5 thoughts on “Grenfell Tower solidarity in London

  1. Monday 3rd July 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    DAVID LOWRY finds an old speech by former Tory housing minister Bob Neill rather ominous

    IN THE political discussion television progammes on the Sunday just after the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, Conservative former housing minister Bob Neill appeared on the London section of the BBC’s Sunday Politics distancing himself from the horror of the towering inferno because the fire safety regulations now under question came in after he left that job.

    But six years ago, he did have some pertinent words to say at a fire safety conference. I doubt he will be proud of them today.

    Neill said: “Of course, good regulation serves to protect us all: consumers, employees and the environment. It helps build a fair society and can even save lives.

    “But over the years, regulations — and the inspections and bureaucracy that go with them — have piled up and up. This has hurt business, imposing real burdens and doing real damage to our economy.”

    He then stressed ominously: “Reducing the number of rules and regulations is therefore absolutely central to the government’s vision for Britain, removing barriers to economic growth and increasing individual freedoms.

    “We have given a clear commitment that where regulation cannot be justified, we will remove it.

    “With more than 21,000 regulations impacting on businesses and others in the UK today, this won’t be an easy task — but we’re determined to cut unnecessary red tape.”

    Neill went on to say: “We are now embarking on work with the fire sector to develop a new national framework, which will reset the relationship between fire and rescue authorities and central government.

    “We will help ‘barrier bust’ where fire and rescue authorities find unnecessary restrictions are stopping them from getting on with things that clearly make great sense.”

    After discussing fire safety guidance, he then ended by inexplicably arguing: “I am aware that some of you here today have supported calls for more regulation for fire safety in the home and in non-domestic buildings, particularly in relation to smoke alarms and sprinklers.

    “As I have explained, we have absolutely no plans to add to the burden of regulation for businesses and others, especially where non-regulatory routes can offer the same — or better — outcomes.”

    A year earlier, current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, then an experienced back-bench London MP, spoke in a parliamentary debate on social housing in inner London.

    He stressed that “resources have to be put in consistently, over the long term. I shall concentrate on issues of social housing need — the need for a better supply of housing.

    “I recall a time when Edmonton MP Andrew Love and I were active in politics in Haringey. We were both councillors at various times and in the late 1970s we could say proudly that we would never again put children in high-rise properties, that all the new properties we built would be houses with gardens and that we would attempt to create decent community neighbourhoods.

    “I congratulate the government on the money that they have put in to estate improvements, including new roofs, new windows and new landscaping. However, the market created the housing crisis that the poorest people of London and the south-east face at present.

    “The market will not solve that crisis. It will be solved only by sufficient public investment in new housing.”

    It was a presciently sad warning.

    If we fast-forward to May 11 last year, we can see from the minutes of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s housing and property scrutiny committee consideration of a report on Grenfell Tower by the borough’s director of housing.

    It stated: “The purpose of this report is to provide the [committee] with information and recommendations from the board member review of the Grenfell Tower regeneration project.” And one conclusion stated: “The group recognised that there were significant challenges with the project and acknowledged that residents would have experienced inconvenience due to the nature of this type of construction work.”

    Three years earlier, on July 16 2013, the same housing scrutiny committee considered a report on Grenfell Tower improvement works and recent power surges.

    Under a section headed “planning issues” the report noted: “In August 2012, a planning application was submitted for the refurbishment proposals to Grenfell Tower. Planners considered this application in November 2012 and have asked for a resubmission including the following amendments: removal of the canopy at first floor level; give further definition to the roof detailing; consider alternative colour schemes.”

    It concluded: “The refurbishment of Grenfell Tower is a large and complex project and time and careful planning has been required to ensure that the proposals and design of the scheme meet the requirements of residents, [the council] and planners. Particular focus has been required to ensure that the project representing value for money.”

    That is, external appearance and cost-cutting were prioritised.

    Dr David Lowry is a senior research fellow for the Institute for Resource and Security Studies.



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