Debate called for in Parliament after Lowestoft food plant fire

IT is a sad and all too visible reminder of what went before.

The site of a once-flourishing food factory, which was ravaged by a fierce blaze last year, is now a vast, empty field.

But, if Waveney MP Peter Aldous has his way, it could help prompt a change in the law

Mr Aldous is aiming to secure an adjournment debate to discuss making it mandatory for fire sprinklers to be installed in all new buildings.

In doing so, he plans to cite the example of the blaze that destroyed the Wessex Foods factory on South Lowestoft industrial in June last year, leaving more than 150 people out of work.

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Earlier this year, The Journal revealed how a report from the Business Sprinkler Alliance had suggested that the fire could have been 'wholly avoidable' if the plant had been fitted with a sprinkler system.

At the height of the blaze, 14 fire appliances were involved in the operation and people living nearby were told to stay inside their homes as huge plumes of black smoke were visible across town.

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The report also said that almost 52 million litres of water were used in fighting the fire, which took 10 days to put out, wrecking the building and destroying about 1,000 tonnes of beef, lamb and pork.

A month after the blaze, The Journal reported that Norfolk and Suffolk Fire and Rescue Services were calling on businesses to install sprinklers, even though they did not have to do so by law.

But now, Mr Aldous is hoping to raise the matter in Parliament.

Since the blaze, and resulting job losses, Mr Aldous has been working with Suffolk County Council and Suffolk fire service to identify of ensuring there is no repeat of this type of damaging blaze.

The aim is to bring in new measures to help protect businesses and homes, and to support Suffolk service's efforts to increase the number of automatic fire sprinklers in 'at risk' premises, as they can control a blaze at its outset.

'The livelihood of the local workers was not at threat until the fire took hold that Sunday afternoon,' Mr Aldous said. 'Yet it seems that the fire could have been avoided if the building had been protected by an automatic fire sprinkler system. Whilst we cannot undo the damage done, fire has very much focused the attention of the Suffolk Fire Service as to what can be done to prevent such events occurring in future.

'I have met with the county council and they are campaigning for the installation of sprinklers in all buildings.

'This is a campaign that I'm happy to support. The debate would discuss the need to fit sprinklers in all buildings. If Wessex had sprinklers fitted in the building then the fire would've been put out very quickly. In one respect we are very lucky no-one was hurt and got out in time, and that the fire service were all okay as well. But the lack of sprinklers has meant there has been a failure of undesirable consequences in that 150 people have lost their jobs.'

Mr Aldous said legislation had been passed earlier in the year, which could eventually see Wales becoming the first place in the world where sprinklers will be compulsory in all new housing schemes.

'I think we need to see this carried out across the rest of the country,' he said. 'I think if you do that it will save lives, which is obviously very important, and it will also save the fire service a lot of distress.'

In September, Mr Aldous spoke at a fire and rescue seminar at an all-party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group seminar, where he highlighted the devastating impact of the Wessex Foods factory fire.

Yesterday, he was due to meet representatives from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the secretary of the Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group for further talks on the issue.

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