The Labour Party is calling for “sustained investment” in public services that could help resolve the building safety crisis and prevent it from continuing in new buildings.
Labour has made its move through the passing of a motion at the political party’s annual conference, which took place in Brighton last week.
The motion calls for “more sustained investment in local authority building control, in fire service fire safety teams, fire inspectors and in other public agencies required to ensure building safety”, and opposes “privatisation, deregulation and contracting out” of these services.
These services will help detect building safety issues in existing buildings and help prevent them from arising in future buildings.
In the debate on the motion, Rosa Crowley-Bennett, a serving firefighter and Fire Brigades Union member, commented: “One story that stays with me is from my old station area in Moss Side, Manchester. My crew and I were carrying out a high rise building visit after the Grenfell Tower Fire. We were knocking on doors and providing safety advice to residents.”
“One resident on the 5th floor told me that she had become so terrified of the fire risk and apparent lack of progress to address this, that she had bought a rope ladder which she planned to use to escape from a window in the event of a fire.”
The motion states that there “remains a deep, unresolved crisis in building safety”, and notes that hundreds of thousands are “trapped” in unsafe buildings, with “tenants and leaseholders expected to pay the price” for the crisis.
The motion also recognises that “four years on from the Grenfell Tower fire, there is still no justice for the bereaved, survivors and residents”, says that the party “stands in solidarity with the firefighters who attended” the fire, and backs cladding campaigners.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, which brought the motion to the conference, said: “People up and down the country are stuck in homes, schools and offices which are death traps. To say that is unacceptable is a huge understatement, and we are glad that the Labour Party has come together and backed action that will help resolve this situation.”
“More than four years after the fire, the courage and strength of the bereaved, survivors and residents of Grenfell as they fight for justice and safer buildings is clear to all of us. We at the FBU stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their fight.”
Crowley-Bennett said in her speech to the conference: “On the 14th June 2017 the fire at Grenfell Tower claimed the lives of 72 people. It devastated a close-knit, working-class community in the heart of London. My colleagues in London worked tirelessly in impossible conditions in the face of an unprecedented fire.”
“This tragedy also marked the beginning of a national scandal which still continues to unfold in front of our eyes.”
“In all the discussion of regulation and legislation, we must never forget that this debate is about real people, with real fears, suffering grave injustices in what should be one of the most basic of rights: the right to a decent and safe home.”
Labour proposes ‘Building Works Agency’ for leaseholders
Speaking at the conference, Shadow Housing Secretary Lucy Powell said her party has “a plan” to solve the building safety crisis if re-elected.
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves outlined the Labour Party’s plan to cut and eventually remove business rates and replace them with a “new system of business taxation fit for the 21st century”.
Mary-Anne Bowring, managing director of property management consultancy Ringley, says: “Leaseholders in high-risk buildings can seek no salvation in Labour's proposal to establish a building works agency, even if there is a promise to introduce a legal guarantee that would shift the burden of disproportionate remediation costs.”
“Those that have been made 'mortgage prisoners' out of this situation need cast-iron assurances now, not in a distant future where the political winds of change will move hearts and minds onto the next crisis in waiting.”
She adds: “The Fire Safety Act was heralded as the legislation which would cork the flow of remediation costs to leaseholders. Those protections were lost in Parliament, and vulnerable leaseholders aren't now so easily dismissed by 'what could be'.