Karen Buck

Working tirelessly for Westminster North

Karen Buck MP

News

Dear Resident

The horrific events at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington have shocked the country. We have been united in grief and so many have been moved to acts of great generosity and compassion. These events however have underlined deep social divides that are clearly recognisable here in neighbouring Westminster, and that are now, finally and rightly, becoming part of our national conversation.

The first priority is to make absolutely certain of the safety of the many thousands of people living in other tower blocks, and to reassure those residents who are understandably anxious.

Since last Wednesday, I and local Councillors have been talking to Westminster Council officers and City West Homes (CWH) staff about a number of key issues and focusing on getting answers communicated to residents by the Council and CWH.

1. Seeking clarity on the advice about whether to stay or go in the event of a fire

At present the advice to residents of high-rise blocks from the fire service and Council remains unchanged but this must be resolved and clarified as a matter of great urgency across the country. If the advice changes then the Council and CWH must rapidly install communal fire alarms in all its blocks.

2. Getting answers about the cladding of Westminster’s tower blocks

As events unfolded it quickly became clear that the cladding at Grenfell may have been contributed to the disaster and that the same company was involved in installing cladding on the Warwick and Brindley Estates in Westbourne Ward.  The Council must urgently investigate the safety of the cladding on all Westminster’s tower blocks, and residents, councillors and I told which independent investigators are appointed by Westminster to do this work.

Westminster Council has informed residents that all fire and building regulation standards have been met regarding the Warwick and Brindley cladding and that the type of cladding used appears to have been different to that used at Grenfell Tower. However, it is imperative that independent investigators confirm, as a matter of urgency, that the materials used on these towers and other blocks are both safe and correctly installed. This includes confirming that there is no cavity between the cladding and the concrete, and examining the safety of external decking put up on some of the blocks. These checks must be done as quickly as possible to provide reassurance or facilitate urgent action to help ease the worries of residents. If action is required to alter or remove the cladding on the Warwick or Brindley towers or any others in Westminster it is important that leaseholders, who faced huge bills for the installation of the cladding, are not made to pay yet again.

3. Improving fire safety: The provision of sprinklers and secondary means of escape

We need clear information about whether any of Westminster’s council-owned tower blocks currently have sprinkler systems installed. From what is known, and the fact that such systems were not mandatory on new buildings until after 2007, it is clear that there needs to be work urgently done to retrofit sprinklers to all of Westminster’s tower blocks. The council should move forward with such plans (as Croydon Council have already announced) and they have said they are looking into this. It must be done as a matter of urgency. There needs to be further work done to investigate the feasibility of the installation of secondary emergency staircases in blocks to provide an alternative method of exit.  I have written to Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to call for the government to provide resources to assist Westminster and other local authorities to do this.

Understanding who is living in our blocks

Over recent months Councillors have raised concerns about the lack of information the Council and CWH hold about the people living in their blocks, while I have been actively campaigning against illegal short-term lets. Many flats in CWH blocks are owned by Housing Associations and private landlords who often fail to provide CWH with up-to-date information about their tenants. The tragic events at Grenfell show that this is extremely important work which must be prioritised. Housing associations must improve their reporting and the Council’s legal team must look at what can be done to require private landlords to provide accurate information.

4. Fire safety standards in leasehold flats

Many flats in Westminster blocks are privately-owned and then let out as private tenancies. Issues around the enforcement of fire safety standards in leasehold flats, including those that are short-let, have been raised for some time. Questions have asked about what can be done to ensure all leaseholders comply with the safety standards expected of tenanted properties- in particular, whether action can be taken to ensure that appropriate fire doors are fitted in these flats, required by law in Council-owned properties. The Council must provide advice and support to leaseholders about some of the long-term implications of the tragedy for their properties.

5. Rubbish dumping

While the issue of the dumping of potentially flammable material does not seem to have been a factor in the Grenfell tragedy it remains a significant fire risk on our estates. In recent months, local Councillors have been working with residents to push for a swifter response from CWH cleaning teams to remove hazardous materials that are dumped, particularly at weekends, when most CWH staff are not on duty.

6. Meeting housing need

The immediate priority is to get answers to these and other questions to ensure our residents are kept safe. However, far too many people are living in over-crowded or unsuitable, and in some cases, poor quality, homes in inner London. Increasingly, homelessness now means being moved many miles away from local schools and community support. After the immediate crisis is over, and safety is guaranteed, the Government must look again at what is causing inner London’s housing crisis and commit to providing the help needed to resolve it.

I hope this is helpful and I will do my best to keep you informed of any developments.

 

Yours sincerely

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Karen Buck MP

 

buckk@parliament.uk

020 8968 7999 

My letter to residents regarding Westminster towers

Dear Resident The horrific events at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington have shocked the country. We have been united in grief and so many have been moved to acts of...

I'm thrilled to have the support of the amazing Tony Robinson before tomorrow's election.

