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Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:40 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice) 6:40 pm, 21st January 2020

No one can forget their experiences of seeing the Grenfell fire, but I also want to talk about something that happened in my constituency. On 16 November last year, a devasting fire at The Cube—student flats in my constituency—left 200 University of Bolton students homeless.

I pay tribute to Greater Manchester’s fire and rescue service for ensuring that all the residents were evacuated quickly and safely, and that the fire was rapidly brought under control. I also pay tribute to the university staff who came to the scene to give immediate assistance, and who continued to provide physical, financial and mental support, although the university does not own the building. The local community also came together to support the students. It is not surprising that in 2013 Bolton was voted the friendliest, warmest and most considerate town in the United Kingdom.

It is clear that the building regulatory system is broken, and has failed the residents of Grenfell, The Cube and other buildings. The height limit for tighter controls on building materials is 18 metres. The Cube is just 16 centimetres short of that height, and is therefore not subject to the same safety regulations as taller buildings. I welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement yesterday that he was minded to reduce the limit to 11 metres, but I feel that that does not go far enough. Many buildings lower than that are also high-risk, including hospitals, care homes, schools, and complex buildings such as shopping centres.

The Government have focused on the ACM cladding that was used at Grenfell, but The Cube was clad in high-pressure laminate, which is used on thousands of other buildings across the country. The Government have been warned repeatedly by the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force—whose representatives I met last week—that the risks extend beyond ACM cladding, but not all cladding systems have yet been tested. The Government must recognise that other cladding materials also present a risk, and that all buildings should be made safe as soon as possible. I was particularly surprised to learn that VAT is being charged on remedial works, and I urge the Government to exempt them in order to help building owners to carry out works in a timely manner.

Apart from the construction issue, there seems to have been a failure to tell people what procedures should be adopted in the event of a fire, and that was certainly not done in The Cube. Apparently the fire alarms went off regularly, and some of the students thought that there had been the same problem on the day in question. One young lady who realised what was going on knocked on every single door and got the people out. However, we must ensure that proper procedures are introduced in such buildings to ensure that people know what to do in case of fire, and also to ensure that there are ways of detecting fires.