Matt Rodda at the count 13 December 2019

Matt Rodda, Labour MP for Reading East, took part in the debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday 21 January to consider the Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report. This had been preceded the day before by the Government’s announcement of a package of reforms to the building safety system.

Reforms to the building safety system

Secretary of state for housing, communities and local government Robert Jenrick MP updated the House of Commons on Monday 20 January about reforms to building safety standards, and said:

The Government are committed to bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation. We took action to address the fire safety risks identified following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and in the autumn we committed to adopting in full the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report.

The measures and proposals included a new building safety regulator within the Health and Safety Executive, reducing the height of new buildings requiring sprinklers to 18 metres, and updated advice for building owners on how they should address a range of safety risks.

Matt Rodda’s contribution to the Grenfell Tower inquiry report debate

Robert Jenrick MP opened the debate to consider the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report.

Matt Rodda paid tribute to families affected by the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June 2017:

I would like to start by paying tribute to the Grenfell families. It is almost impossible for us to imagine what they have been through. Their steadfastness and determination are a wonder to us all, and I pay tribute, from the bottom of my heart, to them, the whole Grenfell community and the firefighters who so bravely served local people on that dreadful day. I thank the Secretary of State for his work and the tone in which he spoke earlier. I concur with the views of many honourable members on both sides of the House.

He expanded on safety issues that remain with lower-rise flats and houses in multiple occupation referring back to when he was a councillor for Katesgrove ward:

… substantial numbers of people in medium-sized towns and cities around the country are living in flats that are four, five, six, seven, eight or nine storeys high that are not covered by some of the issues we have discussed today.

There are other issues with potentially dangerous houses in multiple occupation where terraced houses are divided up into maybe two or three flats. I have seen for myself, as a former local councillor, two or three families living in one terraced house, crammed in, often in very squalid conditions, subject to poor quality housing. There are real issues about the provision of fire safety in those buildings.

He then talked about other types of non-residential buildings that might be unsafe:

We also need to address the very real problems that some members [of parliament] have discussed, or hinted at, regarding other types of buildings, whether they be academic buildings, workplaces, hospitals or schools. A whole range of buildings could contain dangerous cladding in one form or another. We need to address those issues very thoroughly. In the wake of the original disaster, we have had terrible fires in a number of parts of the country, such as the Bolton incident, Barking and several others. These fires could take place across a number of parts of Great Britain, and they deserve to be addressed properly through a suitable scale of response.

He ended with a mention of his constituency:

My town of Reading and the neighbouring small town of Woodley, which also falls largely within the Reading East constituency, are just one small example of many towns and cities across the country where this serious problem exists. Luckily, we have not yet had a disastrous fire, but it could happen at any time. We need urgent and determined action, with central Government in the lead, to tackle this dreadful problem. I urge the Minister to take action on the scale that is needed.

[see context]

There was no vote at the end of this debate.

You can watch the debate on Parliament TV and Matt Rodda’s full speech at just before 6pm.

Fire safety in residential tower blocks in Reading

Reading Borough Council (RBC) published information about tower blocks in Reading after the Grenfell fire. They said:

The fire and rescue service have identified all high rise buildings (over 18m) in the Reading area and are making contact with owners. Where a high rise building is believed to be at heightened risk due to the cladding materials used, they will undertake a full audit of the general fire precautions. They will also programme audits to other buildings (both residential and other uses) where they believe there to be cladding involved to ensure that fire risk assessments, which remain the duty of the responsible person for the building, are up to date and have taken due account of all risks, including the potential flammability of cladding or insulation.

The Council has also sent out information to commercial and residential property agents, private sector letting and managing agents, landlords associations, the University and College and other interested bodies, to help them assess what action they may need to take.

RBC is responsible for seven residential tower blocks over 18 metres tall: three at Wensley Road and four at Granville Road, none of which have aluminium composite (ACM) or plastic cladding.

The Royal Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service also published advice about high-rise living.

Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in Reading

An HMO is a house or flat occupied by three or more people who form two or more households and share amenities. RBC is responsible for licensing HMOs with five or more occupants.

Conversion of a house to a small HMO, with between three and six unrelated occupants, does not usually require planning permission. Within parts of Katesgrove, Redlands and Park ward near the University, planning permission is required because of restrictions placed by an article 4 direction in 2012.

Restrictions on HMOs are not new; in 1638 King Charles I gave a charter to Reading which included measures to prevent building small properties and the subdivision of homes. It said that ‘certain covetous persons, preferring their own private benefit to the public good of the said borough‘ were building cottages and subdividing properties for poor people.

To prevent this, the charter set out:

We [are] therefore seriously advising for the good of the said borough… we do command, and, by there presents, for us, our heirs, and successors, we do declare, that, for ever hereafter, no cottage be erected, no messuage be divided into two tenements, nor two families live asunder in one messuage either so divided or not divided… and if any one presume to offend… he shall incur pains and penalties to be ordained by the mayor, alderman, and assistants of the borough….

  1. Hansard Online
  2. Parliament Online
  3. New measures to improve building safety standards
  4. Register of members interests
  5. Debate – Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report
  6. Fire Safety in Reading Residential Tower Blocks
  7. RFBRS advice about high-rise living
  8. Parliament TV
  9. RBC – Houses in Multiple Occupation
  10. Management of HMOs under the spotlight
  11. MP expenses at the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
  12. Matt Rodda home page, at Hansard and They Work For You