The Grenfell Tower fire is one of the most heartbreaking and devastating incidents I think any of us has ever seen in this country, and frankly it is hard to articulate and express the sense of sadness and anger we all feel at what has happened to too many families living there.
I have been sent a number of documents by the government which outline the action being taken to deal with the immediate needs of those who are most affected by the fire, set up a full public enquiry and identify any other buildings that might present a risk to residents. I paste their content below.
I attended the meeting held by the Fire and Local Government Ministers, Nick Hurd and Alok Sharma, earlier this week in parliament, and I contributed to the discussions about how we best deal with the incident, look after families and move forward. I suggested we might have a similar review of residential towers to that which took place after 9/11, when the new commercial tower blocks being constructed in Canary Wharf were entirely redesigned to ensure that you could ‘invacuate’ workers into the core of the building where they would be safe from any inferno.
I have also been in touch with the Leader of Havering, Cllr Roger Ramsey, to ask what local provisions are in place to check our housing stock and ensure that none of our blocks is wrapped in the cladding that seems to have aided the flames that engulfed Grenfell. I paste below the report that Cllr Ramsey has released on our local situation as well as the letter that has been sent from Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr White, to all council tenants and leaseholders about fire safety.
Cllr Roger Ramsey’s Statement to Council
Before I start I would like to pass on the sympathies of myself, the administration and, I am sure the entire Council to the families and loved ones of all those affected by this tragic fire incident today. There are no words that can adequately describe how we all feel at this time and our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved.
We have all seen the horrific pictures on the TV and heard the harrowing accounts of residents. It is far too early to speculate on what has happened in the Grenfell Tower fire, what the cause was or what may have contributed to what has clearly been an unprecedented outcome. However, I would like to say a few words about fire safety in Havering blocks of flats.
Havering Council has no tower blocks over fourteen stories. All our blocks of flats have up to date fire risk assessments and regular fire safety inspections. Many of them have also received ad hoc inspections from the fire brigade over previous years. We are therefore confident that our blocks comply with necessary safety regulations.
However, we are not complacent and we have started a programme of inspections of the common parts and public areas to ensure all fire safety requirements are complied with, including the removal of all rubbish or items that could create a risk. We will also be re-issuing our fire safety leaflet to all residents, both tenants and leaseholders to remind them of the need for care and caution when it comes to fire and not to engage in behaviours that increase the risk of fire or fire spread.
Over the coming days, weeks and months, we will keep a watchful eye on the issues that come out from the investigation of this tragedy and work with the fire authority to ensure any changes that need to be made are carried out without delay so that we protect our residents where ever we can.
Letter to residents from Cllr Damian White, Cabinet Member for Housing
As the terrible news has emerged overnight from West London, our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the fire at Grenfell House. I understand that many residents living in blocks of flats in Havering will be concerned, and I wanted to write to you straight away to reassure you. Havering has carried out a huge programme of fire assessments and associated works in recent years to improve the safety of our flatted blocks.
The council has an ongoing programme to ensure all its properties received a regular full fire risk assessment.
We continue to invest as necessary as part of the ongoing major works programme.
The council works closely with London Fire Brigade (LFB) and meets regularly with them, both on an operational and fire safety level, informing them of progress on the risk profile of the borough and other issues.
LFB assists the council in advising residents on fire safety and fitting smoke alarms inside their homes.
In February 2015, all fire risk works to all high rise and lower/more complex housing were complete.
As a council, we are doing all that we can to keep our residents safe fire, but you can help too by following this advice:
Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in your home
Keep balconies free from clutter
Please don’t leave rubbish or bikes in communal areas or obstruct escape routes
Make sure you know where your nearest fire exit is
If you are a smoker please do not smoke in common areas of the block
Always fully extinguish cigarettes smoked in your home and dispose of them carefully and safely
Please refer to our web-site pages at www.havering.gov.uk for more information on fire safety in Havering.
I’m sure you will join with me in offering our help and support to the residents in west London affected by this tragedy.
