Andrew, in your last MQTs, I would like to thank you for nine years of service as a Member of the Assembly, for assiduously raising issues that concern your residents and often giving me a hard time in the process, rightly so. I also thank you for your longstanding commitment to improving our fire service and building safety, particularly in the wake of Grenfell.
The Grenfell Tower fire was a national tragedy and we owe it to the 72 men, women and children who died to ensure nothing like this ever happens again. While evidence is ongoing, it is clear that Phase 2 of the Inquiry is continuing to shine a light on the truth. The Inquiry has had evidence suggesting that profits were prioritised over the safety of people. This tallies with the [Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety] Hackitt Review findings of a sector willing to cut corners in a “race to the bottom”. The vast scale of the building safety crisis that has emerged since Grenfell proves these problems are systemic. It is sadly clear that somewhere along the line public safety became an afterthought when it should have been of paramount importance. The Minister has described cutting “the red tape” by introducing the new planning reform White Paper. This raised alarm bells with me and then in the Grenfell community and I have sent my response to the proposals. When it comes to fire safety, so-called red tape saves lives.
My new London Plan does introduce fire safety considerations into the planning stage, ensuring that safety is considered from the very beginning of a building’s life cycle. New homes on GLA-commissioned land via my Development Panel are now required to meet higher standards than building regulations. Finally, I call for the Grenfell Tower Inquiry to make interim recommendations on the grounds of public safety.
Thank you for your kind comments at the beginning and for your very full answer. It is a case, is it not, that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 2 has put into sharp focus ineffective regulation of the building control that allowed - can even be said encouraged - profiteering at the expense of safety by installing flammable cladding on Grenfell and, as we now know, on hundreds of other buildings, jeopardising the safety, financial security and, indeed, mental health of many thousands of residents?
Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) told Rydon, the main contractor, not to add further fire protection but participated in deciding on cladding panels which reduced fire performance. Rydon, the contractor, in turn promised five times to appoint fire safety advisors but failed to do so. Arconic, the cladding manufacturer, knew that the panels were not suitable for building facades in Europe and had failed in-house tests. Celotex, who sold the flammable insulation used on Grenfell, marketed a product that it, too, knew had failed in-house fire tests. It is the case, is it not, that the Conservative Government’s response has been ineffective, bearing in mind all those facts?
Your question lists a litany of failure, a direct consequence of deregulation, ‘cutting red tape’. You forget that this fire occurred in the summer of 2017, almost four years ago. I am afraid the response from the Government has been piecemeal and not addressing what is at the core of this. My worry is this; that there are many, many buildings across London, indeed across the country, where people are still having anxious, sleepless nights because they know they are living in a building which, for similar reasons, is also unsafe.
I am pleased to see that you do agree the Government’s response has been piecemeal because that is what I was going to put to you. Years on, it still has not bottomed out the consequences of these scandalous failures. It started with a woefully inadequate fund for aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, then a second fund for other dangerous cladding, then an extension of that fund, then a pledge to protect leaseholders in buildings over 18 metres. Then there were external wall survey (EWS) reforms that trapped leaseholders in dangerous homes, then it changed the EWS1 form rules, then there was a Waking Watch Relief Fund that does not do anything of the sort, and so it goes on. London’s leaseholders are trapped in homes they cannot sell, cannot re-mortgage, struggle to insure and with waking watches they cannot afford.
Just how important is it that there is at long last a comprehensive, fully funded strategy to resolve the many risks in our built environment, both for London leaseholders and also for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) in its need to be able to respond to such incidents?
I know, Chair, that Assembly Member Dismore, like me, keeps an eye on what is happening in Parliament. He will be as pleased as I am with the vote in the House of Lords which took away the onus on leaseholders having to pay the cost of remediation. I am hoping that the Government accepts this amendment when it comes back to the House of Commons.
What the Government should be doing is stepping in, doing the remediation work and then later on having the argument or discussion with the landowner or the manager in relation to recuperating costs. It cannot be right. We do not have a two-tier system; we have a postcode lottery in relation to whose home is remediated. It is a mess. It is three and a half years on and we have made no real progress. I am hoping that progress is made urgently because in the meantime these homes are now albatrosses around the necks of the residents, who cannot sell them and are really, really stressed, not unreasonably, by not just the financial burden but the fact that they are living potentially in dangerous homes.