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Calls from fire chiefs to install sprinklers in new schools welcomed in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 16:48 26 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:51 26 October 2017

Photo of a teacher and their class of students hard at work. PICTURE: Archant Library

Photo of a teacher and their class of students hard at work. PICTURE: Archant Library

Calls from fire chiefs to make sprinklers mandatory in all new schools have been welcomed in Norfolk.

Earlier this week, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) called for sprinklers to be made mandatory in all new - or refurbished - schools in England and Northern Ireland, as is already the case in Scotland and Wales.

Their figures show the level of new schools built with sprinklers dropped from 70pc 10 years ago to a third last year.

In Norfolk, just seven schools out of the 424 have sprinklers fitted, while in Suffolk three out of 293 do - a total of 1.4pc across the two.

Colleen Walker, Labour Norfolk county councillor for Great Yarmouth’s Magdalen division, has been calling for sprinklers in new-build schools for the last 15 years.

Scott Lyons, joint National Education Union spokesperson for Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Scott Lyons, joint National Education Union spokesperson for Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

She said: “To me it’s more than important, it’s essential. Children’s - and adults’ - safety is tantamount to me, and I’m sure to parents. For a new-build school the cost is minimal.”

It was echoed by Scott Lyons, joint spokesperson for the Norfolk National Education Union (NEU), who said the union had urged Norfolk County Council to insist on sprinklers for new schools.

“It costs about 1.8pc of the total building cost to install a sprinkler system,” he said, “and that is generally repaid within six years through savings in insurance premiums. We know that sprinkler systems are an effective way of preventing fire deaths, and our position is that any new school should have one fitted.”

It is currently not mandatory for schools to have sprinklers, but they should be installed if recommended by fire safety experts or planning officers. All schools must carry out fire safety risk assessments.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Last year, the Department for Education consulted on relaxing the rules but, after the Grenfell tower fire, was forced to rethink. At the time, Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, launched a petition to see the government keep regulation high.

He said the NFCC had his “full support”. “The government’s friends in certain academy chains and free schools may well want to open new schools on the cheap,” he said. “But they can think again if they reckon this city will let them play fast and loose with the lives of our children and firefighters.”

A spokesperson for the county council said the safety of children and school staff was “always our first priority”, and they expected “all schools to have tried and tested evacuation and fire safety plans”. They said they work with the fire service on a case-by-case basis to assess whether sprinklers were needed.

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