Thank you and best wishes,
Councillor Damian White
Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Housing
1O DOWNING STREET
LONDON SW1A 2AA
16 June 2017
The tragic events at Grenfell Tower this week have shocked us all deeply. Yesterday I visited the scene for a briefing from the emergency services; this morning I visited Chelsea & Westminster Hospital and met with some of the injured; and this afternoon I went to Kensington to meet with residents and some of those who volunteered to help. I have heard devastating stories from people caught in the fire and all our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones, friends and the homes in which they lived. I also want to pay tribute to our emergency services who have done an outstanding job in the most difficult of circumstances.
A disaster of this scale clearly requires a comprehensive Government response. That is why I have set up a dedicated Grenfell Tower Recovery task force, chaired by me and with representation from a number of Whitehall departments including the Treasury, Home Office and Department for Communities & Local Government. At today’s meeting we agreed on a number of actions that the Government will take and I wanted to take this opportunity to set them out to you in detail.
The first priority must be to ensure that people who have been directly affected are cared for and receive the support they need. In practice that means:
People who lost their homes in the disaster must be rehoused at the earliest possible opportunity and we should aim to do this within 3 weeks at the latest. The Government will work closely with the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to provide the support required.
We guarantee that we will rehouse people as close as practically possible to where they previously lived - meaning they can continue to access the same public services such as their local school or local GP. This rehousing would be in the same borough and, if not, a neighbouring borough.
Until people are rehoused, the cost of temporary accommodation will be met on their behalf.
The Government will also provide any necessary financial assistance to families who have been rehoused so children and their parents do not incur any extra costs in travelling to their local school.
A new £5 million Grenfell Tower Residents’ Discretionary Fund will be made immediately available to help those who had to flee their homes in the middle of the night leaving all their possessions behind. This money could be used to cover loss of possessions, funerals and emergency supplies.
The Treasury is working with the banks to ensure that those affected by the disaster who lost possessions like bank cards still have access to their accounts.
The Department for Work & Pensions is working with local job centres to ensure that those affected have access to the benefits and pensions they would normally receive.
HMRC have stopped any letters, emails or calls to residents affected – and will explore giving extra time to self-employed people who have payments due.
In addition, we are sending significant central Government support to the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea:
The Bellwin scheme has been activated – meaning that any immediate and uninsurable extra costs incurred by the council in the aftermath of the disaster will be met by the Government.
A team of experienced central government civil servants from the Department of Communities & Local Government has been embedded into the local council to assist with efforts.
We must also act quickly to reassure people living in similar buildings that they are safe in their homes. We are therefore:
Checking at speed with local authorities whether all high-rise buildings in their area have complied with recent fire orders (in layman’s terms: work required following an inspection).
Identifying all high-rise buildings owned or managed by Housing Associations or Local Authorities and conducting a fire safety review of all buildings similar to Grenfell Tower. We will also work with the devolved administrations on this issue.
Once these more immediate strands of work are underway, there also needs to be a full public inquiry into the tragic events at Grenfell Tower. The timeline of the inquiry, its terms of reference and the name of the judge chairing it will follow shortly. But today I can announce that:
Residents’ voices must be heard by the inquiry and we will provide funding for their legal representation to make sure this happens.
The families of victims will also be consulted on the terms of reference under which the inquiry proceeds.
A few points also about the wider legacy of fire safety in this country:
In July 2009 the Lakanal House tower block fire occurred. A coroners’ report was published in 2013 making a number of recommendations which we have acted upon.
The Department for Communities & Local Government published updated guidance on fighting fires in high rise buildings in February 2014 – and wrote to all social housing providers regarding the recommendation to consider retro fitting sprinklers in 2013.
The coroner also recommended simplifying the guidance to fire safety building regulations (Approved Document B of DCLG ‘Building Regulations’). This guidance is currently being reviewed and the emerging findings of the public inquiry will feed into our response.
Finally, I can confirm that the Government will refund the VAT raised from a proposed charity single organised by Simon Cowell to a charity that is helping with relief efforts.
This tragedy has united us all in grief. As Prime Minister it is my job to make sure the Government is doing all it can to help those affected and that we learn the necessary lessons so this never happens again. I am determined that we will rise to this challenge.
We will continue to issue updates on the situation in the coming days.
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP