Lack of sprinklers raises worries for new Cheltenham car park

Fire concerns have been raised at a new multi-storey car park in Cheltenham after it was found that a sprinkler system does not feature in the plans.

Located near GCHQ, Arle Court Transport Hub is part of a £26 million upgrade scheme funded by Homes England to replace the former Arle Court Park and Ride. Once complete, the four-storey building in Cheltenham will have space for over 800 cars, a covered waiting area, an information desk, a refreshment facility, electric vehicle charge points, and toilets. Gloucestershire County Council states that the work being carried out will “expand and improve services and facilities” at the site, including offering better bus services and transport connections for cyclists and walkers.

With construction having begun earlier this year by leading contractor Kier Construction Limited, residents and local councillors have expressed concern over the lack of installed sprinklers at the multi-storey facility, particularly in light of the major fire that broke out at a car park at London Luton Airport in October 2023, which resulted in “significant structural collapse” and damage to over a thousand vehicles.

Up to 1,500 vehicles were deemed “unsalvageable” in the October fire with the structure needing to be demolished. It later emerged that the building, also newly built, had no sprinkler system. At the time, Chief Fire Officer for Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS), Andrew Hopkinson said: “We are already talking to the airport about ensuring that any future, and the existing, car parks have sprinklers fitted because this building is not sprinkler protected… Sprinklers may have made a positive impact on this incident.”

Speaking about the Arle Court Transport Hub scheme, which is expected to be complete by summer 2024, local councillor Roger Whyborn told Gloucestershire Live: “We should be doing good practice, not just complying with building regulations. A thousand cars is a significant number to have in one space.

As with Grenfell, we should be learning lessons from other buildings. The lesson of the Luton fire is that we ought to be having a serious look at having sprinklers in that building. As a lay person, I would have thought there was a chance of a significant fire in the car park.”

A spokesperson for Gloucestershire County Council said: “The car park at the new Arle Court Transport Hub has been designed within building regulations and following discussions with fire officers.

Fire safety measures are included within the designs, including heat detectors that will react quickly to any developing fire and four dry risers to allow firefighters to fight a fire anywhere in the building.

“Sprinkler systems are not required for a building of this height,” the spokesperson explained.

The extent of damage caused by the recent Luton airport car park fire has seen many in the industry call for a change in regulations. Writing in Construction Magazine, Iain Cox, Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, believes that the current regulatory guidance is “not keeping up with the fire load of modern vehicles”, adding that “modern cars can burn very quickly, producing much larger and hotter fires than was previously considered possible”. With that in mind, Iain adds that “installing sprinkler systems is the most effective prevention method” in the event of a fire.


(Artistic image by Gloucestershire County Council)