Theresa May’s new Chief of Staff has urgent questions to answer about the Grenfell fire

Emily Apple

Theresa May’s new Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell has serious questions to answer over his government’s failure to review fire safety regulations in tower blocks.

News of the extent of the horrific fire at 24-storey Grenfell Tower is still coming through. But fatalities have been confirmed. And residents are saying they repeatedly warned of the fire risk.

But one thing is certain. As Housing Minster, Barwell promised a review into safety in 2016. And he was again warned about fire safety just a few months ago. Yet his department and the Conservative government failed to act.

Promised review

Barwell lost his seat on 8 June. But May brought him back into government as her new Chief of Staff to replace her two sacked advisers from her failed campaign.

Following a fire at Lakanal House in South London in 2009 where six people were killed, a review of fire safety in tower blocks was promised. An investigation into the fire at Lakanal House found that there were failings including inadequate fire risk assessments and panels on the exterior walls not providing the required fire resistance.

In 2016, Barwell promised that the government would review the regulations into fire safety. But this was not done. And in March 2017, a spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the review would be done “in due course”.

Putting tower blocks in danger

A cross-party parliamentary group warned that lack of action was endangering safety in tower blocks. Administrative secretary of the group Ronnie King warned that there were 4,000 tower blocks where safety was a concern. And that they:

haven’t taken account of the Lakanal House fire inquest, or updated recent accredited research.

Fire safety expert Sam King also spoke of the dangers, saying there were “serious questions” that parliament needed to address about fire safety.

Ignoring the warnings

But it seems that the government chose to ignore the warnings. The review was put on hold. And residents’ warnings and legal enforcement notices to the tower’s landlords also appear to have been ignored.

It is too early to speculate about where the fault of this fire lies. But it’s clear that urgent questions have to be asked of the government before another tragedy occurs.

Get Involved

– If you are concerned about anyone from Grenfell Tower, call the Casualty Bureau on 0800 0961 233 or 0207 158 0197.

Featured image via Flickr

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