COUNCILS should be given the right to confiscate privately owned “death trap” buildings if their owners refuse to make them safe, Labour demanded today.
The party noted that a pledge to fund the removal of dangerous cladding from some tower blocks falls far short of Labour proposals to ensure tragedies like that at Grenfell Tower never happen again.
Prime Minister Theresa May conceded that the government would fully fund the removal and replacement of cladding on 158 high-rise blocks in England at an estimated cost of £400 million, following Labour demands that she do so.
But she had nothing to say on Labour’s proposed £1 billion fire safety fund to pay for all necessary refitting and the installation of sprinklers in all high-rises — or the party’s proposal for “robust sanctions” on owners who avoid their responsibility to tenants including taking their property into public hands.
Legal disputes between freeholders and leaseholders over who should pay for the cladding removal works mean that the vast majority of affected towers across Britain remain untouched.
Shadow housing secretary John Healey slammed the snail-pace of reform with the one-year anniversary of the tragic fire in which at least 71 people perished on June 14 last year fast approaching. Two-thirds of Grenfell survivors are still stuck in hotels and temporary housing, he pointed out.
Mr Healey said: “Ministers must overhaul our broken system of building checks and controls so a disaster like the Grenfell Tower fire can never happen again.
“Today’s announcement is just a partial backing of Labour’s plan to fund the emergency work needed to keep residents of high-rise blocks safe.
“It’s welcome, but why on Earth has it taken the Prime Minister 11 months to make this commitment?
“Almost a year on from the Grenfell Tower fire, over 300 other tower blocks have dangerous, Grenfell-type cladding, but only seven have had it replaced.”
Housing Secretary James Brokenshire, speaking during the opposition day debate, confirmed that not all survivors would be rehoused within 12 months.
Three days after the fire, Ms May had promised that survivors would have somewhere new to live within three weeks.
Yesterday, Mr Brokenshire said of the 210 households in need of a new home, 201 have accepted offers of temporary or permanent accommodation, with only 138 having moved in.
But Kensington Labour MP Emma Dent Coad accused ministers of “crying crocodile tears” over the tragedy.
During the debate, she renewed calls for commissioners to take over the “shameful” and “dire” rehousing operation from the Tory-run Kensington and Chelsea council.
Ms Dent Coad said that figures on accommodation were spun and hit out at “pernicious” sections of the media that suggested survivors of the fire enjoyed living in a hotel.
“I’ve visited these hotels. A Premier Inn is not a luxury. Some have called it a prison,” said Ms Dent Coad, who is local to the tower and revealed that she had counselling to deal with the tragedy.
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