One lesson can already be learnt from the Grenfell Tower disaster

With the grim task of counting corpses still under way it is too early say much about the Grenfell Tower site. Those of us who pray can offer our prayers. Those of us with money can donate to help the survivors. Our grief is mixed with pride at the bravery of the emergency services and the long queues of those offering food and clothes. The surrounding community in north Kensington has come together in a desire to provide whatever practical help it can – a cause taken up by many further away. In the spirit of unity it is too early to vigorous debate about the political or architectural issues raised by the disaster. It is certainly too early to pronounce on the technical lessons until a thorough investigation has taken place.

Yet I would like to make one proposal. I hope it will not be controversial and that it would have cross party support. It would not cost any money. There should be a transparency requirement for all housing associations and local authorities to publish in their websites the Fire Risk Assessments for all the blocks that they own.

Last year there was a fire in Shepherds Court in my borough of Hammersmith and Fulham – mercifully nobody was killed but the flames in Shepherd’s Bush Green were an alarming site.

I requested the Fire Risk Assessment for the property – it is here. As a councillor I was entitled to have it and (probably) it could have been obtained by anyone via a Freedom of Information request. But would it not be better for all such documents to clearly and openly available on the websites of the relevant social housing landlord?

Transparency is a route to accountability. If it is easy for residents of a block to check if their life is regarded as being at significant risk in the event of a fire then it is likely they take the chance to discover this. If they then discover that various (often quite modest) measures are overdue to mitigate such a risk they might be expected to pursue the matter – with their housing officer, tenants association, local councillor, MP, housing association board members, etc.

I am not suggesting Fire Risk Assessments are perfect. As with all these box ticking exercises points can be missed. They can never be completely up to date. In the case of the Shepherds Court the back stair lights should have come on automatically in a fire and the fluorescent numbering of staircases should have been visible. I’m told that neither of these happened and residents were forced to use the lifts instead. The problem hadn’t been spotted in the Fire Risk Assessment the previous year.

But these documents are better than nothing. Farmers rely on weather forecasts, politicians look at opinion polls. It is what there is. They might be wrong but it is a starting point.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has already made a range of welcome transparency requirements – for instance on council finances. In the United States fire inspection reports are publicly available.

I would urge Nick Hurd, the new Fire Minister, to make it a legal obligation for councils and housing associations to make access to all their fire risk assessments available via their websites.

This article originally appeared on Conservative Home.

Grenfell Tower donations

Cllr Joe Carlebach writes

Like many of you I have been watching the unfolding disaster at Grenfell Tower just a stones through form our Borough. I am sure all the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham will join with me in sending our thoughts and prayers to all the effected especially where loved ones have been injured or are still missing.

I understand that at the time of writing there is a confirmed total of six fatalities with the emergency services expecting the total to rise.This loss is too heart breaking to describe. I know that many of you will be asking what you can do to help our neighbours in their hour of greatest need.

A Just Giving page has been set up by City Harvest and you can donate by following this link:

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/GrenfellUnbeelievableCityHarvest

I also want to publicly thank the Emergency services who rushed to the scene, doing their very best to help the victims of this disaster.

In particular I would like to thank the Police, London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service and of course our wonderful NHS staff at all our local hospitals especially St Mary’s and Charring Cross.

As always your heroism, so often understated, is what makes you world class in what you do.

There are also a lot of questions to be asked about how this fire spread so quickly and why it took so long to evacuate the building. Now is not the time for any inquests but there are clearly lessons to be learnt. These lessons will apply to us too as we have a significant number of tower blocks here in Hammersmith and Fulham. It would be totally unacceptable not to learn the very hard lessons of this disaster to avoid future tragedies.

Council red tape blocking development of derelict Ravenscourt Hospital site

For over ten years the Ravenscourt Park Hospital site has sat empty. Two ago I was delighted by news that it was planned to reopen as a hospital. But the finances fell though and that scheme did not materialise. The building is left to deteriorate – and last year there was a problem with squatters.

Isn’t it time to allow some flexibility? The housing shortage is well known. Allowing a change of use would achieve this. I should think room for at least 100 new homes. It could, in all probability, include a requirement for “affordable housing” and still be financially viable. Instead residents are left with what is increasingly becoming a local eyesore.

I’ve asked the Council’s Team Leader Planning Applications if there could be a meeting with the owners of the site to consider how to make progress. He says:

“The planning permission granted for the refurbishment and extension of the hospital development has been implemented and as such the planning permission has not expired.

“Whilst I accept there is a pressing need to increase the Borough’s Housing Supply, the enhancement of community services is one of the Council’s key policies in the current development plan (Policy DM D1).

“Furthermore, in our emerging Development Plan, Policy CF1, seeks to ensure high quality healthcare and the retention and enhancement of existing healthcare facilities….and

“a)    Assist in securing sites and buildings for future healthcare provision………

“Accordingly, in my view the proposal to agree a change in use of the site to residential would not be supported and would be contrary to existing and future policy with regard to healthcare facilities in the borough.

“I am sure that we could assist if the council were to request a meeting with the site owners/ representatives of the site owners.”

I will pursue…

 

Charlie Dewhirst: If you think Council Tax is high, consider Labour’s Land Value Tax

A guest post from Cllr Charlie Dewhirst, the Conservative candidate for Hammersmith.

It seems astounding that every other party campaigning in this election, apart from the Conservatives, wants to raise taxes on working people. If I am elected your MP on 8th June I pledge to campaign to keep taxes low and help working people keep more of their own money.

One of the greatest achievements of the Conservative Government since 2010 has been consistently raising the personal allowance to ensure those on lower wages can keep more of their own money. This policy is crucial with the higher living costs we have here in London, where many of those who would be considered average earners elsewhere in Britain are left struggling at the end of the month after paying on average nearly 60% of their salary on rent or mortgage payments and utility bills.

Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush is a great place to live but I know too many people who are struggling with the cost of living here. I want to be elected to Parliament to protect precisely these people, often overlooked by politicians, and ensure that everyone here is protected from greater financial stress and the increased cost of living.

Over the past few days I’ve been hearing real concerns about Labour’s proposed tax rises on the doorstep, especially their proposed Land Value Tax. Research has indicated that this would create a staggering average tax rise of 224% per household, and those with gardens would be hit hardest.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has said the tax might become a “tax on gardens”, which could tempt homeowners to sell off gardens to lower their bills. The IPPR warns that there will be “many losers” and the tax “might push some heavily mortgaged homeowners over the edge”.

This would have a knock-on effect for private renters, with landlords likely to shift the rising tax bill onto their tenants.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has also made it clear that this policy would have disastrous effects on our agricultural industry, driving up food prices for the entire country.

This misguided policy would have dire consequences; disproportionately targeting people on fixed incomes like pensioners; driving up private rents for the younger generation; threatening our green spaces in London; and damaging forever the character of our local area.

It’s clear that a Labour Government would make us all poorer – if I am elected as your MP I pledge to keep taxes low and ensure no further financial burden is placed on those already struggling. If you want lower taxes, vote Conservative in Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush.

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