Finance (No. 3) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 12th November 2018.

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Photo of Emma Dent Coad Emma Dent Coad Labour, Kensington 6:48 pm, 12th November 2018

I do agree. There are 151 households, many of whom I see, and many of them are experiencing deteriorating mental and physical health, so it does not help that, throughout all this, the council has continued its—shall we say?—reputation-covering exercise.

I was present at a council meeting in mid-October, when the council denied knowing about the report on toxic soil, which had been made in February. Two weeks later, the council admitted it did know about the report. That is eight months of inaction, followed by its usual opaque practice, misrepresentation or, some would say, lies. Now there will be soil toxicity tests, but no funding for this, and it will not happen straight away. The council is going to “think about” screening tests on affected residents, but not straight away. Why is this failing and untrustworthy council still in control of Grenfell-affected people and services? My neighbours want an answer, as do I.

I also live there. I have a veg plot within the radius of the soil tested and have been enjoying it all year. Public Health England’s advice is to wash and peel home-grown vegetables, but how do you peel lettuce? We were told the “Grenfell cough” could be caused by anxiety. Five people I know are coughing blood. Now we are told the “Grenfell cough” is real, but we knew that.

The council stated publicly that no housing blocks in Kensington and Chelsea had combustible cladding, but the truth is that we have two with combustible render. The council is trying to minimise bad publicity, while deciding to strip the combustible envelope, as winter approaches. Residents are scared, upset and angry. Communication is appalling. Last week, the council said that there was no start date to this work. Today, it has said Wednesday.

The council applied to the Government for £50 million for the Grenfell recovery plan, including a lot of this work, but there has been not a penny from the Chancellor. If the Government do not trust the council, why would my constituents?

I have been working with fire safety specialists to try to get a grip on the spectrum of issues related to our current situation. The £400 million announced earlier this year for cladding replacement in council buildings was welcome, but it is not enough. Who will pay for the shortfall? Residents who have bought flats in new developments, some under Government schemes, face bills of tens of thousands of pounds. They do not have it. Who will pay for that?

Around London and nationwide, there are social tenants whose buildings have been unclad. Some are in for a second freezing winter. Who will pay their fuel bills? How many elderly and frail people will we lose this winter because they are too afraid to turn up the heating? Not a penny more has been allocated for this. Is that what the end of austerity looks like? I commend the work of Fuel Poverty Action and various local groups that are campaigning hard on the matter. Money must be found. This is a public health emergency. Cold kills.

That brings me to the work of updating or reinstating fire safety and building regulations. I spend a lot of time with specialists in these fields, too. I will be frank: I heard the policing, fire and Grenfell Minister speaking last week on this issue, and it seems that there is no action now. The Government are thinking about it, but we desperately need some movement on this, and there is no commitment even to upgrade building regulations long term. We are instead informed that the industry will deal with this; the industry will pay. I think the industry will pay itself. I am not convinced we are getting anywhere anytime soon on this, and that is completely unacceptable.

In this midst of this housing crisis, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has decided to reinstate the much discredited architectural style wars of the 1980s. This is my period; I started as a journalist at that time and I went through that battle. Pitching neo-classical pastiche against the modern movement will not solve our housing crisis. That is a battle of style over substance, and it is based on snobbery and elitism. I have written a dissertation and a half on this very subject. This is a thinly disguised class war. I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State realises that this is based on fallacy, before we start to see poorly constructed Noddy’s Toy Towns such as Poundbury dumped on our green belt. I would be happy to give Members a full lecture on this one day—just let me know.

Architectural style wars are a distraction from the real issue of providing well-designed, well-constructed homes to suit the needs of desperate families, single people, our elderly and people with specific physical needs. There is nothing in the Budget to fix the unholy mess that we are in, post Grenfell. There is nothing in the Budget to address the dishonesty and greed that have been allowed to flourish in the housing and construction industry, and without such provision we cannot tackle the serious housing crisis that we are facing. Distraction techniques and platitudes will not save lives. Shame on you all.