The Grenfell Tower fire is a tragedy that should never have happened and has shocked the whole country. The Governments priority must be to ensure those who are affected by the fire are given the support they need now and in the years ahead, including rehousing in their local area. The government has eventually committed help for those affected, and I will be monitoring progress closely in the period ahead to ensure that those who have lost everything are not let down again.
My priority in Salford and Eccles over the last week has been to immediately ensure that those living in high-rise residential buildings are safe, and there are urgent checks being done across the city by the fire authority, council and housing associations. Salford as a Local Authority area has confirmed that the number of high rise blocks owned by Housing Association Partners is in the region of 43. I have been liaising closely with both the Local Authority and Housing Associations over the last week to ensure that urgent fire safety checks are being carried out at all blocks, that residents are being informed and reassured and that a full and urgent assessment of the materials used on the exterior cladding of buildings as well as materials within is carried out. I am assured that this is currently being carried out across the city. I am also ensuring that any direct fire safety queries from residents are being picked up urgently by the relevant Housing Provider so please do urgently send me any other specific issues or concerns you may be aware of so that I can make sure they are dealt with.
In terms of the latest updates, a Greater Manchester Task Force of Housing providers, local authorities and the fire authority has now been set up to monitor fire safety checks across the whole of Greater Manchester and I also understand that whilst testing is being carried out in Salford and Eccles, a 24 hour visual guard response is being implemented at all blocks that may be at risk to ensure regular checks are being carried out on all floors, both to reassure residents and to ensure safety until the results of such assessments are clear. I am assured that checks will be frequent at least one every hour and where there is a security guard on site thy will check all floors regularly.
In addition to what is being done in Salford and Eccles, the Government has also asked all housing providers to assess cladding and fire safety in all blocks urgently and to provide that information to Government. It is my view that Ministers should publish these results to reassure residents urgently and to make directions to ensure public safety immediately.
I am still awaiting the full assessments from Housing Providers but whilst tests are carried out I have been made aware this week that some blocks are clad with an aluminium polyurethane composite. Whilst I understand that they may differ from that used at Grenfell tragedy and I have been assured of tenant safety by housing providers that all fire checks have been robustly carried out, I want total assurance of safety immediately and I have written to Government requiring an immediate and robust response from Government.
Labour supports a public inquiry to get to the bottom of how this disaster happened, and to hold those responsible to account, but we cannot wait months or years for a report. You will see that I am urging the Government to take immediate action now and to provide the funding for Housing Providers in Salford to carry out immediate works to retrofit sprinklers and to assure funding for any works required plus support for tenants once the findings of assessments is clear.
Ministers need not wait on the findings of any new inquiry to act. Coroners’ reports sent to the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2013 provide clear recommendations for improving the safety in high–rise residential blocks, important parts of which were ignored or rejected by Ministers. This includes the retrofitting of sprinklers into high-rise blocks and overhauling building regulations as Conservative Ministers promised to do in 2013, but have still not done. Ministers should now act immediately on these recommendations which they have had for four years.