Government failed Grenfell residents, Michael Gove tells MPs

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The Government “failed people at Grenfell” and did not always appreciate the importance of fire safety, Housing Secretary Michael Gove has told MPs.

Mr Gove made the comments on Monday during his first appearance at the House of Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee since taking over the housing brief in September’s reshuffle.

Asked about the building safety crisis, he said: “We collectively – the department, some in local government, others in the private sector – failed people at Grenfell and there are people who were and still are in buildings where there is a significant risk.”

He went on to say that, as the Grenfell Inquiry turned its attention to the Government’s role in the disaster, his department “will be seen to have, on a couple of occasions, not necessarily appreciated the importance of fire safety and not necessarily done everything in the wake of the Lakanal House tragedy that it should have done.”

The 2009 fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell, London, resulted in six deaths and at least 20 injuries. The first report from the Grenfell Inquiry, currently being conducted by retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, found lessons from the Lakanal House fire had not been learned by the time of the Grenfell disaster eight years later.

Mr Gove also had strong words for developers who had built the blocks caught up in the building safety crisis, saying: “The sheriff or sheriffs might not have been on the ball, but the cowboys were behaving like cowboys in an unregulated way.”

He said: “It would seem to me that developers and construction product manufacturers, if they say that they are squeaky clean, they’re wrong.

“What we have seen so far from the inquiry, it would seem to me that at the very least developers have to ask whether or not they were engaging in, quotes, ‘value engineering’, in other words seeking to reduce costs in a way which not just with the benefit of hindsight but at the time people would have known was putting cost reduction ahead of safety.”

Tower block fire
The aftermath of a fire at Lakanal House in south London that killed six people, including two children, in 2009 (Carl Court/PA)

Asked about who should pay for the work required to make the affected buildings safe, Mr Gove confirmed that he would “pause” plans that would see leaseholders take out loans to pay for remediation work.

He said: “We have a responsibility to relieve some of the obligations faced by leaseholders at the moment, who are innocent parties in this and who are being in many cases asked to pay disproportionate sums when there are individuals in business – some still in business – who are guilty men and women.”

Mr Gove added: “I’m still unhappy with the principle of leaseholders having to pay at all, no matter how effective a scheme might be in capping their costs or not hitting them too hard at any one time. My question is why do they have to pay at all?”

Asked by committee chair Clive Betts whether support would be made available for dealing with fire safety issues other than cladding, which can often be even more expensive, Mr Gove said this was his intention.

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