The Grenfell Tower Disaster

The Grenfell Tower fire has shocked and appalled us all.  Words cannot convey the horror I felt on seeing television footage of the catastrophe nor the emotion that comes from hearing those who have lost family and friends.

I have deep respect for the many in the local community who at risk to themselves went to the aid of others and for our firefighters.  Firefighters who were on the scene within 6 minutes of the 999 call did absolutely everything they could to save the lives of residents. 

Following the tragedy I have been in contact with the local authority and social housing sector.  I wanted to confirm that they are not aware of the same circumstances existing locally and I wanted to hear that leading providers of social housing are reviewing their fire prevention approach to ensure that immediate concerns provoked by the Grenfell Tower disaster are being addressed.  I have also this weekend spoken to a construction specialist familiar with the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower, this is part of the process of briefing myself on the tragedy as on a personal level, like us all, I want to contribute to the process of ensuring this can never happen again.  There are no significantly high rise residential tower blocks locally and I am not currently aware of the same type of cladding being used within the constituency.  However if individual residents raise any concerns with me I will take them up to ensure they receive urgent reassurance. 

When Grenfell Tower was constructed in the 1970s a fire spreading like it did was meant to be impossible.  We need to understand exactly what went wrong and why. The properly resourced official enquiry must be undertaken swiftly so that we learn the right lessons and that recommendations are implemented.  In the meantime urgent work is being conducted right now to confirm the fire safety of all similar high rise tower blocks.

I will take a close interest in the Grenfell Tower enquiry, I want to see it underway and the results implemented as quickly as humanly possible.  We all continue to grieve with those who have lost loved ones in this awful tragedy.  

There has been considerable coverage on social media of a proposed amendment to the Housing and Planning Act 2016 which was defeated in both the Commons and in the Lords (where the opposition parties and independents have a majority). 

Even before the last Labour Government changed the form of the regulatory regime to the current system there has been active debate on which model is best to ensure all private rental properties are suitable for tenants.  We have operated since 2006 on a “Housing Health and Safety Rating System” (the HHSRS).  Landlords are required to maintain proper standards on key issues which are reviewed and additions made (most recently, in 2015, respect of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms).

The HHSRS enables local authorities to compel landlords to tackle hazards.  The regime was tightened by the current Government which introduced further powers to go after rogue landlords, including banning orders.

The proposed amendment would have introduced a parallel scheme in which the HHSRS would exist alongside a separate regime providing an additional series of tests.  It was proposed as a means to tackle private landlords, not social housing (such as Grenfell Tower).  The amendment would have required tenants, often very vulnerable tenants, to gather evidence on the condition of their property and then take enforcement action against their landlords through the courts.  I was concerned that this would create ambiguity as to who was responsible for enforcement and run the risk in practice of creating a higher barrier for tenants to secure enforcement.  I believed the existing regulatory regime combined with the new provisions targeting rogue landlords was the most effective way of protecting tenants.

As such I was among the 312 MPs who supported the Government on the proposed amendment.  The 312 MPs included MPs who had declared that they receive a rental income and MPs who themselves were paying rent to private landlords.  At the time the amendment was tabled I was both a tenant and a landlord, neither had any bearing on how I voted.  I have consistently supported the overall Government policy on Housing including clamping down on rogue landlords and the mortgage interest tax-break enjoyed by landlords.  I also supported the introduction of a higher rate of stamp duty on house purchases for example by multiple buy-to-let landlords.   

I will continue to support the Government’s approach on housing and their objective to ensure more houses are built.  I will also always be keen to put forward effective suggestions to the Government as to how housing stock in general and private rented accommodation in particular can be improved.