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Grenfell Tower

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 14 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire do not spend Christmas and New Year in temporary accommodation.

My Lords, the Government are supporting the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in rehousing survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire as quickly as possible. Rehousing must proceed at a pace that respects the needs, wants and situations of survivors, but bureaucratic inertia must not add to delay. In line with the recent task force report, I expect the council to do whatever is necessary to ensure that households can move into settled homes as swiftly as possible.

My Lords, today is six months since the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, and we remember the victims and survivors of that terrible night. I pay tribute to the emergency service workers, the public sector staff, the voluntary sector and the faith communities for working up to this very moment to get the community back on its feet. Six months is a very long time in these circumstances, and to be living in hotel accommodation, vulnerable, unsettled and traumatised, is no way to spend Christmas. Can the Minister tell the House what specific action the Government are taking to get these families into accommodation in the new year? On the anniversary of this terrible tragedy, we want to be talking about going forward, not still talking about housing families in permanent accommodation. Despite what the noble Lord has said, the situation today for the majority of these families is just unacceptable.

I endorse what the noble Lord said about the response of the fire service—it was on the scene within six minutes—and about the community response. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury paid tribute to and spoke very movingly about that response on the “Today” programme.

To bring the House up to date: 151 homes were lost in the fire; some of those homes were overcrowded and others had multi-generational households which now wish to divide, so 210 households that formerly lived in Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk need to be rehoused. One hundred and forty-four households have accepted an offer of either temporary or permanent accommodation; 99 have moved in—54 into temporary housing and 45 into permanent housing—and 111 are in emergency accommodation, of whom 66 are yet to accept an offer of either permanent or temporary accommodation.

The noble Lord asks, quite rightly, what action is being taken. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea plans, by Christmas, to have acquired 300 homes, set against the 210 that are needed. It is acquiring two homes a day. I quite agree that Christmas is no time to spend in emergency accommodation; the Government are acutely aware of that. In the four hotels where most of the families are, specific arrangements have been made for the families to have space of their own to meet each other and to entertain their wider families, if they want to. A lot of services are being put on by voluntary or faith groups over the Christmas period to help and support those families.

We very much hope that by June next year everyone will have moved into permanent accommodation, but families need to move in their own time. Some who are in emergency accommodation do not want to move into temporary accommodation because they might have to move twice. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is doing intensive work alongside the families, finding out what accommodation they need and where they need it, and seeking to match that with the 300 houses that it is acquiring. I very much hope that by June everybody will have been offered and accepted permanent accommodation.

My Lords, I join the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in paying my respects to those who died in the Grenfell fire six months ago. I remind the Minister that this Question is about what the Government are doing. Does he accept that local people have now lost confidence in their local council? I remind him that in the Government’s Statement on the Grenfell fire on 19 October, it was said that there were expected to be 300 suitable local permanent properties by Christmas, yet only 45 households have moved in. Does he have confidence in the local council to deliver, or may it be time for the Government to intervene more directly?

The Government have no plans to put commissioners into the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It has a new leader and a new chief executive and the Government have established a task force to make sure that that royal borough lives up to the expectations that everyone has of what it plans to do. Some of those in temporary accommodation want that to become their permanent home. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is approaching the relevant landlords to see whether that can take place. Some of those in emergency accommodation have already accepted permanent accommodation but it takes time to complete, fit out the house and put in the white goods to enable the families to move in. I am conscious that your Lordships are impatient for progress to be made but I am confident that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which plans to spend nearly £250 million acquiring property, now has the message, and I think the former lack of emotional intelligence and empathy is now behind us. It is now getting on with the job.

My Lords, were any of those who are now claiming social housing tenants of Grenfell Tower who had moved out and unlawfully let their accommodation to more than one family? I do not think we need have too much sympathy for people who behave like that.

I am not sure that I fully understood my noble friend’s question. The assistance that the Government and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are seeking to extend is to those who were living in Grenfell Tower or Grenfell Walk at the time who are now homeless, or who were homeless shortly after the fire. Therefore, anybody who was living there at the time is now being assisted by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. My noble friend has lived through tragic circumstances where people have lost their lives. He will know better than anyone else in this House the trauma that those people have been through. We ought to allow them the time and space to find suitable accommodation to move into.

My Lords, in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, why are the Government continuing apace with their deregulation agenda?

So far as Grenfell Tower is concerned, the noble Baroness will know that the Hackitt review is shortly to produce its interim report on fire regulations and fire safety. She will know that after the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, advice was given on two occasions by the DCLG to owners of property that might not have the appropriate cladding on how to make safety measures appropriate for those blocks. The whole thrust of the inquiry under Sir Martin Moore-Bick and of the Hackitt inquiry is to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.