Alok Sharma provides update to MPs on Grenfell Tower tragedy

Housing Minister Alok Sharma updates MPs on the work being done to rehouse the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the ongoing work that is being done to rehouse the victims of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.

Three weeks have now passed since the fire. As we all know, it soon became clear that the delivery of the initial response on the ground was simply not good enough. Since then, much has been done to support victims, to see that justice is done, and to ensure that other buildings around the country are safe. Throughout that process, however, our first priority has been helping victims who have suffered such an unspeakable trauma. We have been working hard to ensure that they have all the support that they need, securing emergency accommodation and making financial and emotional support available as quickly as possible.

The response efforts have been co-ordinated by the Grenfell response team, led by John Barradell. He is being supported by colleagues drawn from London councils, the wider local government sector, the voluntary sector, and police, health and fire services, as well as central Government. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to them all for their immense efforts over the last few weeks. The new leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Elizabeth Campbell, has given a fulsome apology for the inadequate initial response. She has also asked for help from central Government to put things right. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has said in a written ministerial statement today, we will be establishing an independent taskforce to help the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to build its capability so that it can deal with the longer term challenge of recovery.

The Prime Minister promised that we would offer temporary housing to all those who have lost their homes as a result of the fire, within three weeks. These are good-quality, fully furnished homes. Families will be able to move on from emergency accommodation and live, rent-free, in proper homes while permanent accommodation, on equal terms, is found; 158 families from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk have been identified as being in need of such housing.

I can confirm that every family that is ready to talk to the housing team has been offered a temporary home, and that 139 families have received offers of accommodation. However, 19 families have not yet been ready to engage in the process, and we need to respect that. Some are still in hospital as a result of their injuries. In some cases, the people on the ground offering those families support have made clear that it would be inappropriate at this time to ask them to make a decision about where they will live. They have been through unimaginable trauma, and we need to go at the pace at which they want to go. What matters above all else is what the families individually want.

The Grenfell response team have been working with the 139 families currently engaged with the process to match them with appropriate temporary accommodation, and to start to talk to them about their long-term needs. The housing team have identified and secured more than 200 good-quality properties so that residents can have a choice of where to live. I know that some have raised concerns about the quality of the accommodation offered. All the properties have been inspected by the housing team to ensure that they are in good condition. My right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary has personally seen an example of the kind of property that is on offer, and representatives of local residents groups have also seen and been assured of the quality. If the shadow Minister would find it helpful, I would be happy to visit some of the properties with him so that he can assure himself of their quality.

All the properties are local, and are either in Kensington and Chelsea or in a neighbouring borough. That will mean that families can continue to be near their friends and relatives, go to the same GP, and send their children to the same school. Fourteen offers of temporary accommodation have been accepted, and three families have already moved in. I expect the number to increase, but we must respect the pace at which the families want to move. I have personally met more than 30 of the families who have been directly affected, and from talking to them, I understand that there are many reasons why they are reluctant to take up these offers. Some may choose to remain in hotels until they have an offer of a permanent tenancy.

We also understand that one of the big issues holding people back is the lack of trust. Some families were told that they were moving into Grenfell Tower on a temporary basis, and then, years later, they were still there. Their concerns are entirely understandable, and this is a trust that we need to work hard to earn. We must also respect their decision if they do not wish to move out of temporary accommodation before permanent housing is available. We will continue to make offers to families of local homes that we think would be suitable for them, but no one will be forced into a home to which they do not want to move.

I want to respond directly to a number of reports that have been made, claiming that people are being told to move far from London, or that they may be deemed homeless if they do not accept an offer. I want to be absolutely clear to the House: if that is ever suggested to a victim, it is completely unacceptable. I have already stated that if anyone is aware of an individual family that is not receiving the offer we have promised, please tell me, and we will fix this. I repeat that call to the House now.

Let me set out again what the Government have committed to do. Every household that is ready to talk has been offered temporary accommodation. The housing team will continue to work with families to ensure that their individual needs are met. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, everyone whose home was destroyed by the fire will be guaranteed a new home on the same terms as the one they lost. That means paying the same rent, with the same level of security, and in the same area.

When it comes to permanent housing, we have already announced a new block of social housing that will provide 68 new homes in Kensington Row. We are urgently working with a number of developers to secure similar properties, either in Kensington and Chelsea or very close to North Kensington, so that families can stay in the same area. These negotiations have not yet concluded, and we need to work closely with the residents to make sure that the sort of properties we are able to make available will match what they want.

There are also 17 leaseholders who lost their homes, and we are working with them to make sure that they do not lose out financially because of the fire. I met a group of leaseholders recently, and we are working with them individually to find the right solution for them.

My visits to the Westway, hearing the harrowing accounts of survivors, have been the most humbling and moving experience of my life. The families I have met have been through unimaginable pain. This is a tragedy that should never have happened, and we are determined to do all that we can to make sure something like this never happens again.

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