Politics

Labour demands answers on high rise warnings

Labour has demanded answers after leaked letters appeared to show ministers were repeatedly warned fire regulations were not keeping people safe in high rise blocks.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey has written to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid demanding a formal response after documents emerged purporting to show the Government was warned that people living in high rises like Grenfell Tower were “at risk”.

A total of 79 people have so far been confirmed dead or missing presumed dead in the west London tower blaze, with police saying that number could change.

The dozen letters, sent by the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group after the fatal 2009 Lakanal House fire in south London, warned the Government “could not afford to wait for another tragedy”, according to a report.

:: Video shows firefighters’ horror as they near Grenfell Tower fire

Video:
There’s kids in there: Firefighters’ first glimpse of Grenfell Tower

The parliamentary group wrote in March 2014: “Surely … when you already have credible evidence to justify updating … the guidance … which will lead to the saving of lives, you don’t need to wait another three years in addition to the two already spent since the research findings were updated, in order to take action?

“As there are estimated to be another 4,000 older tower blocks in the UK, without automatic sprinkler protection, can we really afford to wait for another tragedy to occur before we amend this weakness?”

After further correspondence, then-government minister Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams replied: “I have neither seen nor heard anything that would suggest that consideration of these specific potential changes is urgent and I am not
willing to disrupt the work of this department by asking that these matters are brought forward.”

The group replied: “We’re at a loss to understand, how you had concluded that credible and independent evidence which had life safety implications, was NOT considered to be urgent.

:: ‘Indescribable’ damage inside Grenfell Tower revealed


A large group of those affected by the Grenfell fire march in protest at the way they have been treated

Video:
Grenfell survivors ‘sleeping in cars’ as anger grows over response

“As a consequence the group wishes to point out to you that should a major fire tragedy, with loss of life, occur between now and 2017, in for example, a residential care facility or a purpose built block of flats, where the matters which had been raised here, were found to be contributory to the outcome, then the group would be bound to bring this to others’ attention.”

Former cabinet minister Sir Eric Pickles received a letter about fire regulations from the group in February 2014, according to the BBC Panorama report.

In December 2015, the group wrote to the former Tory minister James Wharton, and warned about the risk of cladding causing fires to spread on the outside of the building.

“Today’s buildings have a much higher content of readily-available combustible material. Examples are timber and polystyrene mixes in structure, cladding and insulation,” they said.


Emergency workers observe a moment of silence at the Grenfell site

Video:
Presumed dead in Grenfell Tower fire at 79

“This fire hazard results in many fires because adequate recommendations to developers simply do not exist. There is little or no requirement to mitigate external fire spread.”

Former minister Gavin Barwell, who was recently named as Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief of staff, received further calls for action last September.

In November, he replied to say his department had been looking at the regulations and would make a statement “in due course”.

In April this year Mr Barwell wrote to say he did “acknowledge that producing a statement on building regulations has taken longer than I had envisaged”, according to the report.

Now, Mr Healey has urged Mr Javid to release the correspondence in full and set out reasons for not acting on the concerns.


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