Tower block funds being ‘withheld’
CASH PROMISED FOR IMPROVEMENTS FOLLOWING GRENFELL NOT YET GIVEN OUT
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.