Building Safety

– in the House of Commons at 11:37 am on 15th March 2018.

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Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government 11:37 am, 15th March 2018

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on issues arising from the Metropolitan police investigation into the Grenfell tragedy.

The investigation has involved a thorough examination of every aspect of the tower, including front doors to flats within the property. Those doors include a glazed fire door manufactured around five years ago. Initial inspections indicate that the door is believed to have been designed to resist fire for up to 30 minutes, but when tested by the Metropolitan police, it failed after approximately 15 minutes. The Metropolitan police considered that this test result might have wider implications for public safety and alerted my Department.

The Government immediately sought advice from the independent expert panel on the test findings to see whether any action was required as a result. The expert panel is made up of a range of building and fire safety experts, and is chaired by Sir Ken Knight, the former London fire commissioner and former Government chief fire and rescue adviser.

The panel consulted representatives from the Metropolitan police, the Government’s chief scientific advisers and the National Fire Chiefs Council. Following that, the expert panel has advised that the risks to public safety remain low. There is no change to the fire safety advice that the public should follow. I, nevertheless, fully appreciate that this news will be troubling for many people, not least all those affected by the Grenfell tragedy. That is why, based on expert advice, we have begun the process of conducting further tests, and we will continue to consult the expert panel to identify the implications of those further tests. I have made it clear that the necessary tests and assessments must be carried out thoroughly, but at pace.

There is no evidence that this is a systemic issue. Data from between 2009 and 2017 shows that fire does not generally spread beyond the room of origin. I am also clear that my Department and the Metropolitan police will ensure that the bereaved and the survivors are kept informed of progress. I commit to updating the House when further information is available, and no later than the end of April.

I stress that, in carrying out the tests, conclusions should not be drawn about the nature or cause of the Grenfell tragedy. That is a matter for a separate police investigation that must be allowed to run its course. Members will be aware that Dame Judith Hackitt is undertaking an independent review of building regulations and fire safety to ensure that the regulatory system is sufficiently robust. Dame Judith has been made aware of these latest findings. Having accepted the initial recommendations that were set out in her interim report in December, we look forward to her final report, which is expected in the spring.

Nine months ago, we faced a loss of life and suffering on an unimaginable scale at Grenfell. Since then, the Government and others have made significant efforts to support survivors, find them new homes and help to keep people safe. However, I know that the matters I have raised today will prompt questions. I reiterate that on the basis of the expert advice that my Department has received, there is no evidence that risks to the public have changed.

I reassure hon. Members that all possible steps are being taken to properly investigate the issues and to take action where needed. Public safety is paramount and our position is clear: the events of 14 June 2017 must never be allowed to happen again. I commend the statement to the House.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 11:41 pm, 15th March 2018

I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement.

Nine months on, we all still live with the human tragedy of Grenfell and the realisation that we saw the systemic failure of our system of building checks and controls. We must keep that in mind because, as the Secretary of State said—I will always endorse these words—public safety has to be paramount. That also means, however, that there has to be transparency, accountability and a driving sense of urgency.

I welcome the transparency of the Secretary of State’s making this statement at the earliest possible stage. It is right and proper that this information is in the public domain, so I thank him. I think he would agree that if the Opposition demand accountability and that the Government demonstrate a sense of urgency, that can never be open to the charge of political point scoring.

I add my thanks for the work of the Metropolitan police. The Secretary of State told us that the “Metropolitan police considered that this test result might have wider implications for public safety” and consequently alerted the Department. I was a little surprised when he said that there is “no evidence that this is a systemic issue.” I was astounded when he went on to say: “Data from between 2009 and 2017 shows that fire does not generally spread beyond the room of origin.” That may be true, but we know that that was exactly what did happen in Grenfell Tower—the fire spread and spread and spread. We cannot have any sense of complacency.

The Secretary of State says that this issue is not “systemic”, but what assessment has been made of how many buildings might be affected? How many individual flats—how many people—have fire doors that simply do not do the job? If he does not already know those numbers—I suspect it is too early to know—what steps is he taking to ascertain them? This is the point at which the words “this is not systemic” begin to sound a little incredible. There may be a systemic problem, and we have to begin to recognise that if this is a wide-scale issue, we have that systemic problem.

