The Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington in London will surely been seen as one of the greatest civil disasters in this country since the Second World War. Alongside other disasters like Hillsborough and Aberfan, it was tragic both for the large loss and life, and because it was avoidable. A full public inquiry will establish the exact cause of the fire, but we know that there have been warnings about the risk of fire in tower blocks like these, the need for sprinklers systems, and concerns raised about certain types of building cladding that may be more vulnerable to fire.
It is not enough however to say that lessons will be learnt and that the appropriate fire safety measures will be retrofitted into other blocks that may have a similar risk to Grenfell tower. What is required is a much bigger reform of the provision and management of social housing in this country. As I have written in this column before, there are too many people in poor quality accommodation owned by unscrupulous landlords. The lack of supply of good quality social housing means that private landlords also end up charging high rents, which are then in part subsidised by the government through housing benefit. We need local authorities and housing associations to build more good quality affordable social housing to rent. I believe that, as was the case in the past, that good tenants who have lived in these properties for more than ten years should have the right to buy them, so that they have an asset of their own, and the funds raised can be used to invest in building more social housing. We also need tougher sanctions against landlords who fail to maintain their properties to safe and appropriate standards. Yes, local councils do have the legal authority to make sure that landlords take action to improve substandard homes, yet they do not have the resources to police this effectively. The tenants themselves are often frightened of speak out because of fear of being evicted by the landlord, and they cannot afford the moving costs, even if they could find somewhere else suitable to live. There should be tougher financial penalties for landlords whose properties are found to be in breach of health and safety standards for homes, and they should also face a ban from being allowed to house social tenants in the future.
Last Friday I joined Cllr Peter Coe, the Mayor of New Romney, Matt Calais from the Romney Marsh brewery and Danny Martin the Managing Director of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway for the launch of ‘Ale by the Rails.’ Over the summer, the Romney Brewery, which has won the Taste of Kent award for the last two years for its Romney Amber bitter, will be serving drinks from a special hut alongside the tracks at Dungeness station. In this hot weather, I’m sure they will have plenty of grateful customers. On Saturday, I joined Cllr Bob Jones, the Mayor of Lydd for Lydd Club Day. The perfect weather meant that a good time was had by all. I would like to send my congratulations to Barbara Walker and her team for another successful event.