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Canterbury City Council expected to dismiss calls for sprinklers after Tannery fire

Calls to force builders to install sprinklers in new timber-framed developments across the district are expected to be knocked back by the council.

Two city councillors are campaigning for the safety measure following the devastating Tannery fire in July, which destroyed 16 homes and affected dozens more on the Canterbury estate.

Firefighters said the construction of the building had allowed it to spread with alarming speed.

The damage after the Tannery fire in 2015
The damage after the Tannery fire in 2015

City councillors Michael Dixey and Nick Eden-Green (both Lib Dem) lodged a notice of motion with the council calling for it to make sprinklers a condition of any planning consent for such buildings in the future.

But at a meeting of the planning committee on Tuesday, members were told the council had no legal powers to do so.

Cllr Dixey told the committee: “If the Tannery fire, which is in my ward, had happened at 2am rather than in the middle of the day, there would almost certainly have been fatalities.

“The reason why timber-framed buildings are so popular with developers is that they are cheap and quick to put up. But lives are not cheap.

“I have to take issue with our officer’s report. I believe that the proposed condition is reasonable, in light of what has happened in Canterbury.”

City councillor Michael Dixey: "This is a horrible budget."
City councillor Michael Dixey: "This is a horrible budget."

In his report on the councillors’ proposal, senior planning officer Steve Davies said it was not the purpose of planning conditions to address factors dealt with through building regulation legislation.

He added: “If the council were to impose such a condition, it would fail to meet the statutory tests of being neither necessary or relevant.

“Therefore the applicant would be able to appeal against its imposition and would reasonably expect an inspector to allow such an appeal.”

Mr Davies advised members it would “not be appropriate” to pursue the approach further but said it could be highlighted as a safety benefit by the council at the planning stage.

He recommended it should be debated at a future meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee as it was a policy matter, with a report from fire officers and building inspectors.

After the meeting Cllr Dixey said the motion was not a lost cause and hoped developers could be “shamed into installing sprinkler systems” in the future.

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