Another sad day following the Grenfell disaster

A couple of weeks ago on the 7th September the Labour Party with support from several other Political groups proposed an amendment for the Fire Safety Bill that was being debated and voted on for the third time in the House of Commons. They were suggesting that the Grenfell Tower issues be adopted as part of the Bill and indeed even the Government seemed willing to speak about a connection, to Grenfell straight after they have voted to prevent the amendment from being adopted. Indeed the words are shown further down. The vote took place a few weeks after the tweet shown here which was published on 14th June, 3 years after the appalling event took place. To be clear I sometimes cannot understand why amendments get voted for or rejected as they often cover such a lot of legislative elements that without a great deal more knowledge than I have it is not always possible to know if there are party political aspects that are hidden away in the adoption or the rejection of them. A couple of days after the amendment was rejected by most of the Sussex Conservative MPs on the 10th September the Conservative MP for the Grenfell area, Felicity Buchan asked one of her colleagues in a discussion on business in the House

As the Member of Parliament for Kensington, I feel passionately that we need to get fire and building safety laws on to the statute book as quickly as possible. Will my hon. Friend confirm that we are fully committed to implementing the first phase recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry and are doing everything to get that legislation on to the statute book as quickly as possible?

The response came from Stuart Andrew who is an Assistant Whip and the Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Ever since she arrived in this House, I have seen her passionately fighting for her constituency on that issue. It is a very important issue, and she is right that we are determined to do this, but there is a process and a sequencing that we have to go through. I have seen some of the personal abuse that she has received, which is totally unacceptable. She is fighting as hard as she can for the victims who suffered that awful tragedy, and I know that she will not let that abuse stop her carrying on her great work.

A few minutes later in the same discussion a question arose from Stephen Doughty who is a Labour shadow Minister

There was deep disappointment among my constituents about the Government’s decision not to vote for the extremely reasonable amendments to the Fire Safety Bill. Beyond Government action, will the hon. Gentleman find time for an urgent debate about the responsibility of original building developers and the insurance industry? Companies such as Taylor Wimpey, Laing O’Rourke, Redrow and others are simply not living up to their responsibilities when fire safety and other building defects are found, as they have been in my own constituency.

The response from Stuart was

I reiterate the points that the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend James Brokenshire, made at this Dispatch Box: we are determined to bring in that legislation, but we need to go through the sequential way in which it has to be done. The points the hon. Gentleman raised are important and I will certainly write to the Minister for him and ask for an answer.

So in case this was the reference he was making, this was the first few words spoken by James Brokenshire immediately after the vote to oppose the Labour amendment.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time. The Grenfell Tower fire was a national tragedy that shook confidence in the building safety system to the core. As a Government, we remain fully committed to fixing that system, to reforming fire and building safety and to ensuring that the events of 14 June 2017 are never repeated. People have a right to be safe and feel safe in their homes. On the day of publication of the Grenfell Tower inquiry’s phase 1 report, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister accepted in principle all 12 recommendations that were addressed to the Government directly, 11 of which will require implementation in law. The Fire Safety Bill, which will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005—the fire safety order— is an important first step towards enacting these recommendations.

Of course the challenge is what can people like I do to change things so that the lessons learned from Grenfell will get adopted more quickly by Governments that can tend to wait a long time, which makes the rest of us wonder if they have really seen it as a priority. So I thought I would check to see if there were any petitions on the Government website that had arisen in the last couple of weeks. Initially I was very inspired as a petition with just over 400 signatures was on the list and the details are below. However I then looked to the deadline for it to check I was correct in assuming it was only just beginning. Sadly it transpires it was raised 6 months ago as today is the last day that we can sign it. So although I have now signed it, the challenge is how to extend it. The people who started it are a couple of Architects who run a business called Stolon Studio. This article back in July explains that Robert and Jessica Barker had started this petition on the parliament website to define fire safety as a material consideration for all proposals. The petition spells out that, because fire safety is at present a matter for building control, ’planning authorities do not have to consider fire safety of a building and its occupants when assessing a planning application’. This means planning officers and councillors have no obligation to judge the effectiveness of measures in new developments designed to keep people safe in the event of a blaze.

So the petition can still be signed today only and it is entitled “Make Fire Safety a defined Material Consideration for Planning Applications” and the rest of the text is

Currently, Planning Authorities do not have to consider fire safety of a building and its occupants when assessing a planning application. Fire Safety is assessed by Building Regulations. This leads to conflict; planning may be granted for a building that does not comply with Fire Regulations. In practice, this may lead to the building work that contravenes either a planning consent or fire safety regulations – neither of which should be acceptable. Currently, the only remedy is enforcement. This requires awareness of the misdemeanour and costly action to remedy. In contrast flood-risk is a Material Consideration, yet fire claims many more lives than flooding.Had the fire safety of the works to Grenfell Tower been considered at the Planning stage the deaths may have been avoided.

It would be great to get a few more signatures before the end of today which might make the issue a bit more considered next week. That would stop today being such a sad day!

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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