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Theresa May's new chief of staff under pressure over tower block fire

Theresa May's new chief of staff under pressure over tower block fire
3 min read

A former housing minister who became Theresa May's chief of staff after losing his seat in the election is coming under pressure over a devastating tower block fire. 

Gavin Barwell held the post until he was deposed as Tory MP for Croydon Central last Thursday.

He was given the powerful Downing Street role over the weekend after the previous joint-chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, resigned.

Experts said Mr Barwell was one of a number of housing ministers who failed to act on calls to tighten up fire safety regulations following another major blaze eight years ago.

Six people died and more than 20 were hurt after a fire at Lakanal House, a block of flats in Camberwell, south London, in 2009.

At least six people have so far perished in a fire at Grenfell Tower in west London, with the number expected to rise.

According to the Fire Risk Management Journal, Mr Barwell said last year that the Government was reviewing part B of the Building Regulations 2010 in the wake of the Lakanal House fire.

On radio station LBC this morning, Ronnie King, the honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety, said: "We understand that there are around 4,000 tower blocks that don't have fire sprinklers fitted into them.

"That was a recommendation, which was down to each local council and landlords to determine the appropriateness of this. We were strongly recommending this as the fire at Lakanal House spread within four minutes to the flat above and went on to kill six people regrettably.

"Our group recommended that due to the speed that the fire spread in Lakanal House, that building regulations should be reviewed. It's nearly 11 years since it has been reviewed. Successive ministers since 2013 have said they are still looking at it."

He added: "Mr Barwell said he was still looking at it and was preparing to meet with the all-party group. That's when the election was called and the meeting never happened."

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone told BBC Radio 5Live: "We need to re-examine all these buildings, 50 years on it's a very different world. They were built at a time when everyone was madly in love with great big tall buildings. But I think that the risk is worse now than it was then. We need very much tougher regulation."

Fire Minister Nick Hurd will chair a cross-departmental meeting this afternoon to coordinate the Government’s response.

A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in the Grenfell Tower and is being kept constantly updated on the situation.

“She has asked for a cross-Government meeting at the Civil Contingencies Secretariat to take place at 4pm to co-ordinate the response and ensure the Government is ready to assist the emergency services and local authorities as necessary.

“The PM’s thoughts are with all of those affected by this terrible incident and the emergency services, who are working tirelessly in very difficult circumstances.”

Meanwhile, it is thought that announcements expected today on the outcome of talks on a Tory/DUP pact have been delayed as a result of the fire.

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