Corbyn pours cold water on Budget as he calls for Tories to finally come good on their endless promises over fire safety in tower blocks. By Felicity Collier
JEREMY CORBYN pressed the Chancellor yesterday to use the Budget this month to fund the retro-fitting of sprinklers in all high-rise council housing blocks.
The Labour leader said it is a basic life-saving measure that has been made even more critical after two fatal fires at Grenfell Tower and Lakanal House.
At the launch of Labour’s Make Homes Safe campaign in Hammersmith yesterday, he described the Grenfell fire as an “avoidable tragedy” which would have been prevented had there been adequate safety precautions, including sprinklers.
An estimated 80 people died in the blaze in June and hundreds of residents have been displaced.
Labour is campaigning for £1 billion in government funding to fit sprinklers in blocks of 10 or more storeys across the country.
The London Fire Brigade has repeatedly made such calls, and the Chief Fire Officers Association said it is the most effective, efficient way of tackling fires in high-rise buildings.
But ministers have so far refused to pay for councils to carry out the work.
Mr Corbyn said: “The evidence is clear: where sprinkler systems have already been fitted, injuries sustained from fires have been cut by approximately 80 per cent and deaths from fires have almost been eliminated entirely.”
After the fire at the 12-storey Lakanal House in Camberwell in 2013, which killed six people and injured 20, the coroner’s report recommended retrofitting sprinklers in all high-rise residential buildings.
Two successive Conservative governments have failed to act on this recommendation, Mr Corbyn said.
Since Grenfell, only a few local authorities such as Croydon have found funds to pay for retrofits in their housing stock, he noted, adding: “Governments cannot protect people on the cheap.”
Following on from the Paradise Papers tax avoidance scandal, he urged Chancellor Philip Hammond to “put the billions of pounds that is being taken from the pockets of the British people back into the public services and safe homes we all so desperately need.”
Mr Corbyn also called for a better-funded, fully staffed fire service, warning that if a Grenfell-style fire had occurred outside of London there would not have been enough firefighters to tackle it.
Labour has pledged to recruit 3,000 more firefighters.
Mr Corbyn also said social housing has been “badly and dangerously neglected for far too long” with successive governments being “indifferent to working-class concerns” and guilty of causing “a shocking collapse in standards” through deregulation.
The number of new social rented homes being built is now at the lowest level since records began.
Shadow housing secretary John Healey said: “After the Grenfell Tower fire Theresa May admitted the Conservatives haven’t given enough attention to social housing.
“After seven years of failure, the Chancellor must use the Budget to tackle the housing crisis.”
Housing charity Shelter highlighted big developers being handed near total control of housebuilding saying they “have little appetite for building affordable homes.”
Labour’s petition can be found at mstar.link/LabourHomes