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Grenfell Tower

Volume 789: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken to rebuild the lives of people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

My Lords, the Government are clear that our highest priority is to ensure that survivors receive the humanitarian support they need. This includes financial, practical and mental health support, as well as making sure that the survivors are provided with a permanent home on the same terms as before.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I must admit that this was not my question. It came from Conner Pollitt, a student at the Wellacre Academy in Urmston, Greater Manchester, which I visited under the Peers’ outreach programme sponsored by the Lord Speaker. I recommend the programme to all Members as an excellent way in which to engage with students and young people, and explain what we do, and sometimes what the other place does. Will the Minister undertake to write to Conner Pollitt with a slightly fuller answer? If a 15 year- old boy, 200 miles away from London, who knows nobody at Grenfell Tower and nothing about those families, cares that much, an answer from the Government would be much appreciated by him. It would show that we in the House of Lords not only talk the talk but sometimes walk the walk.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much indeed, both for his involvement in the Lord Speaker’s schools outreach programme—which is very valuable and in which I know many Peers are involved—and through the noble Lord I thank Conner Pollitt very much for his interest. Obviously, the Grenfell disaster affected everyone in the country. It is of note that somebody who is that far away and has not visited London has shown that interest— along with the school, the Wellacre Academy. If the noble Lord would care to speak to me separately, perhaps we can organise a visit from Conner Pollitt to see the work of the House of Lords and of the department.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as outlined in the register. It is more than eight months since the fire at Grenfell Tower, and to say that the local authority has been slow off the mark is an understatement. The noble Lord told the House before Christmas that the local authority was completing the purchase of a number of properties for the victims who lost their homes in the fire. Has that process been completed and when does he expect all the families to be finally rehoused, which will be one major step towards rebuilding their lives?

My Lords, the noble Lord rightly raises the issue of the rehousing of the households affected by the fire in Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk. There are now 209 households, because some of the households split and we have honoured that: some wanted to become more than one household. Of those 209, 175 have now accepted offers of temporary or permanent accommodation and 123 of those have moved in. I think that means that 89 households have yet to be relocated. Progress, in short, is being made. It is sometimes slow, but we bear in mind that sometimes people will make a decision about a property, perhaps close to where the fire was, and then change their mind—there have been instances of that happening. We are now reaching the end game, as it were, and are putting pressure on the local authority to ensure that people are made aware of the choices available. There are enough properties, but not always in the right place—but work is going on and progress is being made.

My Lords, the information I have suggests that only 60 of those households have been given permanent accommodation. What is the timetable for the rest of those households, who are in temporary accommodation? How long does the Minister think it will take for all those households to be given permanent, long-standing new homes?

My Lords, it is not quite as simple as the noble Lord makes it sound. Some of those in temporary accommodation will, after a period, elect to stay there permanently, once they have got the feel of the temporary accommodation and find they like it. That is happening a fair amount. The important thing is that progress is being made. The noble Lord is right that there are about 60 in permanent accommodation and about 60 in temporary accommodation, roughly speaking—but each week that goes by, more people are moving into permanent accommodation, more people are accepting offers and, as I said, we are approaching the end game. The important thing is that households should have the benefit of making a decision themselves about when is the appropriate time and where is the appropriate property.

My Lords, there are 160 other high-rise blocks of social housing with this cladding, where residents—and tenants in particular—face a difficult choice. Either the cladding comes off and they face frost and damp or it stays on and they have the risk of fire. What is the timetable for issuing clear advice on what replacement cladding should be used? In the meantime, what support can the Government give to tenants and residents who face increased heating bills because of the taking off of that insulation?

My Lords, the most important thing, as the noble Lord will appreciate, is the safety of tenants and others in those buildings, and that is the Government’s prime concern. Work is progressing on those blocks, as he identified, and also in the private sector—it is not just social housing and it is important that we press ahead in both areas. Safety is the watchword. If the noble Lord is aware of people who have particular problems with heating, I encourage him to tell them to get in touch with the local authority in the first instance to see what can be done.