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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North 3:44 pm, 30th October 2019

The inquiry and the Government’s wider response had two obligations. One was to get justice for the families and survivors of the Grenfell disaster, and the other was to make sure that nothing like this could ever happen again. I welcome Martin Moore-Bick finding as a matter of fact that the content of the ACM cladding was the principal reason the flames spread so rapidly on the outside of the building. That clarity provides us with a helpful basis for stage 2 of the inquiry, however frustrated the community and survivors feel, quite understandably, about the length of the process.

The fact is, however, that far too many people are still living in properties with either ACM or other flammable cladding. For example, it was confirmed this summer that in London alone 315 joint inspections had taken place between the London Fire Brigade and local authority housing officers of tall residential buildings with flammable cladding. Some 26 of those were in my borough of Westminster—the third highest in London after Tower Hamlets and Greenwich. Those people are living in fear in blighted accommodation. This week, The Times has confirmed its findings that there are half a million owners of properties in the private sector who cannot sell or remortgage their properties because of the uncertainty over Government advice. This is having incredibly damaging consequences for their lives and mental health. We need greater speed. We do not have to wait for stage 2 of the inquiry to make progress in removing flammable cladding.

The Government have also failed to tackle some of the consequences of the complexities around properties with multiple tenure, such as council blocks with some privately owned properties in them, which is one reason there has been so little progress on the retrofitting of sprinklers. Westminster Council was going to make progress on that, but could not do so, and still cannot do so, because there remains a lack of clarity about its rights to enter those properties.

Finally, the Government promised us a wholesale rethinking of the attitude towards social tenants. Social tenancy was part of the approach to be reviewed. We have seen nothing of that change in attitude. Only this week, we saw it from the ex-councillor from Barnet, Brian Coleman, on the “Victoria Derbyshire” show, showing complete contempt for council tenants in temporary accommodation. It is really important that in addition to making the essential progress on fire safety, we carry through this rethink of our whole attitude towards social tenants.