Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to speak during the Parliamentary Debate to mark five years since the Grenfell Tower fire. Here is what I would have said:
“Five years ago, 72 people were killed at Grenfell Tower in one of the most horrific and devastating tragedies we have seen. For 5 years, the survivors and family members of the victims have been fighting for justice.
Have lessons been learnt? Changes made to housebuilding and infrastructure? Have all the survivors been permanently rehomed? No. Five years on and we are still waiting.
According to the London Mayor: “residents across London are still living in high-rise buildings that are covered in dangerous flammable cladding, and we are still seeing designs for buildings that have critical safety failings.” Evidently, lessons have not been learnt.
It should not matter who you are, your salary, your gender, race, or where you live. Everybody deserves to live in a safe home. And yet, 85% of those who lost their lives were people of colour. Dangerous, and flammable cladding was used because it was cheap and cost-effective. The risks were known and still, this went ahead.
Time and time again, survivors and the families of victims have played their part in the Inquiry. They have bravely told us their stories and what needs to change. Yet the Government continues to ignore them and gives the green light to building developers to do the same. These people need answers, accountability and most importantly, meaningful action to prove that this will never happen again.
Surely after Grenfell, fire safety should be the upmost priority and residents should feel secure in their homes. However, this is not the case. My own constituents in Hornsey and Wood Green are living in a similar nightmare – trapped in homes they cannot sell because they have unsafe cladding, with no end in sight. Can you imagine the stress of living under these conditions?
Residents at Westpoint Apartments in my constituency have been waiting years for a full list of the remediation works needed on their block after an EWS1 assessment found fire risks present. To date, despite many representations from my office, they still haven’t received this information, or a timescale for the works. Residents were recently told that the estimated works may not start until as late as 2025, 5 years after they were first told that there were fire safety concerns in the building. One resident highlighted her anxiety at spending the next three years living in her unsellable one-bedroom flat with her 7-month-old baby. To add to this, leaseholders still don’t know if they will be forced to foot the bill.
Whilst it is right that the developers who presided over the construction of unsafe buildings should be made to pay, it is residents who are suffering whilst negotiations between freeholders and reluctant developers drag on.
Leaseholders in Eclipse House in my constituency have been waiting since December 2020 to hear what remediation works are needed in their homes, and their worries are compounded by a lack of communication from their freeholder on who will cover the cost. Talks between the original developer and the freeholder have ground to a halt and leaseholders have told me they fear they could be receiving bills of up to £15,000 each if an agreement can’t be reached.
Meanwhile, buildings insurance companies are raking in huge profits from inflated insurance premiums. One of my constituents, who owns a flat in a block with flammable cladding, has told me her buildings insurance policy rose 117% last year, and will go up by nearly 100% again this year.
We know that there is a housing crisis in the UK, particularly in London and in my constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green, where thousands of families are facing a 12-year wait to be housed in social homes. After 12 years of failing to build enough affordable homes, we have an unregulated and extremely expensive private-rented sector. Instead of selling off council homes, why won’t the Government build safe and affordable new homes? Why won’t it remove the dangerous cladding that still exists in homes and office spaces?
Labour wants people to be able to buy their own homes. Of course, we do. But this needs to be affordable, accessible for all and safe. Residents should not lie awake at night terrified that their building could burst into flames. For my constituents in this position, the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire is more than a day of remembrance and reflection, it is a reminder of the Government’s desertion of their duty to keep people safe. In the months after the tragedy, Government Ministers stood here and told MPs that this could never be allowed to happen again. Why then, after five years are so many people still living in unsafe homes? How will we live with ourselves if this happens again, when we know what can be done to prevent it? I urge the Government to action and end the cladding scandal once and for all.”