Council tenants refusing sprinklers they say will result in ‘drenched houses’

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LDRS
Credit LDRS

Council tenants living on a Central London estate are contesting plans to install sprinklers in their homes they claim will cause unnecessary disruption and potentially expensive damage. Leaseholders on the Middlesex Street Estate have already refused the proposed works by the City of London Corporation, with tenants, who do not have the same legal rights, hoping they can also prevent the instalments going ahead.

A City of London spokesperson said residents’ security is a ‘top priority’, and that as the landlord it has a responsibility to ensure they are safe from events such as fire. Tenants who spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) said they believe the sprinklers are however not necessary, and instead constitute ‘another box’ for the City to tick.

The Middlesex Street Estate sits on the City of London’s eastern edge, in the Portsoken ward, and is home to a mix of tenant and leasehold homes. Plans were published several years ago by the Corporation to install sprinklers in the estate’s tallest block, Petticoat Tower.

A new heating network has recently been introduced, which one resident described as ‘the most inept heating system you could come across’. Plans were also approved earlier this year for a new police base in the estate, due to ‘significant’ demand for officers in the east of the City.

Two of the tower’s tenants, Maggie Upton and Lana Joyce, both 76, are among those attempting to force the City of London to change its mind on the sprinklers. They say that Petticoat Tower does not have the same fire risks as Grenfell Tower, and want the option, like leaseholders, to refuse the works.

Ms Upton said: “We’ve just had the heating done, we’ve had so many things done. So much noise, so much disruption. It just continues.”

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Describing the heating system as ‘useless’, Ms Joyce said: “Our concern with the sprinklers is they’re going to be just as useless, and we’re going to get drenched houses.”

“And who’s going to compensate us?” Ms Upton added. “Because the City of London has already said it’s nothing to do with them.”

The pair said they have been told by the Corporation that once the sprinklers are in, any damage would be their responsibility. They contest this, and claim the City should still be liable if something goes wrong.

If the sprinklers were to go off incorrectly, as Ms Joyce and Ms Upton said had recently happened at one of the City’s estates in South London, Avondale, the result would be ‘gallons’ of water pouring into their homes.

“Nothing’s fail-safe,” Ms Joyce said. “That’s the reality. We don’t need them.”

Ms Joyce added the Barbican’s residents, almost all of whom are leaseholders, had said no to the works. Ms Joyce, who has autism and suffers from illnesses resulting in chronic pain and fatigue, said an additional concern is that she is ‘physically’ affected by loud noise and disruption. “I just survived the heating because I thought, well, we need that.”

The pair claim the City has noted in correspondence with tenants that it is willing to go to court if they deny access to install the sprinkler system.

“It’s like a politician,” Ms Upton said. “When you ask a question, you put something forward…you don’t get anywhere.”

‘Allow social housing tenants the same rights’ Roger Way, Chair of the Middlesex Street Estate Residents’ Association, said certain fire-related works, such as the new fire uprated front doors and installation of sprinklers in communal areas, are valued by locals.

However, he said Petticoat Tower is very different to Grenfell Tower, including it being of concrete construction without cladding, making the risk from fire much lower. The London Fire Brigade has also acknowledged there is good compartmentalisation of flats, significantly reducing the likelihood of fire spreading between flats.

Earlier this month, a resolution was passed at the Portsoken Wardmote, which is a meeting of the ward, calling on the Community and Children’s Services Committee to ‘revisit this topic’ and give tenants the same rights as leaseholders. Mr Way, and the Residents’ Association, are central to this push for all residents to be granted the ability to make their own decisions on works to their homes.

“The City has had to concede that, legally, leaseholders must be allowed their own choice in the matter,” he said. “The Residents’ Association is calling on the City to allow their social housing tenants the same right.”

A City of London Corporation spokesperson said: “Residents’ security is a top priority, and we want to work with them to ensure they are protected from fire in their homes. As a landlord, we have a responsibility to take the necessary steps to make sure they are safe.

“As part of this we are investing around £107 million in a Housing Major Works Programme to bring all properties across our 12 social housing estates up to a high standard by 2026. This includes £4.4m to install fire sprinklers.”

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