Harriet Harman

Parliament has been dissolved until after the General Election and I am no longer an MP

Government must do more to ensure tenants in tower blocks are safe - SN Column


Everyone is horrified by the Grenfell Tower fire and heartbroken for the families of those who lost their lives or are missing and for all those who've lost their homes.  But there is an additional worry for tenants and leaseholders in the 100s of flats in the dozens of high-rise blocks in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham about whether they are safe.

The Grenfell fire brought back horrible memories of the tragic fire in Lakanal House where 3 women and 3 children died.  Both Lakanal and Grenfell Tower had been built so that if there was a fire it would remain contained in the flat where it started but not spread.  Both blocks had had refurbishment.  And in both blocks a fire which started in one flat spread.  In both blocks the fire brigade orders were for residents to stay in their flats.  In both blocks that meant that when the fire spread people lost the chance to escape. 

The Coroner who conducted the inquest into the 6 Lakanal deaths pointed out that the improvements had damaged the fire safety measures, that after the improvements the block should have been inspected and that once the fire was spreading the fire brigade advice should have been not “stay put” but “leave immediately”.

So it was appalling to see history repeat itself, the lessons not learnt and the scale of the loss of life so much greater.

Clearly the rulings from the Lakanal inquest in 2013 and prosecution in 2017 had not been acted on.

Last Thursday I spoke in Parliament in response to the statement by Fire Minister, Nick Hurd MP and called on the Government to:

*give councils the resources they need to increase their fire inspections, supervise contractors working on improvements and install sprinklers.

*review and update the building regulations.

*award Legal Aid to the residents so that their voice can be heard in the public inquiry.  The Fire Service and the council will have QCs - at public expense.  It will be a travesty if the residents, who had to run for their lives, just have to sit in the public gallery.

*ensure that the Grenfell Tower residents are rehoused in the area and that problems with their bank, insurance and ID documents are sorted.

*make sure that hospitals and ermgency services have enough resources to deal with the survivors.

*provide the money to ensure survivors are rehoused in the area, not sent miles away.

The community response has been fantastic, but as in Lakanal, Grenfell survivors have fled their flats with nothing - no bank cards, no ID. They need help if they are to be able to go back to work or travel. Charities have been wonderful but the government must step in. 

Southwark Council’s responded swiftly after the Grenfell Tower fire, writing to tenants and leaseholders about fire safety. I’ve asked Council Leader Peter John to bring together residents from the high-rise blocks in my constituency to hear any concerns and update them on refurbishments, cladding, fire instructions and inspections.  I’ve asked Southwark Fire Brigade and King’s College Hospital if they need more resources.  Kings have taken 12 Grenfell casualties and are still caring for victims of the London Bridge attack. 

It’s not true, as some are saying, that Labour and Tory governments are all the same on social housing.  The last Labour government invested billions in council homes but with the Tories it’s all cuts. Councils want to improve fire safety, but the Tories have cut their budgets by half since 2010, making it harder to supervise contractors or install sprinklers. This Government is responsible for the safety of people in public housing and cuts cost lives. 

I will continue to press the Government and work with Southwark Council to ensure everyone is safe from fire.

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