People are pointing out the Conservatives voted down a law requiring homes be fit for habitation, but that doesn't affect Grenfell

Wednesday 14 June 2017 12:15
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Picture:(Leon Neal/Getty Images/Rick Findler/PA Wire)

At least six people have died in the fire at Grenfell Tower in London on Wednesday morning, the Metropolitan Police has confirmed.

The number of fatalities is expected to rise from the fire, which took over the Kensington tower block overnight.

Some 200 firefighters sought to evacuate residents and suppress the flames.

Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said:

Our thoughts are with everyone involved in this truly shocking fire at Grenfell Tower.

I can confirm six fatalities at this time but this figure is likely to rise during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days. Many others are receiving medical care.

More than 50 people were being treated in five hospitals across the capital, as many people remained 'unaccounted for.'

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says there are "questions to be answered" following the fire.

The Mayor told BBC radio that the stay put policy was "bad advice":

Thankfully residents didn't take that advice but fled... These are some of the questions that have to be answered.

We have lots of people in London living in tower blocks... We can't have peoples lives being put at risk because of bad advice or lack of maintenance.

One resident action group warned the building posed a fire risk in a 2016 blog post.

After the fire, the group posted:

All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.

Prime Minister Theresa May's new chief of staff, former Housing Minister Gavin Barwell, was given the Number 10 job after losing his seat last week.

Eight months ago, while Housing minister, he refused to give a date for when the reviews of fire regulations in tower blocks would take place.

The 2013 review was called for after an inquest into a tower block fire in Camberwell in 2009, which killed six people and injured 20.

The inquest found that regulations were not sufficient.

Ronnie King, the honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, told LBC Wednesday Morning:

The All-Party Group were looking at the issue of fire suppression in all the tower blocks with similar designs to this.

And we understand that there are around 4,000 tower blocks that don’t have fire sprinklers fitted into them.

That was a recommendation, which was down to each local council and landlords to determine the appropriateness of this.

We were strongly recommending this as the fire at Lakanal House spread within four minutes to the flat above and went on to kill six people regrettably.

Our group recommended that due to the speed that the fire spread in Lakanal House, that building regulations should be reviewed. It’s nearly 11 years since it has been reviewed.

Successive ministers since 2013 have said they are still looking at it.

People on Twitter have also been sharing articles reporting on a 2016 vote in the House of Commons for the Housing and Planning Act - but this doesn't affect Greenfell.

The vote in question pertained to a Labour amendment, voted down by Conservative MPs, which sought to ensure that all private landlords ensure their homes were "fit for human habitation".

According to Parliament's register of interests, 72 of the MPs who voted down the amendment were themselves landlords who derived an income from a property.

The amendment sought to alter Section Eight of Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 which currently obligated private landlords to make a house fit for human habitation during a tenancy unless the contract exceeds a few conditions.

One such condition is that the rent does not exceed the figures in the below (and by now completely ancient) reference table:

In addition, the section pertaining to ensuring a house is habitable does not apply to contracts of three years or more, on terms that transfer the responsibility to the tenant.

Labour's amendment sought to change the above definitions to:

any tenancy or licence under which a dwelling house is let wholly or mainly for human habitation.

With the following conditions:

(3ZA) Subsection 1 does not apply where the condition of the dwelling-house or common parts is due to—

(a) a breach by the tenant of the duty to use the dwelling-house in a tenant-like manner, or often express term of the tenancy to the same effect; or

(b) damage by fire, flood, tempest or other natural cause or inevitable accident.

At the time Teresa Pearce, the shadow housing minister for Labour, said:

The majority of landlords let property which is and remains in a decent standard. Many landlords go out of their way to ensure that even the slightest safety hazard is sorted quickly and efficiently.

So it is even more distressing when we see reports of homes which are frankly unfit for human habitation being let, often at obscene prices.

Where else in modern day life could someone get away with this? It’s a consumer issue. If I purchased a mobile phone or a computer that didn’t work, didn’t do what it said it would or was unsafe I would take it back and get a refund.

The government responded that the new law would result in "unnecessary regulation". Communities minister Marcus Jones said at the time that the government wanted homes fit for human habitation, but did not want to pass a new law making it a requirement:

Of course we believe that all homes should be of a decent standard and all tenants should have a safe place to live regardless of tenure, but local authorities already have strong and effective powers to deal with poor quality and safe accommodation and we expect them to use them.

Twitter users have been sharing articles about the vote pertaining to private housing, and to the 2013 report, in relation to the events of Wednesday morning:

The important points:

The law doesn't pertain to the tower - it concerns private landlords.

The Metropolitan Police have said it is too early to speculate on the cause of the fire which is believed to have started around 1am on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, Kensington's newly elected Labour MP Emma Dent Coad has tweeted that the priority at present is to direct help to local residents affected by the fire:

More from the Independent: London fire: Met Police confirm six deaths in Grenfell Tower block blaze

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