Hon. Members will be aware of the ongoing Grenfell Tower inquiry and the harrowing accounts from all those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. I want to provide the House with an update on the Government’s ongoing work in response to the tragedy.
The Government have committed over £80 million to support the bereaved, survivors and the community following the Grenfell Tower fire. This includes rehousing costs, new mental health services, investment in the Lancaster West estate, and a community space.
NHS England has also announced that it will provide up to £50 million to fund long-term mental and physical health checks and treatment for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.
Grenfell Tower site
I would like to update the House on progress towards the long-term future of the site. The Government have always been committed to working with the community to create a fitting memorial, with the Prime Minister giving her personal commitment that the bereaved, survivors and community will decide what happens to the long-term future of the Grenfell Tower site.
As part of this, I made a commitment in August 2018 that the Government would take responsibility for the Grenfell Tower site. I would like to update the House on the steps I have taken to put this announcement into effect.
I am pleased to inform the House that the Government will meet the ongoing costs of keeping the tower site safe and secure. This will deliver on my earlier promise to the bereaved, survivors and community that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) will take no role in making decisions regarding the Grenfell Tower site. Once ownership transfers, Government will make operational decisions, such as those on safety, security and access, until the long-term future has been determined by the community.
As we work towards responsibility transferring to Government, I want to reassure the House and the community that the independent site management team continue to closely monitor and inspect the tower and are responsible for ensuring that it is safe and secure.
I recognise that sensitive management of the tower site, working towards a fitting memorial, is of paramount importance to the bereaved, survivors and the local community. The arrangements that I am putting in place will ensure that Grenfell Tower will continue to be managed effectively and sensitively.
In taking responsibility for Grenfell Tower, I will become responsible for decisions about the tower site. I would, therefore, like to reassure the House and the community about how I intend to approach decision making. The principles I commit to include that:
most importantly, the community will continue to be engaged at each step along the way to a lasting memorial;
the health and safety of those living, working and at the school in the local area, as well those working on the site, will continue to take priority;
decisions that I take about the tower site will be evidence-based, informed by the advice of public authorities and technical experts; and that,
I will consult the police and the Grenfell Tower inquiry to ensure that decision making does not interfere with the path to justice.
The community-led Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission will develop a proposal for what happens to the Grenfell Tower site in the future, and will decide how the memorial site will be owned and managed in the long term. The Minister with responsibility for Grenfell victims, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), continues to meet with members of the bereaved, survivors and wider community to discuss the process and the role of community representatives.
On 26 October 2018, I announced additional environmental checks will be carried out in and around the Grenfell Tower site to reassure the bereaved, survivors and wider community that any environmental risks to public health will be fully assessed and appropriate action taken.
This is an issue that I take very seriously, and my officials have been working closely with RBKC, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency, NHS England and Public Health England to plan further environmental sampling of the site, including comprehensive soil analysis to check for any signs of contamination.
The new soil testing programme will take place alongside existing air quality monitoring which has been in place since the fire. So far, the monitoring has consistently shown the risk to people’s health from air pollution around the Grenfell Tower site to be low. Public Health England will continue to monitor this and publish the results on a weekly basis—alongside an explanation of the data in terms of potential impacts on health, at the following web link:
An expert multi-agency group which includes the Environment Agency, Public Health England, RBKC and NHS England has been set up to make sure soil surveying around Grenfell Tower is comprehensive and that analysis will be provided to the public. The Minister with responsibility for Grenfell victims recently chaired the first meeting of this group. As a result we have started procuring the relevant expertise and will appoint independent environmental specialists from a network of leading experts. Their work will be overseen by the multi-agency group.
Once selected, the specialists will proactively engage the community on the design and implementation of the testing process. This will take place in the new year.
Both the Government and the NHS share a resolute commitment to support all those affected by the fire. The NHS has run health drop-in events within the local area for those who are concerned about their health.
The Minister with responsibility for Grenfell victims and I are also committed to engaging local residents with the investigation process from start to finish and consultation workshops will begin in January, to inform the scope and locations of the main site investigation and sampling.
The Government remain committed to ensuring all survivors are permanently rehoused as quickly as possible.
Since my last update to the House in July, based on data provided by RBKC as of 26 November, 44 more households have moved into permanent accommodation bringing the total to 149; and the number of households living in hotels has reduced by 23 to 15. Out of 203 households, there are currently 26 households living in good quality temporary accommodation, 12 in serviced apartments and one staying with family and friends. Every household has had an offer of permanent or temporary accommodation, and 201 households (99%) have accepted an offer. A total of 194 of these households have accepted permanent homes, of which 149 have now moved in.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea continues its efforts to rehouse those who lost their homes in the fire, and improved progress has been made. While I recognise the complexities involved, the overall pace of rehousing has been too slow, and there remains a small number of households in hotels as we approach 18 months after the fire. I expect the council to do everything possible to speed up the rehousing process and ensure that the remaining survivors are permanently rehoused as quickly as possible.
It is important that the bereaved, survivors and wider community continue to be supported. My Department will continue to work closely with RBKC to this end. I would like to express my thanks to all those involved in supporting the survivors throughout this difficult process.
As well as the work set out above that the Government have done with their partners in respect of the recovery, we are determined to learn the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire and bring about a fundamental change to ensure that residents of high-rise buildings are safe and feel safe. That is why we have set in train a programme of work to deliver that change by addressing the issues raised by Dame Judith Hackitt in her independent review of building regulations and fire safety.
Ban on the use of combustible materials
We recognised the strength of feeling on combustible cladding and having consulted, announced a clear ban on the use of combustible materials on the external walls of new buildings over 18 metres containing flats, as well as new hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools and student accommodation over 18 metres. Today regulations have been laid to give legal effect to the ban. As part of wider work on fire safety across Government, I will work with the Education Secretary to join up our reviews of fire safety guidance. I also welcome the Department for Education’s commitment to ensuring schools over 18 metres built as part of their centrally delivered build programmes will not use combustible materials, in line with the terms of the ban, in the external wall.
As of 31 October 2018, 289 private sector high-rise residential buildings have been identified as having unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding. We have made good progress in getting remediation completed (in 19 cases); started (in 21 cases); and with plans in place for 98 buildings. These numbers continue to increase, but we are taking decisive action to deal with the remaining buildings where owners are not fulfilling their responsibility to remediate unsafe ACM cladding. That is why, as part of our strong commitment to ensuring that residents of high-rise residential buildings are safe and that they feel safe, I am announcing measures to support local authorities to take action where remediation plans are not clear.
I am laying an addendum to the housing health and safety rating system operating guidance. This addendum provides specific guidance on the assessment of high-rise residential buildings with unsafe cladding. This will help local authorities to make robust hazard assessments and boost their ability to take decisive enforcement action.
Alongside this the joint inspection team, hosted by the Local Government Association, will provide support to local authorities in their assessments and give them confidence to take enforcement action.
I am also writing to local authorities with buildings where the owner refuses to remediate unsafe ACM cladding, to offer them our full support to take enforcement action. This will include financial support where this is necessary for the local authority to carry out emergency remedial work.
Where financial support is provided, local authorities will recover the costs from the building owner.
I am determined that building owners will not evade their responsibilities and that local authorities will have all the support they need to ensure that all high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding are made permanently safe for the people who live in them.