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Fighting for safety and respect in social housing

If ever we needed a reminder about how local councils can make or break a community – this was it. The devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington was a national disaster – and it’s a story of the local council failing in every respect that counts.

Emma DentKensington MP Emma Dent Coad, right, newly elected after 11 years of service as a local councillor at LB Kensington and Chelsea, has told how tenants’ fears about safety were stonewalled by council officials.

“I have sat in council meetings where comments from leading majority councillors have shown a total lack of empathy or even respect for those not born to a world where basic human comforts and a good education are givens,” Emma Dent Coad wrote in The Guardian.

“I have heard – and noted – comments stating that social tenants should simply move away if they don’t like what they’ve been ‘given’. As if social housing was not a public good but some kind of privilege to which they are not really entitled.” 

Yet people like Emma keep going, standing up for human rights, for decent habitation and basic respect for all. As the death toll at Grenfell Towers continues to rise it is horribly clear that it can be a losing battle. It takes a special kind of Labour activist to hold their own in a Tory-dominated council, where cost-cutting and paring back services are the order of the day.

This is an appropriate time to pay tribute to the work of our three Adur Labour councillors, pictured below from left: Barry Mear (Cokeham), Les Alden (Eastbrook), and Sami Zeglam (St Mary’s).

They don’t command regular headlines in our local papers and much of their work is the meetings, letters and questions that make up routine representation.

Les AldenLes Alden is leader of the small Labour group and he’s issued a statement aiming to give assurance to tenants in Worthing and Adur following the Grenfell Tower fire.

“Following the tragic events in Kensington many tenants will be concerned about their safety. In Adur the tallest council flats are two 6 storey blocks which recently had work on upgraded fire doors and emergency lighting. There is no cladding on these blocks.

Who is checking on private rentals

“The council is responsible for safety in the private sector also and this is where most problems are identified. There are many private sector buildings of up to 6 storey blocks in Adur. They may include private renting. What inspection takes place?”

Les is pressing for a seminar where members can ask questions of the responsible officers.

In the past month there have been three (private rented flat) fires in Worthing with no loss of life, he says.

“In Adur and Worthing there are 80,000 dwellings of which 16,000 are private sector rented. In the last year there were 400 private sector complaints, mostly about fire safety. This resulted in 129 enforcement notices and 3 prohibition notices.”

Sheltered housing is scheduled to have a weekly check on fire alarms and exits.

Les says there are many private sector up to 6 storey blocks in Adur and they may include private renting. “What inspection takes place?” asks Les.

We can be sure he and the rest of the Labour team will keep on asking the question until they get a clear response.

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