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Residential Tower Block Safety

Volume 630: debated on Monday 30 October 2017

3. What progress has been made on improving safety in residential tower blocks since the Grenfell Tower fire. (901465)

We have established a building safety programme and identified all unsafe aluminium composite material cladding on English social housing buildings over 18 metres. I have also asked all local authorities in England to identify such cladding on privately owned residential tower blocks and to report their findings to the Government. This is to ensure that appropriate action is being taken to keep all residents safe.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, but I want to ask him about other things that can be done to prevent fires from claiming lives. We know that sprinklers save lives, yet only 2% of council tower blocks have sprinkler systems. Is the Secretary of State content with that state of affairs, and if not, four months on from the Grenfell tragedy, when will he stop passing the buck and help local authorities fit sprinklers in high-rise buildings?

The hon. Lady will know that it has been the law in building regulations since 2007 that any new high-rise dwellings above 30 metres are required to have sprinklers fitted. In terms of whether that is appropriate and whether more can be done, the appropriate way to look at that is through the independent review of building regulations and fire safety that Dame Judith Hackitt is undertaking, and we will listen very carefully. She is gathering evidence, and there is a call for evidence right now—perhaps the hon. Lady would like to have an input into that.

A case in Cannock has highlighted the building of homes in very close proximity to a licensed recycling site that handles highly toxic chemicals, prompting real concerns about fire safety. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss the need to ensure that fire safety is a top priority in house building too?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. I am not aware of the details, but I would happily meet her to discuss it further.

23. What progress has the Secretary of State made in introducing compulsory electrical safety checks? (901486)

The hon. Lady will know, first, that the Department’s responsibilities in this area are shared with other Departments, such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and I am working with my colleague the Secretary of State there to look into this further. Also, the building regulations and fire safety review is a broader fire safety review, and I certainly expect it to look at those issues too.

Is it not an irony that it was not that enough money was not spent on Grenfell Tower, but that £10 million was spent on it to provide cladding to stop water ingress, and that that caused the whole problem? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as experts have told me, sprinklers are not the sole solution to this issue? Sprinklers alone, without sound fire doors, will not work, and there are other provisions that can be made.

If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will not speculate on Grenfell Tower and the causes of that terrible tragedy—I am sure he understands that. However, in terms of his broader point about measures that are also important, such as fire doors, we found in Camden, for example, when fire safety checks were done, that hundreds of fire doors were not in place. There are other measures alongside sprinklers that certainly can be taken and should be taken where necessary.

What redress will be available to private leaseholders in a private residential block that has failed fire safety tests where the company does not have the money to carry out that work or goes into dissolution?

First, the hon. Lady will know that there are redress mechanisms available at the moment. Many of them depend on whether the freeholders or the managing agents are members of a redress scheme. This is one of the reasons why I recently announced the need to regulate all managing agents, who often look after these types of buildings, and to see what more we can do.

Housing Associations such as the Guinness Partnership, which operates residential blocks in my constituency, also have an important role to play in fire safety. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on them to review, and where necessary improve, their fire safety to make sure residents are safe?

Yes, I will join my hon. Friend in calling for that. He is right to point out the critical role that housing associations play. Ever since the terrible tragedy that took place at Grenfell Tower, I have seen an excellent response from housing associations, and certainly from the National Housing Federation, and I will continue to work with them.

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee this morning issued a report on building regulations and fire safety in Scotland. In terms of the recommendations and the support the Committee is giving to the ministerial working group in Scotland, it supports unannounced inspections by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and a national inventory of all high-rise domestic buildings in Scotland. Would the Minister support such recommendations for England?

I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said, and I have followed developments closely in Scotland. We are working closely with our Scottish colleagues to make sure that we can share information and knowledge on this very important issue. As to whether we would take similar steps in England, it is important that I leave the first-point decision making for the independent building regulations review.