We need a real sense of urgency on this, as indeed we do regarding other aspects of building control. Tower block residents up and down the country are entitled to know—not simply post Grenfell—the scale of the issues. I must say to the Secretary of State that that sense of urgency has not always been apparent in all the Government’s actions. Earlier this week, he was a little embarrassed when he was not able to answer a question that was put to him at Question Time about how many tower blocks are unsafe post Grenfell. He was not able to say how many private tower blocks up and down the country have the same aluminium composite material cladding that was used on Grenfell. We now need some urgency in providing those answers and bringing the information before the House. I hope that he can tell us when he will have that information and when we can begin to give people a sense of reassurance.

In a recent written answer to my right hon. Friend John Healey, the shadow Housing Minister, the Department confirmed that no funding had yet been provided to any of the 41 local authorities that had contacted it. We were told at Question Time that no funding requests had been refused, but that is not quite the full truth if the reality is that no funding request had actually been acceded to. Again, perhaps the Secretary of State can update us and tell us when the local authorities, which really do want to get on with this work, will see the assistance from central Government to which he committed nearly nine months ago.

The upshot of all of this is that, nine months on, only seven of more than 300 tower blocks that had been identified as having dangerous cladding have had that cladding removed and replaced with something more acceptable. I must say to the Secretary of State that, nine months on, that is simply not good enough.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and I am very happy to answer all the points that he has made.

The hon. Gentleman rightly said—of course we all agree with this—that public safety is the No. 1 issue and is absolutely paramount in every way. He will know that ever since the tragedy, as well as through the police investigation and the work that is being done through the public inquiry, there have been lessons for public safety. He will remember that, right from the start, the expert panel was convened to provide the immediate emergency advice that was necessary, and that advice went out widely to the owners of both social and private sector buildings. The testing regime—the initial sample testing and then the large-scale testing—was set up, as was the independent review, which is now being carried out by Dame Judith Hackitt. I was quite deliberate in wanting to see an interim report so that we could act on some of the early lessons. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim report included a number of recommendations, which we have accepted, and we have now started to implement every single one of them. She is now working on her final report, which is due, as planned, in the spring. Again, that reflects our sense of urgency.

Once the expert panel and the police are comfortable that information can be publicly shared, it is right that we are transparent as quickly as possible. That is necessary to create public trust and to ensure that no one comes under any undue stress. Throughout the whole process, we have correctly been led by the experts—the expert panel and all the industry advisers who have been put in place—as well as by the work that has been done by the police.

Let me give the hon. Gentleman a bit more information about that. As well as the independent expert panel, the Government have consulted the National Fire Chiefs Council, the Government’s chief scientific advisers, the police, of course, and the London Fire Brigade. As a result, the expert panel has concluded that, so far, the risk to public safety remains low, that there is no change to fire safety advice, and that a programme of additional testing has to be commissioned to determine the root cause of the failed test. Such additional testing is required; it is going on now. As I said, it must be thorough and done at pace, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that we should not rush it, meaning that we get either wrong or inappropriate results. It should be done properly. It should be led by the experts and only on their advice. That is exactly why I said in my statement that there is no evidence of a systemic problem—it is the advice of the experts so far. We are correctly taking their advice while we continue with further tests at pace.

The hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that work was not being done at pace or urgently. I refute that. We have rightly worked as urgently as possible every step of the way, whether that is on today’s information or other information that has come to light since the fire. That includes work on the remediation of existing buildings with ACM cladding. So far, 301 buildings have been identified: 158 social buildings; 13 in the public sector; and 130 in the private sector. Almost 60% have begun the remediation work and, as the hon. Gentleman said, seven have completed that work. Public safety is paramount, so in every single case, interim steps were taken and measures were put in place immediately, with expert advice, often from the local fire brigade. Those measures remain in place. People can be comfortable that every measure is being taken to ensure that they remain safe.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I think that the House will support what my right hon. Friend said about waiting to get the determination of those investigating regarding the causes.

We know about the liabilities and the risks. Tony Lloyd mentioned private leaseholders in private blocks. This week saw the first proper tribunal decision, regarding Citiscape in Croydon, which is owned by the Tchenguiz interests. Ordinary taxpaying residents there are being asked to pay tens of thousands of pounds, and the same thing is happening at New Capital Quay in Greenwich, Heysmoor Heights in Liverpool, and in another 129 blocks that I could name.

May I put it to my right hon. Friend that he ought to get together the Tchenguiz interests, William Waldorf Astor’s Long Harbour and Abacus interests, the builders, the leaseholders and their representatives in order to have a roundtable in the open? Instead of waiting two years until an inquiry is done, it is time to get these people together and talk about a simple deal whereby, for example, the builders put up a third, the freeholders put up a third and the Government/tenants put up a third to get the cladding removed and replaced.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I am very much aware of the legal judgment to which my hon. Friend refers, and we are carefully considering its implications. I have been clear all along—I have said this a number of times in the House and I will say it again—that whatever the legal situation might be, the private owners of buildings should take their lead from the public sector and take responsibility for the additional costs. They might want to look at insurance claims, warranties and legal action that they may be able to take. I also want to ensure that leaseholders get the advice that they need, which is why we have increased funding to the Leasehold Advisory Service.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

Nine months after Grenfell and with new concerns emerging, it is no surprise that residents in high-rise buildings remain extremely concerned. A matter of possible reassurance for them was the retrofitting of sprinklers. My local authority of Westminster has advised that it is concerned about proceeding with retrofitting because it has no right of access to the one in three properties in private ownership in social housing blocks. This is a matter not of regulation, but of ensuring access. Will the Secretary of State advise how he can take this forward as a matter of urgency so that councils that wish to proceed with retrofitting are clearly able to do so?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I agree with the hon. Lady that, in the light of all the information that has come to light since the terrible tragedy, local authorities should quite rightly take whatever action is needed to keep residents safe in high-rise buildings. That is exactly what is expected of them and they have our full support. We have said that it is for the local authorities to make their own decisions on sprinklers, based on expert advice. If they decide to proceed, they will get the financial flexibility to support them. If other issues are getting in the way of doing that job, we will be happy to look at them. A number of local authorities have approached us, and we are working with them all and will help them all in every way.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

The fact that a number of high-rise office blocks in Barnet are being converted to residential use under permitted development rights, without the need for planning permission, leads some to fear that design standards will be compromised because of the absence of a planning process. Will the Government take action to ensure that fire safety standards are not compromised in these kinds of conversions?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I can assure my right hon. Friend that even when building work is carried out under permitted development rights, it is still needs to be subject to building regulations, including all those around safety. There is no way that any builder can avoid that. I hope that that gives some reassurance to her residents. The building regulations are still very much in place, even when work is done under permitted development rights.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood

The Grenfell Tower fire laid bare profound injustices at the heart of the UK housing system, and every revelation from the investigation makes that picture starker and clearer. So far, the Government have not made available a single penny of new Government money for essential works to respond to and mitigate the risks revealed as a consequence of Grenfell. Unless the Government do so, they are simply meting out further injustice to leaseholders, who will face very large bills, and tenants, who will see much-needed major works pushed back. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity of this latest revelation to commit new Government resources to address the impact of Grenfell Tower on fire safety across the country, and to right the wrongs at the heart of the UK housing system?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I would say two things. With regard to local authorities, we have made it very clear that we will provide them with the financial flexibility, if they need it, to do any necessary fire safety work. That has been clear from the start. On wider issues of social housing and some of the wider lessons to learn from this terrible tragedy, that is exactly why we will have a Green Paper. We are going through the process that has been put in place, and we will publish the Green Paper in due course after proper consultation.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I commend my right hon. Friend not only for today’s statement, but for keeping the House updated on progress following this terrible tragedy.

Dame Judith Hackitt is looking at the review of building regulations. We, as the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, have asked that she looks particularly at part P of those regulations in detail, because at the moment there seems to be a lack of clarity about the use of combustible materials within high-rise buildings. Will my right hon. Friend commit to thoroughly reviewing building regulations, particularly taking into account the evidence that has emerged today? The reality is that while fires may normally be retained within a room, these were not normal circumstances, because there was an explosion caused by an electrical fire, and that could be replicated once again.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. As he will know, Dame Judith Hackitt’s work is independent, but she takes this issue very seriously. He may know that in her interim report she recommended, as one of the immediate measures, a review of Approved Document B and work to clarify it. That work has already started within my Department and we hope to consult on this in the summer.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

This is obviously another worrying development that reinforces Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim findings of the cultural change needed across the board, which the Secretary of State referred to. We look forward to her conclusions, including, I hope, on the updating of fire guidance in Approved Document B.

What assistance can the Secretary of State offer to leaseholders who face bills of thousands of pounds for fire marshals and replacement cladding, and now perhaps for new fire doors, given that they have no responsibility for the predicament in which they find themselves? I draw attention to the question asked by Sir Peter Bottomley. The Secretary of State’s exhortations to property management companies and freeholders are falling on deaf ears, and leaseholders are having to pick up the tab.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming Dame Judith Hackitt’s work.

