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Battle over Cabinet decision to retro-fit sprinkler systems on tower blocks at cost of £19m heads to Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal has given a local resident permission to appeal a High Court ruling on the lawfulness of a decision by the Cabinet at Birmingham City Council to fund – at a cost of £19m – the retro-fitting of sprinkler systems to all the tower blocks it owns.

In July this year His Honour Judge David Cooke rejected Robin Clarke’s challenge to decisions taken by Birmingham in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Cabinet at Birmingham had decided on 24 May 2019 to confirm its decision of 27 March 2019 approving an amended capital spending budget that included the £19m.

Mr Clarke considers the sprinklers decision to be a waste of public money.

In Clarke, R. (On the Application of) v Birmingham City Council [2019] EWHC 1728 HHJ David Cooke found that the decision was “a decision properly taken by the Cabinet in respect of which no legal error has been identified and the challenge to it must be dismissed”.

Granting Mr Clarke permission to appeal, Lord Justice Lewison said: "It is properly arguable that a local authority owes a fiduciary duty to the council tax payers and business rate payers from whom it obtains its moneys needed to carry out its statutory functions, and that this includes a duty not to expend those moneys thriftlessly but to deploy the full financial resources available to it to the best advantage: Bromley LBC v GLC [1983] 1 AC 768. The judge does not appear to have taken this duty into account. The grounds of appeal therefore have real prospects of success."

The Court of Appeal judge said: "In addition the impact of the Grenfell Tower fire on the retro-fitting of fire safety precautions is a matter of considerable public interest, which may have had an impact beyond the specific facts of this case."

Mr Clarke claimed that a high proportion of tenants strongly opposed the council “pretending to be kind and responsible and wasting a huge amount of other peoples' money to do so”.

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