Tony Robinson Endorsement Video

I'm thrilled to have the support of the amazing Tony Robinson before tomorrow's election. pic.twitter.com/BJM3E5Ca3i — Karen Buck (@KarenPBuckMP) June 7, 2017

014_buck_karen.jpgIt’s about our future relationship with Europe- but much more besides

 

Here in Westminster North, electors voted to ‘remain’ by a margin of more than two to one. Since then local people have never stopped expressing their concerns to me- about the risk to jobs, businesses and prosperity of a ‘hard Brexit’ or, worse, ending up in 2 years with no deal at all, facing tariffs and other trade barriers with our nearest neighbours and biggest trade partner. I think Brexit- and in particular the most extreme and damaging version now being pushed- out of the single market, out of the customs union- is bad for our economy and our country. I understand, too, the reasons that drove many people to vote 'leave'- but of course no-one, whichever side they were on last year, voted to be poorer as a result.

Many people have been horrified by the plight of EU residents here and Britons living in Europe, who have built their lives on a foundation that’s now been removed from under them. These people should not become ‘bargaining chips’ in the EU negotiations. They deserve to have their positions settled as a matter of urgency. Sadly, there has also been a rise in hate crime and intolerance since last year; totally out of keeping with our values as an open, safe and diverse city, and that is something we can unite against and declare wholly unacceptable.

I voted against the triggering of the Article 50 Bill in Parliament because I was not prepared to accept the risks that Brexit poses for local people, who had, after all, decisively rejected this outcome.

Since the referendum I have also been supporting the case for:

  • Maintenance of barrier-free access to the single market;
  • Retaining all the rights - workers’, environmental and human - we currently enjoy as members of the EU;
  • The rights of EU residents in this country;
  • A close, collaborative future partnership with the EU;
  • A meaningful vote on the final deal at the end of the Article 50 negotiations- not a ‘take it or leave it’ vote which is no real choice

The Tories used their Commons majority to vote down our amendments to the Article 50 Bill, but I will continue to press these demands and to oppose a hard Brexit. 

Let be me clear, if the deal which will be negotiated over the coming 2 years does not deliver for the people of this country I will vote against it.

I’m willing to fight this election on the question of Europe and the crucial importance of not allowing what happens next to be waved through Parliament by an anti-European Conservative party.

But I also want it to be about more than that.

A society such as ours should be able to guarantee a decent quality of life for all and to make the investment- in educating our young people as much as in homes and transport- which will lay the foundations for the future. Of course, as the Conservatives have already threatened, turning us into a global tax haven and slashing protection for workers and consumers will permanently cut our ability to deliver decent services and support for the vulnerable. We must not go down that path. But even before we face any such choices, there are still decisions we can make about which way we want to go as a country.

Spending cuts hit schools for the first time in decades

Government plans to move education funding away from London, together with a funding squeeze overall, will take £7 million out of Westminster school budgets. Not every school is equally hard hit but many primary and secondary schools will lose huge sums. Westminster secondary school heads have written to me to warn, “many of the gains made in Westminster Schools will be at risk”.

London’s deepening housing crisis

Homelessness has risen 130% since 2010. That was not inevitable - in the previous ten years under Labour it fell by three quarters. But this is only the worst symptom of the housing crisis, which sees developers building luxury blocks for sale overseas, while local people cannot afford to rent or buy anything in the borough.

The government will not build affordable homes, will not give meaningful help to lower income people seeking to get onto the housing ladder and will not tackle the high rents and low standards in the private rented sector. All around we can see evidence of luxury flats under construction whilst long-term residents, including many doing the work that keeps the city going, are being priced out.

Our health and social care services

This has been the worst winter for the NHS in many years, as it suffers the biggest financial squeeze in its history. The Imperial Hospital Trust was deeply in deficit in 2016, and I am hearing more and more stories of lengthening waits and cancellations. The deep cuts to social care for elderly and disabled people - down by a third in Westminster - are trapping people in hospitals who should be able to be cared for at home, and this has backed up into problems across the whole hospital service.

And there are lots of specific local issues too.

As your MP I have never stopped campaigning and assisting local people with their concerns. In the last year alone I have responded to over 6000 problems or policy enquiries. And in the last two years I have worked on issues from the threatened closure of St John’s Wood Post Office to the ending of all council funding for Westminster’s youth service and after-school clubs, from fly-tipping to air quality, from basement excavations to the impact of short-lets and from support for our Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams to help for people facing the loss of disability benefits.

I’ll be out talking to residents from now till polling day, but you don’t have to wait until I knock on your door, though. Let me know about what matters most to you - I’ll be pleased to hear from you!

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Karen Buck MP

Get involved in Westminster North

What this election is about

It’s about our future relationship with Europe- but much more besides   Here in Westminster North, electors voted to ‘remain’ by a margin of more than two to one. Since...


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