Labour leader urges real action for survivors of Grenfell disaster, writes FELICITY COLLIER
JEREMY CORBYN called yesterday for the occupation of empty properties in Kensington so that the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire can be rehoused in their local community.
The Labour leader said this and the government’s compulsory purchase of buildings are needed because many people affected by the disaster remain without anywhere safe or secure to stay.
Mr Corbyn called for the government to take a look at the many vacant luxury properties in the area deliberately left empty, pointing out the widespread use of “land-banking,” whereby owners — developers and speculators from Britain and overseas — hold onto property as an investment.
He told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “In an emergency you have to bring all assets to the table in order to deal with that crisis, and that’s what I think we should be doing in this case.
“Occupy it, compulsorily purchase it, requisition it: there’s a lot of things you can do.”
Mr Corbyn pointed out that about 400 Grenfell victims still had nowhere decent, safe or secure to stay in. He condemned the government’s inability to “deal with the crisis facing a relatively small number of people in a country of 65 million,” he said.
Backing Mr Corbyn’s calls, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “I would have done whatever necessary to house those families [after] what they’d been through — and if that needed requisitioning of local properties? Yes, if necessary, because they have suffered so much.”
He described the housing crisis as the direct result of allowing housing to be used for speculative gain rather than defining it by need, particularly in London.
In a speech made in Parliament in 2004, Mr Corbyn raised concerns about high-rise blocks, saying that there was a clear need for better quality social housing. He recalled that in the 1970s he had felt that the government should “never again put children in high-rise properties.”
In the same debate Mr Corbyn said that all new properties built by Labour should be houses with gardens, part of “decent community neighbourhoods,” citing good examples built in Haringey, Camden, Hackney and Islington.
Contributing to the housing debate prompted by the loss of lives at Grenfell Tower on Wednesday morning, the Labour Land Campaign (LLC) has called for big land owners to be taxed more so that public services can benefit.
The campaigners point out that Labour’s manifesto pledged to look at reforming council tax and business rates and considering new options such as a land value tax, a concept that has drawn fire from the right-wing press.
LLC chairman Anthony Molloy said: “At least some of the UK’s land wealth should be reclaimed and used to maintain and develop our public services instead of being sucked out of our economy by speculators and rich families such as Grosvenor Estates and the Duke of Northumberland.
“Jeremy Corbyn sees it, John McDonnell sees it, some of our politicians are coming round to the realisation that people are more important than profits made by a greedy few who are prepared to put lives at risk.”
A candlelit vigil for those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy will be held tonight in Parliament Square from 7pm, followed by a march.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan joined the congregation at a church service near the high-rise yesterday to remember those who lost their lives and those who remain missing after the devastating fire.
He said people are “angry, not simply at the poor response in the days afterwards from the council and the government.”
Mr Khan added: “It may well be the defining outcome of this tragedy that the worst mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s are systematically torn down.”