Call for sprinklers to be compulsory

SPRINKLER systems should be compulsory in all Suffolk properties divided into flats and bedsits, it was claimed today.The county's district councils and Suffolk Fire and Rescue service are working together to promote residential sprinkler systems, particularly to private sector landlords and property developers.

By Richard Cornwell

SPRINKLER systems should be compulsory in all Suffolk properties divided into flats and bedsits, it was claimed today.

The county's district councils and Suffolk Fire and Rescue service are working together to promote residential sprinkler systems, particularly to private sector landlords and property developers.

In Ipswich, all new private sector flat conversions will have to be fitted with sprinkler systems, and grant money is available to help landlords fit them.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) says sprinkler systems should be compulsory everywhere to protect some of the country's most vulnerable tenants and believes the government's new housing bill does not go far enough.

Statistics show 35 per cent of all fire deaths and 39pc of all fire injuries occur in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

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In 2001, there were more than 22,500 fires in HMOs, with 116 deaths and more than 4,700 injuries - two of those deaths happened at Felixstowe.

Rob Giles, 18, and his friend Will Stokes, 19, died when a candle or a faulty TV set caused a blaze at their top floor room in Holland Road.

Smoke engulfed the room in the house - converted into bedsits without planning permission - within minutes and the sleeping teenagers never woke up.

Rob's mum Maggie Giles has welcomed the LGA's lobbying because so many young people were forced to live in flats and bedsits.

She does not blame the owners of the Holland Road house for the fire in which the teenagers died and said there was no negligence or lack of care.

She feels the accident must be a terrible thing for the owners to live with.

"I found the statistics relating to fire deaths and injuries in multiple occupancy housing quite startling, and would welcome any legislation which would protect the safety of tenants in such accommodation," she said.

"I feel that young people like Rob are especially vulnerable - their economic situation forces them to seek inexpensive accommodation and it is important that their safety is not compromised as a consequence."

The Housing Bill will put local authorities in charge of a licensing scheme to ensure greater protection for tenants of HMOs.

The LGA is calling on government to go further by giving councils power to withhold licenses unless sprinklers are placed in the highest risk properties and introduce a set of national fire safety standards for HMOs.

Jane Hobday, chair of the LGA fire service executive, said: "Sprinklers are an effective way of reducing the damage, grief and financial hardship caused by fire, which is often further compounded in HMOs by conditions such as faulty electrical wiring and inadequate escape routes.

"The Housing Bill must not become a missed opportunity. Central government must give local authorities the opportunity to tackle these preventable deaths and injuries by amending the Bill to introduce mandatory sprinkler installation in high risk properties. This is the most effective way to counter the threat of fire in HMOs and prevent lives being lost."

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