THE EMOLLIENCE of Housing Secretary James Brokenshire over Grenfell Tower can be explained by the fact that he was not in post when more than 70 people were killed last June. Just three weeks into the role, his instincts are sincerely-held. “We must create a culture that truly puts people and their safety first, that inspires confidence and, yes, rebuilds public trust,” the Minister told MPs.
Yet, nearly one year after this disaster, the Government finds itself setting up a review into the inquiry undertaken on its behalf by Dame Judith Hackitt and which, surprisingly, did not recommend a ban on flammable cladding – an issue integral to the inferno and how it spread so rapidly.
Given Mr Brokenshire says the cladding at Grenfell was unlawful under existing building regulations, just what has the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government been doing? Though these rules are complex, and demand total precision, there’s been little recognition of the torment being suffered by all those living in high-rise buildings with Grenfell-like cladding.
Only this week, after public pressure from Labour, did Theresa May sanction the release of £400m to help councils – and housing associations – to pay for the removal of such material. As Mr Brokenshire conceded, some private sector landlords are proving “slow to co-operate”.
They won’t if the Government dithers. Mr Brokenshire must provide a clear timetable for action and work with his Labour counterpart John Healey, the South Yorkshire MP, to implement this. After all, it will be another betrayal of Grenfell’s victims if no tangible progress is made in the near future. In the meantime, Mr Brokenshire needs to issue revised guidance which ensures all new tower blocks are being constructed to the highest safety standards, and not on the cheap.