I and the Government very much understand the situation that leaseholders are in. It is obviously a very difficult and distressing situation for many people—we understand that. I do not accept that what I and others have said about owners’ moral duty is falling on deaf ears. There have actually been a number of instances in which we have got involved and some of the private owners have listened. They do not wish to be public about that—that is their choice—but at least they have listened and helped the leaseholders. I want more to do the same. I am keeping the issue under review and looking to see what more we can do.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

We all in the House have been deeply moved by the dignity of the survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the bereaved and the volunteers. Many of us have also had casework and individuals come to us with concerns about where they live. Will my right hon. Friend commit to continuing to do absolutely everything in his power to ensure they get the help, support and justice they deserve?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I am very happy, once again, to make that commitment. The work continues each day in my Department and across Government through the ministerial group set up to help the survivors of the Grenfell disaster. I am very happy to re-emphasise that commitment to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I have found the Secretary of State to be a very good communicator and very good at keeping the House informed, so any criticisms I now make should be heard with that in mind. I just do not understand the guidance he has given in response to a couple of questions I have asked. The fact is that many thousands of people in our country have a black cloud hanging over them. Be they leaseholders or freeholders, they cannot get it out of their minds, because they do not know how much they will be responsible for. I have begged him to get everyone together—the Government should put something in, too, because they changed the standard. Please can we get this sorted?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the issue of leaseholders and what can and cannot be done is fast changing. As he may know, a legal case was waiting to be heard and was only concluded a couple of days ago, and as I said earlier, we are studying the outcome. On his point about getting people together, we are in the process of setting up a roundtable with several interested parties, including representatives of leaseholders, which I think will help.

Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin Conservative, Horsham

I commend my right hon. Friend for swiftly updating the House. Many of our citizens are deeply concerned about fire risk and—I am afraid—sceptical of statements made by Governments of any colour. Will he remind the House of the quality and strength of the panel advising him on these important issues?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

Yes, I am very happy to do that. The expert panel is chaired by Sir Ken Knight, the former London fire commissioner and the Government’s former chief fire and rescue adviser. Also on the panel are Dr Peter Bonfield, chief executive of the Building Research Establishment, Mr Roy Wilsher, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, and Miss Ann Bentley, global director of a leading construction company and a member of the Construction Leadership Council.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

The expert panel’s recommendation that no change in safety advice is necessary will come as a surprise to many people. Will the Government insist that Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of fire regulation assessments makes sure that every high-rise building assessment is published and made available in an accessible form to the public so that they can get the reassurance that I fear they will not have got from this report?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I hope that the public will be very reassured by the advice of the expert panel, not just because of the years of expertise represented on it, but—it is worth emphasising this—because it is working closely and consulting with the National Fire Chiefs Council, the Metropolitan police and the Government’s chief scientific officers. I hope that that gives more confidence to the public and the hon. Lady.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I am sure the whole House will agree that it is vital that the victims of the Grenfell tragedy get justice. Does he agree that the only way to do this is to let the police investigation and the independent inquiry get on with their jobs?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

We all in the House want to see justice for the victims of the Grenfell tragedy, which is why the live police investigation to which I referred earlier as well as the work of the public inquiry are so important. Both pieces of work have the Government’s full support.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I do not find the Secretary of State’s statement at all reassuring. Nine months on, he has come to the House to say that we have just discovered that the fire doors were defective and only lasted 15 minutes in the case of a fire, not 30 minutes. My constituents are told to stay put on the basis that those doors give the fire service time to come and rescue people in tower blocks. He says that this is not a systemic problem, but just what does that mean? Were these defective doors fitted in the knowledge that they only lasted 15 minutes? Is the manufacturer to blame? How widespread is this? Are the doors in the blocks in my constituency defective? I really find this statement defective. Can we have another statement from the Secretary of State to update us with the real facts of the situation?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

There is a live police investigation going on. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that it is an independent criminal investigation by the police, and it would not be appropriate for me to talk about certain things publicly, unless he is suggesting that we should jeopardise a live police investigation.

