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Remedial Fire Safety Work

Volume 635: debated on Monday 22 January 2018

1. How much Government funding has been allocated to local authorities for remedial fire safety work as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire. (903413)

The Government will consider providing financial flexibilities for local authorities to undertake essential fire safety work to make buildings safe. We have not turned down any requests for such flexibilities. Separately, we have provided funding to local authorities for the collection of data on private buildings.

Before Christmas, the former Housing Minister, the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), revealed that 36 local authorities had contacted the Department about work to secure fire safety in tower blocks, but none of them have received any financial help so far—why not?

Let me update the hon. Lady. My records show that the number of authorities is still 36. We have requested further information from 10 of them, and four have provided it. As I said a moment ago, however, we are ready to provide any local authority with whatever financial flexibilities are necessary to ensure that all essential fire safety work is done.

How are local authorities or other landlords to know what steps to take to ensure that there is adequate fire protection when the relevant building regulations are 11 years old and no review of them has yet commenced?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not in Parliament last year when the Home Secretary and I asked for an independent review of all building regulations by Dame Judith Hackitt. Just a few weeks ago, in the House, I presented the findings of her interim report, the recommendations of which we accepted in full.

Grenfell Tower is seared in all our memories, and of course we must do whatever we can. I very much agree with what was said by the hon. Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock)—I hope I can call her my hon. Friend—but am I not right in thinking that if a local authority runs out of funds for fire protection measures, a trigger mechanism allows them to spend more, beyond their normal restraints?

First, I can tell my hon. Friend that I am not sure that the hon. Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) is his hon. Friend. As for his question, mechanisms do exist, and we have gone further by saying to local authorities that if there are certain flexibilities that they need, they should contact us, and those flexibilities will be provided.

My hon. Friends the Members for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) and for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) are absent to pay tribute and respect to Kieran Quinn, whose funeral is taking place this afternoon. He was the leader of Tameside Council, which was council of the year in 2016. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends today.

I welcome the new ministerial faces to the Department with a new name, but what the country really needs are new policies to fix the growing housing crisis. More than seven months on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, how many tower blocks with the same dangerous cladding have had that cladding taken down and replaced?

I join the right hon. Gentleman in extending my condolences to Kieran Quinn’s family and friends on what will certainly be a very difficult day for all of them.

According to my figures, which I think are accurate up to 10 January, 312 buildings have been tested, of which 299 have not passed the test. The cladding on a number of buildings has started to come down and is slowly being replaced. We are anxious to ensure that there is enough capacity in the industry to meet the extra demand that it is now experiencing, and we are working on that with both the industry and my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State has read the update that his Department issued this morning. The number of tower blocks with the same dangerous flammable cladding that has been taken down and replaced—more than seven months on from Grenfell Tower—is three. How has it come to this? Seven months on from Grenfell, only one in four families who are Grenfell survivors has a new permanent home. The Government still cannot confirm how many other tower blocks across the country are unsafe. Ministers still refuse to help to fund essential fire safety work when they know that blocks are dangerous. The Secretary of State is sitting back and letting individual flat owners, rather than landlords and developers, pick up the full costs for private tower blocks. The Secretary of State must know that that is not good enough. What new action will he take to sort out these serious problems?

The right hon. Gentleman will know, because he shares this view, that the No. 1 priority for buildings safety following the Grenfell Tower tragedy is to ensure that anyone living in any tower that might have similar cladding feels completely safe and that those buildings are properly tested. If anything is found before that cladding can be taken down and replaced, which will of course take time, we must ensure that adequate measures such as 24/7 fire wardens are put in place, on the advice of the local fire and rescue service. That is exactly what has been done in every single case. The right hon. Gentleman also asked about private sector tower blocks and the cost of any remedial work that is needed. I have made it clear in the House and since our last oral questions that, just as social landlords are picking up the tab for those changes, and whatever the legal case might be in the event of a private relationship, the moral case is clear: the tab should be picked up by the freeholders of those properties.

Order. These are extremely important matters, but we need to speed up a bit because we have a lot of questions to get through.