A weekly round-up of the most important headlines for housing professionals
Politics dominated the early part of this week. Following an underwhelming showing for Labour in the recent local elections, Sir Keir Starmer undertook a reshuffle of his shadow cabinet. A spat with deputy leader Angela Rayner dominated the national headlines – but housing professionals will have been more intrigued by a swap in the housing brief.
Previous incumbent Thangam Debbonaire was moved to become shadow leader of the house after just over a year in the role of housing secretary and replaced by Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell. Ms Powell has been a vocal campaigner on the building safety crisis, with her constituency among the worst affected in the country.
For a rundown of the implications for housing in some of the highest-profile elections, see Inside Housing’s briefing. Also noteworthy was the surprise victory for Labour’s Nik Johnson in the Cambridge and Peterborough mayoral election, ousting Conservative James Palmer. The government had criticised Mr Palmer for his handling of housing funding, so the result could have practical implications for providers in the region that we will be watching closely.
Then came the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday, in which the government laid out its legislative plans for the new parliamentary session. There were few major surprises, with the heavily trailed (but politically thorny) Planning Bill receiving a mention, and the Building Safety Bill getting into its third Queen’s Speech. Perhaps more interesting was what didn’t feature. To the chagrin of survivors of the Grenfell fire, there was no commitment to a social housing bill implementing the white paper proposals from October – although background documents did promise to legislate “as soon as possible”.
There was an update on the government’s plan to protect renters over the coming months. Ministers announced that the six-month eviction notice periods currently in place for most tenants will be cut to four months from June – and then cut again to two months from October, in line with pre-pandemic rules. The National Housing Federation was among those to call for longer notice periods to stay in place beyond that date.
More details emerged about the New Providence Wharf fire in east London last Friday – where 42 people had to be treated as the blaze spread across multiple floors. The affected block is still covered in Grenfell-style cladding, though this does not appear to have played a role. However, Inside Housing revealed that the building’s smoke detection had failed, meaning communal fire doors did not close to stop fumes travelling between storeys.
Shocking revelations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry continued to come thick and fast this week. The inquiry was taking evidence from Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), which owned the block, and its ALMO. On Monday, the inquiry heard that the council’s head of housing at the time had said “no” to a fire brigade call for self-closers to be installed in fire doors across its housing stock. The day after, it emerged that the same person had requested a tenancy status check on a resident who had raised concerns about services.
But RBKC was not the only London local authority in the news for the wrong reasons this week.
First, a consultancy report for Croydon Council’s housing service found it had failed “to deliver even basic ‘core’ housing services effectively”, with a lack of competence and “care and respect for residents” major concerns. That report was commissioned after an ITV News investigation found walls black from mould and carpets sodden from leaks in one of the council’s tower blocks.
And it emerged that another two boroughs – Lambeth and Enfield – are under investigation by the Housing Ombudsman for failing to comply with new complaint-handling failure orders.
Today, Inside Housing revealed that the sister block of Lakanal House in Southwark, where a fire killed six people in 2009, was served with a deficiency notice by the London Fire Brigade in December.
Separately, charities were warning this week that councils are still failing to provide emergency accommodation during the pandemic to rough sleepers who would not normally be eligible, despite a recent High Court ruling that they can do so.
Taking these stories together, it’s tempting to wonder whether some local authorities might be rather fortunate that a social housing bill was not on Her Majesty’s list.
Nathaniel Barker, deputy news editor
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