The hon. Gentleman rightly asks about the investigation —not the police investigation, but the work being led by the expert panel—and I am happy to give him more information. There is a documentary investigation into the fire doors, led by the police, to see whether it is a whole set of fire doors or a certain batch and where they might be in the country. There is a fire testing investigation taking place, led by my Department, to test a whole number of other doors to see how widespread this problem may be. There is also a visual inspection and declassification investigation going on into the materials. I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is a lot of work to do, and it is right that we do this thoroughly and take the time to get it right.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch

I thank the Secretary of State for providing the assurances that he has, which will be gratefully received by my constituents. He will know, as my neighbouring MP in Bromsgrove, that the people of Worcestershire have been deeply touched by this tragedy. It has affected people up and down the country. Can he give assurance to Redditch Borough Council by telling it whether there are any actions it needs to take immediately, in the light of these latest findings?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

Soon after this terrible tragedy, my Department got in touch with every council in the country, including Redditch Borough Council, to inform them of what we knew at the time and any immediate measures that they must take. Since then, councils have been kept updated as we learn more information, including the information that we have talked about today.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside

Leaseholders at Heysmoor Heights in Liverpool are already facing bills of £18,000 each for the replacement of cladding. Who knows what this new announcement might mean for them and other people around the country? The original development company was dissolved four years ago, and the current owner is Guernsey-based Abacus Land 4 Ltd. It is still not known whether an insurance policy apparently taken out by the original developers will raise any funds at all to meet those costs. Leaseholders keep being told that they will be given an answer, but they have not had one yet. The Secretary of State keeps expressing some kind of sympathy for leaseholders caught in this situation, but what else can he do to help leaseholders in general and my constituents at Heysmoor Heights in Liverpool?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

What the hon. Lady highlights is the complexity of some of these situations, which I am sure she appreciates. Despite that, we must, as she suggests, do whatever we can to help the individuals in these very difficult circumstances. That is why we are looking closely at the recent legal judgment; I believe it is the first time that a tribunal has looked at that kind of case. That is why we have provided more funding for the Leasehold Advisory Service, so that leaseholders can get more instant support. We are looking at what more can be done and are keeping the situation under review.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I have had the privilege of completing the two-year fire service parliamentary scheme, which Sir Ken Knight helped to set up. Being placed in a live carbonaceous fire with breathing apparatus, I had a small introduction to the horrors of fire and the bravery displayed by our firefighters every day of the week. Fire doors are absolutely crucial. What puzzles me about this inquiry and the statement is: who certifies that these doors are meant to last 30 minutes, if it has been demonstrated that they last half that time? Fifteen minutes may not seem very long to us in this Chamber, but for the people who are trapped behind the doors and can see fire through the glass, it is crucial. Who certifies the 30 minutes?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend speaks with experience and is absolutely right to ask that question. The door in question should have had resistance for 30 minutes. It must be tested against and meet the British standard, BS 476-22. There is a testing centre for such products, and testing centres must be accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. I do not want to make any judgments on what happened in this case, because it is subject to a live police investigation. The police have said that they are getting full co-operation from the manufacturer. It would be wrong of me to get into that, but I reassure my hon. Friend that the police are doing their work with that particular door and doors of that type, and we are doing the much wider necessary testing.

Photo of Karen Lee Karen Lee Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Fire)

Last night one of my parliamentary staff went on the Grenfell march, and afterwards he talked to somebody who has been living in a hotel room for the past nine months. Despite the Government’s promise to rehouse these people, the figures show that, nine months after the fire, only 60 of 208 households have permanent homes. I have heard the word “urgency” being used a lot this morning. When will the Government properly rehouse these people? Will the Secretary of State give a timescale? We hear reassuring noises, but these people are telling us that they are not seeing action on the ground. Will they be rehoused for the summer, for autumn or for Christmas?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I am very happy to update the hon. Lady. There were 151 homes lost to the fire, but new homes had to be found for 209 households. I think she knows why that number is higher. So far, 184 have moved out of emergency accommodation into either temporary or permanent accommodation. That leaves 25 households who have still not accepted temporary or permanent accommodation. I hope she will appreciate that, while it is absolutely right that we work at pace and help those families to move as quickly as possible into permanent or temporary accommodation, as they choose—by the way, more than 300 homes are now available on the letting system, which is more than enough—no family can be pushed or told that they must make a decision and that they have no choice. It must be done at their pace. I cannot go into the details, but there are complicating factors with a number of the 25 households who are yet to accept temporary accommodation. There are a number of issues and it would be inappropriate, from what I know, to force those families to make a decision if they are not ready.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

I continue to deal with concerns regarding the construction of a tower block in my constituency. The concern is that, although the cladding meets the building regulations, it is not fire safe—in other words, when it has been tested, it has been deemed not to be fire safe. When are we going to get around to sorting out the building regulations to ensure that all of our tower blocks are safe and that everybody can feel safe in their homes?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

