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We must never let Grenfell happen again

Home / News / Lewisham news / We must never let Grenfell happen again

14 July 2017
NHS In politics we have to accept, sometimes reluctantly, that disagreement and argument are an important part of our democratic life. And yet from time to time a national event takes place that sets differences aside and forces us to accept some common ground. 

No words can possibly conjure up the heart-wrenching feeling we all experienced on first hearing news of the terror unfolding at Grenfell Tower but we could all at a minimum agree on two things; something had gone horrifically wrong and it must never happen again.

With questions being raised about building regulations, cuts to funding in local government and to emergency services, it would be perverse if we didn’t first look at the role of the Government. 

A reasonable question for the Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, might be whether he wishes he could revisit his ‘One in, two out’ policy which meant, in his own words, “that every time a new regulation that cost money to comply with was introduced, the Government had to remove or modify existing rules with double the cost to business”. 

An exhaustive analysis of what went wrong should ask the hard questions about the adequacy of the current safety regime for construction works, the consequences of long supply chains where budgets (and profits) can be squeezed and the arrangements which are in place to ensure residents’ concerns about safety are listened to and acted upon.

We must also examine why the immediate reaction to the disaster was so inadequate. The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has struggled to rehouse Grenfell residents quickly and locally, and while some blame may be attributable to maladministration, we should also be honest about the reality of the housing crisis in London. The Government should now be looking at giving councils the funding and the powers to buy homes to add to the social housing stock and make it exempt from ‘Right to Buy’ so that it remains a council asset in perpetuity. 

The Government must stump up the cash for emergency repair works and the installation of sprinkler systems. Local councils and anxious leaseholders must not be left with a bill that has come about thanks to years of slipshod regulation.

Over the last few weeks, councils have moved as quickly and decisively as their reduced resources allow to reassure nervous residents and communicate news of test results on external cladding. I’m grateful for the tireless work that Lewisham’s Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, has done in keeping local residents, councillors and MPs informed since the tragedy struck.

Before the conclusion of the inquiry, we should be wary of expressing absolute certainty about the causes and remedies for Grenfell, but we can be certain of our purpose. We know something went horrifically wrong and we’ll never let it happen again.

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