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Improving Fire Safety in Borough's Tower Blocks

Work is underway to fit a high rise building in South Tyneside with sprinklers.

Eighteen-storey Durham Court, in Hebburn, is the first of the Borough's four tower blocks to have the automatic sprinkler system installed.

South Tyneside Council's Cabinet took the decision last October to invest £1.4m to retrofit the sprinklers, even though the buildings were deemed safe in the wake of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire.

The 127 residents of Durham Court have been consulted and every property has undergone a home safety check in advance of work starting. This highlighted any additional support required from both South Tyneside Council and South Tyneside Homes for more vulnerable residents.

Phase one of the work will involve the installation of the sprinklers to communal areas, followed by residents' individual properties. Scooter storage areas are also being brought in to ensure that communal areas remain clear.

Cllr Mark Walsh, Lead Member for Housing and Transport, said: "Our tower blocks are safe, but we know that since the Grenfell Tower disaster people understandably have concerns about these kinds of buildings.

"We want to ensure our tenants benefit from the best possible fire protection measures, which is why we took the proactive decision to install sprinklers.

"Sprinkler systems substantially reduce injuries and damage to property.

"We hope that they will give our residents additional peace of mind."

Durham Court tenant Resident Peter Tallack, 72, said: "The council has been proactive on this and taken it in hand. I'm very pleased that the council is taking action. I'd rather have some disruption and save a life if the worst were to happen."

The sprinklers will also be fitted to Ellen Court, Monastery Court and Wilkinson Court in Jarrow. The work will be undertaken by COMPCO Fire Systems.

John Baines, Assistant Chief Fire Officer said: "I am delighted that South Tyneside Council has chosen to install an automatic sprinkler system at Durham Court; this is a progressive step in tackling fire safety for the residents of South Tyneside.

"Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service promotes the fitting of sprinklers in new buildings as part of an effective fire safety solution and also retro-fitting of sprinklers in existing buildings, on a risk assessed basis.

"Quite simply, sprinklers save lives, reduce injuries, improve firefighter safety and protect homes and businesses, which in turn supports the economy and protects the environment."

Cladding systems in the blocks are fireproof and comply with building and planning regulations. However, following the Grenfell fire, South Tyneside Homes carried out fire safety inspections and commissioned an independent fire safety inspector to carry out a level four risk assessment in the four buildings.

English law requires only buildings constructed since 2007 and which are taller than 30m to have sprinklers fitted, and the law was not applied retroactively.