essential works being done.

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