Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry

Part of Humanitarian Situation in Mosul – in the House of Commons at 3:54 pm on 12th July 2017.

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Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North 3:54 pm, 12th July 2017

This is only the second opportunity I have had to make a speech in this Chamber, so when I look at those making their maiden speeches today, I think, “That was only me last week.” The Labour party has so far not had the presence of mind to elect a female leader, yet having listened to the speeches of the hon. Members for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) and for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), I think it cannot be long until it does so. There is such an amazing proliferation of female talent in that party that I just cannot understand why they have not taken it over and occupied all the Front-Bench positions, with the greatest of respect to those men who occupy them at the moment. While it is an honour to follow both hon. Members, it is also unfortunate, because that will only demean my own performance.

I feel not only that I should declare some interests—I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—but that I should present my CV. I am still the chair of the board of a housing association that has 20,000 homes in Walsall. I am also notionally, at least until the end of this month—it is not paying me at the moment, but I am still trying to help out—the assistant chief exec of YMCA in Birmingham, which has 300 units of accommodation for formerly homeless young people. I am also a member of the Chartered Institute of Building and a civil engineer by degree. That is relevant because of the points I feel that I need to make.

I have sat in a number of meetings as chair of the board of Walsall Housing Group, an association that is currently on site or in contract to build approximately 800 properties, some of which will be for shared ownership. The need for that type of property across the UK is understood. Some of the properties will be available under the slightly more innovative rent to buy scheme, so there will be opportunities for different tenures of housing, funded by this Government. Perhaps the part of that Government funding I am most proud of is Homelessness Change funding, which is received by the YMCA and will allow us to provide much-needed modernisation for a 72-bed hostel in Northfield. This Government are investing in housing of various tenures.

My hon. Friend Alex Burghart said that we will talk about the Grenfell tragedy for many years to come. It was a significant and tragic event. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Ronan Point disaster. Ivy Hodge lit a match to make a cup of tea, and the ensuing explosion, which was caused by gas leaking from a pipe to her cooker, blew her across the room and, more importantly, knocked out some supporting walls in her flat, which was on the fifth floor from the top. Not only did the explosion take out the supporting walls and damage all the flats above, but it led to catastrophic failure for all flats below, resulting in four people dying and devastation to the building.

Tests were subsequently done, and new structural supports were put in and the building was reoccupied. However, the consideration of the design criteria went on for years, with many people challenging complex issues such as wind loading, which was affected by whether or not the windows were open, and the building was taken down about 18 years later.

The point I am trying to make is that it is sometimes not easy to understand what has gone wrong. Speaking as somebody who has supervised the construction of these buildings and has been involved in their design, I know that designers invariably err on the side of caution.