Peter Aldous speaks in a debate on fire safety and sprinkler systems, Peter Aldous recounts the experience of the 2010 Wessex Foods fire which did not have sprinklers and calls for action now to provide sprinklers in all new and converted buildings.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing this debate. He is a champion for addressing fire safety issues. With his lifetime of experience in this field, we should all listen very carefully to what he says. However, we should not be having this debate. Action to address the issues that we are raising should have been taken a very long time ago. A failure to do this has meant that lives have been lost and firefighters have been asked to take unnecessary risks.
On 14 July 2010, Wessex Foods—a large food processing factory on the south Lowestoft industrial estate—burnt down. No one was hurt, but 150 people lost their jobs. Nearby businesses were disrupted for days and weeks. Residents were evacuated from their homes and there were significant environmental impacts, such as the odour from rotting meat and 50 million litres of water being used to tackle the fire. It took 10 days to extinguish the fire, during which time almost every firefighter in Suffolk attended the scene. If sprinklers had been fitted at Wessex Foods, the firefighters from the nearby Stradbroke Road station would have been back there within an hour.
I first took part in a fire sprinklers debate in early 2011. My ask at the time was very simple: the overwhelming evidence and support for the widespread use of sprinklers should be taken into account in the review on part B of the building regulations, which was due to start in 2013. It is completely wrong that the review is taking place only now. The time for talking has gone, and we need action.
Back in 2012, the various property and professional bodies were not all fully engaged. They are now, and they speak with one voice. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, of which I used to be a member, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Chartered Institute of Building are all calling for building regulations to be harmonised across the four home nations; for sprinklers to be installed in all new and converted residential buildings, hotels, hospitals, student accommodation, schools and care homes of 11 metres or above in height; and for retrofitting to existing buildings when refurbishment occurs as
“a ‘consequential improvement’ where a building is subject to ‘material alterations’”.
The insurance industry is also calling for action, proposing that sprinklers should be compulsory in warehouses under 2,000 square metres and in new-build schools and care homes.
We have kicked this particular can down the road for too long, with devastating consequences. We now need action, and I urge the Minister to acknowledge this and to provide a suitable roadmap in his summing up.
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