Labour has called on the government to answer “some very serious questions” about why it failed to act on coroners’ concerns about two previous tower block fires before the catastrophic blaze at Grenfell Tower.
John Healey, the shadow housing minister, demanded that a government minister come to the Commons for a special statement session on Thursday. “Overnight we have asked the government: get a minister into parliament today, let parliament recognise how serious this tragedy is,” Healey told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“It is the sort of thing that allows us to pay respect to the victims, but importantly it helps provide some of the answers that people are asking about what went off, what’s being done and most importantly what’s not being done to learn the lessons and act after the last tragedies that we saw now nearly eight years ago.”
Healey accused ministers of rejecting or ignoring key recommendations of coroners’ reports into tower block fires in south London and Southampton. In 2009, a fire in the Lakanal House tower block in Camberwell killed six people and injured at least 20. In 2010, a fire at Shirley Towers apartment block in Southampton killed two firefighters.
Recommendations to have information for firefighters on site about complex blocks and to encourage the wider use of sprinkler systems in such buildings were rejected by the government. Another recommendation that fire safety regulations be reviewed – looking at the possibility that cladding could compromise the safety of a building – had “simply been put to one side”, said Healey.
The Green party’s Siân Berry, chair of the London assembly housing committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that residents at Grenfell felt “alienated” from the property owners, adding that they had raised “all kinds of issues, not just fire safety, and it seems like that relationship had broken down”.
She added: “Who knows these buildings better than the people who live in them? And when they raise fire safety, when they raise life-threatening issues, they need to be listened to, and there just currently isn’t the structure for that to happen – that’s a structural issue, it’s not just about this block, it’s about residents across London.