I am not aware of the particular tower block mentioned by the hon. Lady, but if she wants to give me more information, I will happily take a closer look. If I understood her correctly, she said that the cladding has passed building regulation tests but the tower block is not deemed safe, but I am not aware of such a case. In every case to which I have referred, it is our view that none of the cladding on a number of buildings meets building regulations, which is exactly why it needs to be removed.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

The Secretary of State is well aware of the messy and as yet unresolved situation of New Capital Quay in Greenwich and the plight of leaseholders. Last week the community found out about another development in Greenwich with dangerous cladding on some of the towers. I will not go into the details, but how on earth, nine months on, are we still finding out about additional private freehold developments with lethal material around some of their blocks?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

Last August I wrote to every single local authority, asking them to carry out the work of finding all the private sector buildings in their area, and providing support for them. In fact, we have just given additional funding to help with that. All of them have acted with urgency and are working at pace. Some are still discovering buildings, because the work partly requires the co-operation of the private sector. We have spoken to many private sector institutions. It would be wrong to blame the local authorities; it is right that we work with them and give them all the support necessary to find these buildings.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Immediately after Grenfell, Southwark Council’s leader, chief exec and the three borough MPs wrote to the Secretary of State asking for help to retrofit sprinklers in more than 170 tower blocks in the borough. That was a clear request for financial support. It is simply disingenuous to claim that no request has been turned down. The Department dismissively said that it would assess the council’s means to do the work itself. Nine months on, how is that assessment coming along? Has it been designed, will it be published, and when will Southwark Council be given the resources to complete the works?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

We have made it very clear that all local authorities, including Southwark Council, should determine for themselves the essential work required for fire safety—public safety is the No. 1 issue—and if they need financial flexibility to help them pay for it, that will not be turned down. We are in discussions with more than 40 local authorities, many in detail. We are working with them and I am not aware of us having turned down any discussions with a single local authority. We are happy to work with them all and make sure that they get the financial flexibility they need.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

As west London near neighbours, residents in the London borough of Ealing can see Grenfell—the charred coffin in the sky—from bits of my constituency. I passed by it yesterday. My constituent John Metcalfe attended the silent march last night and says that there were massive numbers and the sense of injustice was overwhelming. The Minister has repeatedly said that public safety is paramount. What is he doing to instil public confidence—I will not say “regain”, because I do not think it was ever there—in the inquiry and the aftermath?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of building more public confidence in the local community—not just the former residents of Grenfell Tower, but the immediate community. Much work has been done by the council, as well as by residents themselves, with Government support. For example, we have worked with and given support to Grenfell United, the group set up by victims of the tragedy. We will continue to do that, but I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate that it will take a long time—perhaps years—to build the right level of confidence. Part of that process is making sure that the community is listened to every step of the way and that it is treated respectfully. For example, I determined that it was very important that the bereaved were told last night the news that I have shared with the House today, so that they heard it in advance and did not hear about it first in Parliament. That is the way in which we continue to work with the community and help in every way we can.

Photo of Emma Dent Coad Emma Dent Coad Labour, Kensington

The Secretary of State’s comments on rehousing survivors do not equate with my experience: a great deal more than 25 households are still waiting for any kind of suitable offer. On the fire doors, I received a message just this morning from an elderly architect friend who worked as part of the team on the Grenfell Tower and estate. In his experience, the architects at the time specified fire doors that lasted one hour. Architects knew what they were doing in those days and they signed it off at the end. They were responsible from beginning to end. In those days, in the 1970s, fire doors were supposed to last for one hour. They are now down to 30 minutes. Can we please reconsider whether half an hour is enough in buildings of that size?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

First, let me reiterate the latest figures I have. Of the 209 households originally from Grenfell Tower that need to be rehoused, 184 have accepted offers of temporary or permanent accommodation, which leaves 25 that have not accepted offers of either. There are now over 300 units available of different sizes and types, and in different locations, and family liaison officers and key workers are working with each family. As I said earlier, we will not rush this: it will be done at the pace that the survivors want. That is the correct process.

The hon. Lady asked me about the fire doors and whether one hour, versus half an hour, is correct. This is exactly one of the reasons why I have set up the independent building regulations and fire safety inquiry—the work being done by Dame Judith Hackitt—and I know that she will be looking at this issue.