‘A fire like Grenfell could happen tomorrow’
Nineteen months after the tower disaster, Labour MP Emma Dent Coad says the government is still failing to deal with a national emergency
29 January, 2019 — By Emma Dent Coad
Emma Dent Coad, the Labour MP for Kensington
NINETEEN months after the Grenfell Tower fire tore a devastating hole in the heart of my constituency, this government is still not taking building safety seriously.
Government ministers are treating this as if it is some sort of theoretical exercise. It is not. Every single concession made by this government on fire safety has been painstakingly dragged out of them by Labour, and not one of them goes far enough.
The government’s partial ban on flammable cladding for new buildings has been condemned by the Fire Brigades Union because it does not go far enough, and thousands of people are now sleeping and will continue to sleep in homes with deadly, illegal cladding. This is a national emergency and urgent action must be taken.
I shouldn’t have had to remind the government this week about the consequences of ignoring warnings. Seventy-two of my neighbours and friends died in the most horrific way. Hundreds made homeless. Over 2,000 adults needing treatment for clinical trauma, and 700 children. The Grenfell Tower fire was the worst residential fire the UK has seen since the Second World War. When local people need time to heal and patch up their lives, instead they’ve been forced to set up campaign groups to lobby government to act.
While Kensington is still reeling in the aftermath, a point that I always come back to is that this should never have happened. All of this was preventable. There were warnings at every level.
Seventy-two people were killed in the horrific Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, with many more made homeless by the disaster
Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation was warned by tenants that there were issues with the refurbishment but did not listen.
Conservative Kensington and Chelsea Council were warned by the same tenants and they issued cease and desist letters to gag them. After the Lakanal House fire, the coroner who investigated the six deaths wrote to central government to advise them to update the building regulations. They have ignored this advice.
The government has been warned time and time again, but people are still not safe. Progress to remove deadly cladding has been painfully slow; 370 of the 437 tower blocks identified by government still have not had their dangerous, illegal cladding removed. For 56 of them, the private freeholders have not even made any plans to remove the cladding and the government is letting them get away with it. And this is only considering Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding. The government has still not got around to checking whether or not other types of cladding are dangerous.
It was not until 17 months after the fire that we discovered that two blocks less than a mile from Grenfell are covered in non-ACM combustible render. This is not what a serious government response to a tragedy looks like. We desperately need a Labour government in power to undo David Cameron’s disastrous “bonfire of regulations”.
On the 14th of every month the community holds a silent walk to remember those who died and call for justice.
The Housing Minister this week used the fact that he once attended the silent walk to claim that he has compassion for those affected by Grenfell. His words were cheap. If he actually had compassion, he would have taken action. He has not taken urgent action, and a fire like Grenfell could happen again tomorrow. As I told him in the House of Commons, Grenfell survivors are right to warn that “Grenfell 2 is in the post”. But just as Grenfell was preventable, we can prevent Grenfell 2. The government can legislate to make sure all building owners make their buildings safe now. They can speed up materials testing so that we know what materials are safe.
And if this government won’t do it, Labour are ready and waiting to take over.