The Observer reports that controversial government proposals to relax fire safety standards for new school buildings as a cost-cutting measure are to be dropped by ministers in a major policy U-turn following the Grenfell Tower fire.
The move is evidence of a dramatic change of approach across government, from a previous preoccupation with deregulation and cost-saving to a safety-first attitude, in the aftermath of the west London tower block tragedy.
Across government, ministers have been ordered to look again at fire safety policies in their departments. An urgent rethink has been under way at the Department for Education, which had begun a consultation on official new draft guidance on fire safety in schools last year that was widely seen as a substantial watering down of safety requirements.
Part of the revised draft guidance – which the Observer has learned will now be dropped – removed the requirement that sprinklers be included in the design of new schools and stated, instead, that “school buildings do not need to be sprinkler protected to achieve a reasonable standard of life safety”. It also said it “no longer includes an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them”.
In a letter to schools minister Nick Gibb last August, London fire commissioner Ron Dobson said such changes could have “potentially devastating consequences”.
The Observer now understands that the proposals in the new draft guidance are to be taken back to the drawing board and that any sections which might be seen as weakening safety requirements – including the new language suggesting sprinklers are unnecessary – will be struck out.
A government source insisted: “What we would like to stress is that what we do will be a strengthening of fire safety requirements, not any weakening of them.” Asked if that meant a rethink on sprinklers in new schools, the source said: “That would be entirely fair.” A DfE spokesman said: “There will be no change to the fire safety laws for schools or our determination to protect children’s safety.”
How safe is your school? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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