Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Low cost sprinkler initiative ‘scuppered’ by localism agenda

A low-cost and potentially life saving domestic sprinkler programme is under threat after the government has seemingly washed its hands of it.
The 'ultra-low cost' sprinkler initiative, launched in 2004 after BBC presenter and safety campaigner, Nick Ross, challenged the industry to come up with a low cost system based on one in use in New Zealand. The system uses domestic plumbing and does not meet the specification of more expensive systems installed to BS 9251, the code of practice for residential and domestic sprinkler systems.
The original programme envisaged the installation of pilot schemes in five or six fire authorities, which could then be used to provide a cost-benefit analysis comparing them to BS 9251 compliant installations.
Cleveland Fire and Rescue Service has installed 30 domestic sprinkler systems during 2011 with more planned. But the initiative looks like being stymied by lack of government support and water industry failure to accept the ultra low cost FPA design guide. The water industry’s objection is based on the claim that the guide does not satisfy Water Regulations Advisory Scheme criteria over the potential contamination of the mains by stagnant water in short piping ‘deadlegs’, variable mains pressure, and flow choke caused by water metres.
Critics of ultra-low cost systems say they are less reliable than pumped systems installed to recognised standards. But in response Nick Ross said:
“The system would not have been entirely reliable but the price point would have made up for the technical limitations. It is better to save 90% of fire victims with imperfect equipment which is almost universally applied than to save virtually none with 100% dependable automated fire suppression which is rarely installed.
“There have been other advances on sprinklers meanwhile, of course, not least the legislative progress in Wales and Scotland; but I remain deeply frustrated at how the sub-£600 project has been scuppered.”
In February this year, the government said it could not take the project any further as the pilot schemes had not been installed long enough in occupied homes to provide meaningful data. In an email seen by, an official at the Department for Communities and Local Government went on to say that if the fire safety sector wished to undertake more work on low cost sprinklers, they would have to do so themselves, as the government was “committed to localism...and overseeing a fundamental shift of power away from Westminster to those best placed to deliver outcomes”.
Meanwhile, there is a growing campaign aimed at persuading MPs to follow the lead of Wales and pass similar legislation to mandate sprinklers in all new English homes. The Building Regulations (Review) Bill would oblige the secretary of state to conduct a review and impact assessment of a requirement to install automatic fire suppression systems in new residential premises.
The bill, introduced in the Lords by Lord Harrison of Chester, is due for its second reading in the Commons this week. The bill is also backed by former Welsh Secretary Alun Michael MP, who has tabled an Early Day Motion on the subject in parliament.

An e-petition calling for the compulsory installation of sprinklers in all new dwellings has also been set up.

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