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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:53 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses) 3:53 pm, 30th October 2019

I commend what was said by my hon. Friend Mr Reed and what has been said by many other Members, particularly the Leader of the Opposition. Let me also pause for a moment to convey my sincere tribute and deepest sympathies to the families who have been through the most appalling, absolutely dreadful experience over the past two years.

I want to reinforce some of the points made by colleagues from London, but also to make the point that this is a national problem, and a very serious one. It affects towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom. In my own area, Reading, several thousand people live in blocks of flats, some of which are very tall, and there is a significant expansion in the number of towers in the town. Those who travel there by train will see that a huge new tower block is being built right next to the station. There are plans for another enormous tower block on top of the Butts Centre, and the process is continuing as we rapidly urbanise and become more like an outer-London borough. Yet at the same time we face significant problems with cladding, and other fire safety issues which have not been fully discussed here today.

Immediately after Grenfell, four blocks with the unsafe cladding Members have been describing were identified in our town. Some of that is being rectified only now, two years after the disaster. Is it not awful that, in the fifth wealthiest country in the world, we cannot get our act together to solve such problems in a medium-sized, wealthy town?

To make matters worse, new problems are being discovered all the time. In the past few weeks, in a development that was finished in the late 2000s or perhaps 2013, a block containing 200 to 300 people was identified as having dangerous cladding of a different type from the kind we have been discussing today. There is also a series of other problems. I was briefed about this by Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, to whom I pay tribute along with other colleagues in the fire service around the country. It was deeply worried about a whole series of related and interconnected problems in building safety that are not being addressed by central Government. The fire brigade felt that it did not have the resources or the powers to intervene, and it was unable to get the necessary support from building control because the regulations had been stripped away. This is very serious.

I can give examples of poor conversions in which builders have unwittingly knocked through partition walls, allowing the potential for fire to spread through large blocks without any interruption. There was a case of that in Slough that the fire service was deeply concerned about. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North said, fire services are also concerned about the cladding on a whole range of other buildings, including commercial buildings, schools and health buildings. They are also worried about the serious problems of houses in multiple occupation, including conversions over chip shops or takeaway premises. Some of these are deeply unsatisfactory, because a fire could easily be caused by the business premises. There are also examples of Victorian buildings in densely populated areas being wrongly converted. [Interruption.] I appreciate the pressure on time, Madam Deputy Speaker. Thank you so much for letting me make these points. I call on the Government to act urgently.