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City begs for financial help with 'life-saving' fire safety works

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Nottingham City Council has become the latest local authority to ask government again for help with funding “essential” fire safety works.

The city has urged the government to either help fund the £8.5m cost of fitting sprinklers in the 13 residential tower blocks it owns, or raise the council’s housing revenue account (HRA) debt cap by the same amount. 

Cabinet member for housing Jane Urquhart (Lab) wrote to the new housing minister Dominic Raab asking him to honour the chancellor’s commitment in the Budget to help councils access funding for “essential” fire safety work.

Cllr Urquhart said: “The government recognises the life-saving benefits that sprinklers can provide, and has said money will not stand in the way of vital safety work, but has so far turned down our requests for funding.”

The councillor told Mr Raab it was “disappointing” the government continued to deny requests for funding and requested an adjustment to the city’s HRA debt cap “at the very least”.

“We plan to move ahead with our programme of works in early spring and so we are seeking a swift response from government so we are clear on the funding arrangements,” Cllr Urquhart wrote. 

Fire sprinklers were labelled “essential” by the London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton in September.

“This can’t be optional, it can’t be a nice to have, this is something that must happen,” Ms Cotton said at the time.

Nottingham’s request for assistance comes after Croydon LBC wrote a similar letter to the government last week over the “long-term financial burden” of retrofitting £10m worth of fire sprinklers to its highest tower blocks.

Croydon’s cabinet member for homes Alison Butler (Lab) wrote to Alok Sharma, the previous housing minister. She said: “This issue of fire safety funding will not go away.

“Croydon may be the first council to invest in urgent measures post-Grenfell, but we recognise that others have far more homes.”

LGC revealed in October that over 30 councils had petitioned the government for financial help in delivering fire safety improvement works to tower blocks.

Ken Lee, chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy’s housing panel, said: “Spending commitments on fire safety are new and unavoidable – but they could displace other existing and critical items of council spend.

“The one outstanding issue that needs to be urgently resolved is whether authorities should be expected to pay for the financing and interest costs.”

Capitalised expenditure incurred must be affordable under the prudential code, he added.

“As long as expenditure remains inside the HRA debt cap, borrowing money at competitive rates isn’t the central issue here for local councils,” said Mr Lee.

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