Government partially to blame for Grenfell fire tragedy, Gove admits

Politics

The government is partially to blame for the Grenfell Tower tragedy because of “faulty and ambiguous” government guidance, Michael Gove has said.

The housing secretary added the guidance allowed “unscrupulous people to exploit a broken system in a way that led to tragedy”.

He made the admission in an interview with The Sunday Times as he placed a deadline on unsafe blocks.

The fire at the residential tower block in North Kensington, west London, in June 2017 killed 72 people and triggered a public inquiry.

The inquiry, chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is yet to deliver its final report,

Evidence to the inquiry showed official guidance was widely seen to allow highly flammable cladding on tall buildings.

When asked if accepted the rules were wrong Mr Gove replied: “Yes.

“There was a system of regulation that was faulty. The government did not think hard enough, or police effectively enough, the whole system of building safety. Undoubtedly.”

“I believe that (the guidance) was so faulty and ambiguous that it allowed unscrupulous people to exploit a broken system in a way that led to tragedy,” Mr Gove added.

It comes after the inquiry’s final hearing in November heard that firms appeared to have used the inquiry to “position themselves for any legal proceedings” that may follow it, instead of showing remorse.

Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove leaving Downing Street, London, after a Cabinet meeting. Picture date: Tuesday January 17, 2023.
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Michael Gove has admitted guidance was ‘faulty and ambiguous’

In closing submissions, lead counsel Richard Millett KC accused companies of a “merry go round of buck-passing” in order to protect their own interests.

On Monday, the housing secretary will announce a six-week deadline for developers to sign a government contract to fix their unsafe towers – or be banned from the market.

“Those who haven’t (signed) will face consequences. They will not be able to build new homes,” Mr Gove added.

The minister will use the so-called “responsible actor scheme”, to be established in the spring, to block such companies from getting planning or building control approval.

Sky News learnt that major companies including Barratt Developments and Persimmon are preparing for the imminent signing of a legally binding contract with the government that could ultimately cost the industry £5bn or more.

One executive said they expected the final contract to be signed and unveiled as soon as next week, although they cautioned that the timing remained fluid.

Read more:
Council’s ‘chaotic’ response was ‘severely damaging’ for survivors, inquiry hears
Grenfell survivor still ‘drives home’ to the ‘vertical village’ five years after the blaze
Almost 1,500 children treated for trauma over Grenfell disaster

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Grenfell: ‘We’ll fight to the end’

Last year, dozens of developers signed a pledge to fix buildings constructed since the early 1990s, with revisions to the deal with government in recent weeks having focused on the scope of companies’ exposure.

The Grenfell inquiry heard many of the companies involved in the tragedy have failed to accept blame for their role in the events prior to the disaster, showing what Mr Millett called a “lack of respect” for the victims and their families.

The inquiry also heard from Jason Beer KC, for the department of levelling up, housing and communities, who said the department “apologises unreservedly” for its failure to recognise weaknesses in the regulatory system.

“The department recognises that it failed to appreciate it held an important stewardship role over the regime and that as a result it failed to grasp the opportunities to assess whether the system was working as intended,” he said.

“For the department’s failure to realise that the regulatory system was broken and that it might lead to a catastrophe such as this, the department is truly sorry and apologises unreservedly.”

Concluding the hearing, inquiry chairman Sir Martin said the panel had already started working on its final report and promised to produce it “as soon as we can”.

Michael Gove will be appearing on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme on Sky News from 8.30am this morning.

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