Grenfell Tower fire

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 28th June 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour

In her leaving speech, the Prime Minister reiterated her claim that nothing like the Grenfell Tower fire must happen again. Yet two years on, no new legislation has been brought forward to reform fire safety, thousands of Londoners are still living in blocks with flammable cladding, and 17 households affected by the Grenfell fire still have yet to find permanent homes. Do you agree that whoever emerges from the scrum to become the next Conservative Leader and the next Prime Minister, their priority must be to fix finally the issues brought to light by the Grenfell Tower and to provide justice to those affected?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Thank you, Chair. Last week I joined the local community to mark the second anniversary since the tragedy of the Grenfell fire at a moving church service and vigil to remember the victims and their families.

A few days before the second anniversary, I wrote to the PM, saying that the Government’s failure to deliver on the pledges made following the fire had been nothing short of shameful. It is simply unacceptable that two years on 17 families whose homes were destroyed are still living in temporary or emergency accommodation. The community continues to feel ignored and neglected, having to fight for every piece of support from the Council, from receiving legal advice to accessing mental services and simply understanding their rights. What is more, our failed building regulation system remains largely unchanged and the testing programme of existing buildings has been far too slow. Thousands of people across the country are living in homes with unsafe cladding.

The Government’s response to the consultation on the Social Housing Green Paper, lauded by the Secretary of State as a “landmark opportunity for major reform”, has still not been published. The fire at Samuel Garside [House] in Barking last week shows that the risk of flammable materials is not limited to high-rise buildings. The Government’s combustible material ban after Grenfell applies only to buildings over 18 metres and so it is likely the combustible material at Samuel Garside could still be used in new low- and mid-rise buildings. This shows just how far the reforms have fallen short of what is needed.

In my letter, I urged the PM to use her remaining time in office to increase support for the Grenfell community, deliver meaningful reforms to building regulations, speed up remediation of existing buildings, and commit to installing sprinklers in high-rise blocks.  I also urged her to implement national reforms to strengthen tenants’ voices that could have helped prevent this tragedy from happening in the first place. Whoever replaces Theresa May as PM must make it a priority to finally act on the issues that affect the Grenfell community and people across the country. We owe it to the 72 people who lost their lives at Grenfell Tower, their families, friends and all those impacted by what happened two years ago.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour

Thank you for that answer. I remind you - not that it is necessary - that the Hackitt Review [Dame Judith Hackitt, Building a Safer Future: Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, 2018] reported a year ago, but implementation has only just begun and the legislation is not expected until 2021. Whilst the Government introduced a temporary ban on flammable cladding on new residential buildings over 80 metres, nothing was said about other tall buildings such as the flats in Barking that you mentioned, which went up like a torch. Fire testing of a wide variety of other types of cladding did not begin until 30 April this year [2019] and even then does not include fire fumes and smoke, which are the killers.  In June 2018 the Government announced a joint inspection task force to speed up the private sector remediation, but it is still not operational. It took until a month ago for the Government to allocate some funds for private sector remediation, but bids cannot even be made until July [2019], let alone work commenced. As of May this year [2019], there are more private sector residential buildings with no remediation plans in place compared to the number that have been fixed, including over 100 in London. The public inquiry and the police investigation are months behind. The sorry earlier history of ignored warnings and Coroner’s recommendations is appalling, as set out in the comprehensive article in the current edition of Inside Housing magazine.

Would you agree that the list of late or non-activity by this Brexit-obsessed Conservative Government is little more than an insult to the memory of the 72 victims of the fire, to the survivors of the local community and to the 4,600 social then 10,600 private-sector London families still living in fear in blocks with dangerous cladding on them?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Absolutely. Your question is actually an indictment of the neglect this Government has shown over the last two years. Put aside the neglect before the Grenfell Tower fire. The delay is, frankly, incredible. The Government could have introduced interim measures. It failed to do so. You are right to remind us that any progress may not happen until 2021 at the soonest in relation to legislation. We have a big issue in relation to aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding in social housing and ACM cladding in private housing, but there are other combustible materials that are not ACM cladding. You are right to remind us in relation to those buildings below 18 metres and we saw what happened in Barking last week. There is a big concern around new buildings that could be being built with combustible cladding. That is not being addressed because of the Government’s delay. Your question you should circulate as an indictment on this Government’s track record over the last two years and before.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour

Thank you. What do you think the prospects are for justice for Grenfell if former Mayor Boris Johnson were to become PM? This is a man who broke his election promise not to cut the Fire Brigade in the 2014 Brigade cuts, axing ten fire stations, 14 fire engines and 553 firefighter posts. When I challenged him about it when he was sitting where you are, he simply replied, “Get stuffed”. When I challenged him about the 26 October 2015 Camden Road fatal fire, when the first fire engine took 30 minutes to get there because he closed Belsize Fire Station and no fewer than 10% of London’s fire stations were off the run, he replied, “You are talking total [dot dot]”. Another of his broken promises after the 2014 cuts was that there would be no more cuts, but he axed a further 13 fire engines in 2015/16. Amongst the worst of all, Brian Coleman, former Assembly Member and then Chairman of the [London] Fire [and Emergency] Authority, exposed his use of four-letter foul language about the families bereaved in the 7/7 [2005] terrorist attacks, hardly compassionate conservatism, as revealed in the Sunday Mirror this last week.

Do you consider any of the Conservative leadership contenders, especially frontrunner Boris Johnson, will deliver justice for Grenfell?

Photo of Jennette Arnold Jennette Arnold Labour

Assembly Member Dismore, thank you for removing the prop. Thank you.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, all I would say is this. Whoever the PM is, he is our PM and he will be the PM for the families, the victims and the survivors affected by Grenfell Tower. It is really important that he looks after the most vulnerable and uses that as criteria for success.

The evidence I have seen from the track record of the favourite to be the next PM concerns me. Also, the idea that you can hide from your record by failing to turn up to broadcast hustings and failing to give yourself scrutiny will not wash once you become the PM. His record will come out.

The key thing is whether he has learned from that.  I hope he has, genuinely, as somebody who loves the city and wants a PM to do the best for our country and our city. We will have to wait and see.