London fire: Corbyn calls for empty flats to be requisitioned

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Media caption,
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited the site and spoke to locals

Empty flats in North Kensington should be "requisitioned if necessary" for people left homeless by the Grenfell Tower fire, Jeremy Corbyn says.

The Labour leader has also said he is "very angry" that so many lives were lost in a deadly tower block fire.

PM Theresa May said the residents were "in our thoughts and prayers" and has ordered a public inquiry into the fire.

But she was criticised by a senior Labour MP for failing to meet residents when she visited the scene on Thursday.

At least 17 people died in the disaster at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, west London in the early hours of Wednesday.

Mr Corbyn, who earlier released a statement saying he was "very angry that it was possible for the fire to spread in the way it did," said people living in high-rise flats would be frightened following the Grenfell Tower disaster and needed answers to give them "peace of mind".

And he told MPs on Thursday: "The south part of Kensington is incredibly wealthy, it's the wealthiest part of the country.

"The ward where this fire took place is, I think the poorest ward in the whole country.

"And properties must be found, requisitioned if necessary, in order to make sure those residents do get re-housed locally.

"It cannot be acceptable that in London you have luxury buildings and luxury flats kept as land banking for the future while the homeless and the poor look for somewhere to live."

'No shortcuts'

Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid promised the government would "act immediately" and will do "whatever is required", even if it costs billions of pounds.

Asked if this could include high rise blocks being knocked down, he said: "I think there's no place that we can't go now to make properties safe in terms of learning from this."

But Mr Javid stressed that the government's response must be led by evidence from the fire investigators' report.

Media caption,
Communities minister Sajid Javid tells Today the Grenfell Tower fire should not have happened

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "Whatever they tell us, that is exactly what we need to deal with and we need to deal with it immediately - there will be no bars to that. We will deal with it, but we have to be led by the expert opinion on this."

Asked whether dealing with the findings would include evacuating other buildings, Mr Javid said: "Whatever they tell us is necessary to make those people safe, there can be no shortcuts to this."

Khan's 'shared anger'

Mrs May met police and firefighters at a private visit to the site but was not seen speaking to residents who survived the fire. Mr Corbyn was pictured speaking to local people.

Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was heckled by some angry residents at the scene when he visited.

Mr Khan praised the local community spirit but added: "People are angry and I share that anger."

Downing Street said that Mrs May's visit was made to get a briefing from the emergency services to ensure that they had the resources they needed.

But Labour's former deputy leader Harriet Harman wrote on Twitter: "Theresa May should have met Grenfell fire residents. She should have been prepared to listen to them Not OK to speak at them via TV."

'National tragedy'

The prime minister has praised the way the local community had supported the residents and praised the "professionalism and bravery" of the emergency services.

She pledged that the government "stands ready to provide every assistance" to the council and emergency services.

"I want to reassure the residents of Grenfell Tower - all of whom are in our thoughts and prayers - that the government will make every effort to make sure that they are re-housed in London and as close as possible to home."

She has ordered a judge-led public inquiry into the disaster. Ministers have also made emergency funding available to local authorities to support people affected.

But MPs demanded answers in a specially-arranged session in Westminster Hall on Thursday, while Parliament is still suspended.

Image source, PA

At the start of the special meeting in Westminster's Grand Committee Room, Fire Minister Nick Hurd said: "What we are dealing with here is a national tragedy."

He said the "exceptionally complex" investigation would take several months, and there would be no room for "plodding bureaucracy" in the official response.

"It is the intention of the government to leave absolutely no stone unturned," he said.

Image source, House of Commons
Image caption,
Only part of the specially-arranged meeting was filmed by the Commons authorities

Answers were needed about fire walls, sprinkler systems, the alarm system and how the fire spread, he said.

"Every single person living in a high-rise building today will be frightened, will be traumatised and will be very, very worried."

Shadow housing minister John Healey urged ministers to begin installing sprinkler systems immediately and not to wait for the result of the public inquiry.

The new housing minister, Alok Sharma, said he too had heard accounts of residents who said they had warned about fire safety.

The government was talking to councils and housing associations about getting checks on other buildings done quickly, he said.

At the end of the meeting, he promised "every single family" would be re-housed in the local area.

Image source, AFP/Getty
Image caption,
Theresa May spoke to emergency workers when she visited the scene

Earlier Theresa May ordered a full public inquiry, "to ensure that this terrible tragedy is properly investigated".

Labour is calling for measures recommended after another fatal fire in 2009 to be implemented immediately.

Recommendations made after a fire in a tower block in Lakanal House in Camberwell in which six people died included installing sprinkler systems in high-risk buildings and reviewing building regulations.

In October the former Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, said the government had "publicly committed" to reviewing building regulations in relation to fire safety after the Lakanal House fire.

Mr Healey said this review had "not been started".

Media caption,
London fire: PM orders full public inquiry

"The residents and others have some really serious questions to put to ministers and the people who run the building," he said.

Responding to reports, the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was "simply not true" that a report about building regulations had been "sat on".

The BBC understands the Lord Chief Justice will make a recommendation to the prime minister of a judge to chair the inquiry.

He or she will be independent from the government and able to call who they want as a witness.

The Liberal Democrats have called for an urgent review into fire safety and building regulations.

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