Tower block funds be­ing ‘with­held’


Harefield Gazette - - NEWS -

MONEY promised by the gov­ern­ment to im­prove tower block safety fol­low­ing the Gren­fell Tower fire tragedy has not been given out, coun­cils have claimed.

Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal author­i­ties White­hall is with­hold­ing funds that would al­low them to in­stall fire safety mea­sures such as sprin­klers in tower blocks.

Coun­cils claim that the promised cash is es­sen­tial if they are to carry out vi­tal fire safety im­prove­ments with­out com­pro­mis­ing their own bud­gets needed to in­vest in new coun­cil homes and pay for run­ning re­pairs on ex­ist­ing stock.

Sprin­klers in tower blocks are just one of the mea­sures that Lon­don Fire Brigade chief, Dany Cot­ton has called on the gov­ern­ment to make fol­low­ing the disas­ter at Gren­fell tower.

The Depart­ment for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment (DCLG) in­sisted it had not de­clined any re­quests for fund­ing but had asked lo­cal author­i­ties for more details about their plans.

Of­fi­cials said if coun­cils had con­cerns about fund­ing “es­sen­tial” fire safety mea­sures they should con­tact DCLG as soon as pos­si­ble.

But Jane Urquhart, who holds the hous­ing port­fo­lio on Not­ting­ham City Coun­cil, said the works planned on high-rises in her area were con­sid­ered “ad­di­tional rather than es­sen­tial” by the Depart­ment for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment.

She told BBC Ra­dio 4’s To­day pro­gramme: “We found that re­ally dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand given that in the re­fur­bish­ment of the Houses of Par­lia­ment sprin­klers are con­sid­ered es­sen­tial, so we thought it was quite in­cred­i­ble that they were es­sen­tial for the Houses of Par­lia­ment but not es­sen­tial for res­i­dents of high-rises.”

The Labour coun­cil­lor added: “Safety must come at the top of the list and the works that we have con­sid­ered will be done; the im­pact will be that fewer new homes will be built and our other hous­ing will not have the re­pairs that it needs.”

Adam Hug, leader of the Labour op­po­si­tion group on West­min­ster City Coun­cil, said his au­thor­ity faced sim­i­lar prob­lems get­ting money from Com­mu­ni­ties Sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid’s depart­ment to pay for the in­stal­la­tion of sprin­klers and re­moval of cladding.

“Ul­ti­mately these are things that the Lon­don Fire Brigade says have to be done and ul­ti­mately the cost is hav­ing to be borne by the hous­ing rev­enue ac­count, which is ten­ants’ rents and ser­vice charge fees,” he said.

“Coun­cils across the coun­try are ask­ing the Gov­ern­ment for the help that Sa­jid Javid promised and they are be­ing told ‘no, only in ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances when you lit­er­ally don’t have the money in any form.”

He said West­min­ster stood to lose about £20 mil­lion to pay for the work: “That means ei­ther 100 af­ford­able homes can’t get built or it means that for 20 or 30 years our res­i­dents are go­ing to not have their damp dealt with, when things break not be­ing re­paired.”

He added: “It’s a na­tional civil emer­gency across the coun­try, coun­cils have com­plied with the reg­u­la­tions that have been there and the Gov­ern­ment is not step­ping up to the plate.”

The Guardian re­ported that other coun­cils, in­clud­ing Croy­don and Wandsworth, had also had re­quests for fund­ing de­clined.

A DCLG spokesman said: “Where a lo­cal au­thor­ity has con­cerns about fund­ing es­sen­tial fire safety mea­sures, they should con­tact DCLG as soon as pos­si­ble to dis­cuss their po­si­tion.

“The Depart­ment has writ­ten to Not­ting­ham, Croy­don and Wandsworth coun­cils invit­ing them to pro­vide more de­tail about the works they pro­pose.

To date these author­i­ties have not sub­mit­ted this in­for­ma­tion.”

DCLG has also writ­ten to West­min­ster Coun­cil to say it would con­sider re­mov­ing fi­nan­cial re­stric­tions if bar­ri­ers stand in the way of es­sen­tial works be­ing done.

Shadow com­mu­ni­ties sec­re­tary An­drew Gwynne said: “Once again, Sa­jid Javid is drag­ging his feet to pro­vide sup­port to lo­cal author­i­ties.

“The Gov­ern­ment know their fail­ure to re­view build­ing reg­u­la­tions, and seven years of Tory cuts to lo­cal author­i­ties and fire ser­vices, have cre­ated this cri­sis.

“Rather than learn­ing from their mis­takes they are starv­ing Labour coun­cils of funds as they work to clear up this mess and keep their res­i­dents safe.”

At least 80 peo­ple died in the Gren­fell Tower blaze on June 14.

A pub­lic in­quiry into the tragedy is on­go­ing.

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