The Grenfell story rumbles on, dominating housing news, as it will do I suspect for many months.
The Grenfell Judge
One aspect which causes me some concern is the criticism of the former Judge, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, and calls for his replacement apparently on the basis that he appears unemotional, has an upper-middle-class background, and once decided a housing case in 2014 in a way people don’t like.
However, as he said in the meeting on Thursday, how he deals with the inquiry depends on his terms of reference. Just because he doesn’t go around flinging his arms around residents and bursting into tears doesn’t mean that he won’t do a perfectly good job looking into the cause of the fire.
Judges don’t do emotion. After all we have Jeremy Corbyn and David Lammy for that.
It is possible that there may be corruption at the heart of this matter and if there is, an unemotional Judge is the best person to hunt this out and dig out the evidence needed for prosecutions.
It probably would have been better, on reflection, to choose someone who has more personal experience with social housing but maybe there wasn’t anyone. Retired Judges available for inquiries who grew up on Council estates are not two a penny.
I am also concerned about our new Chancellor, David Lidington’s stance on this. I haven’t seen many reports of him defending Sir Martin apart from a rather short statement on the gov.uk website. Is he going to be another Liz Truss?
Legal Aid and Grenfell
Another story picked up by Giles Peaker on Nearly Legal is the widely held view that legal aid cuts prevented the Grenfell Tower tenants from challenging the Council on the unsatisfactory improvement works to the tower.
However although cuts in legal aid are to be deplored, they did not really impact specifically on the Grenfell situation as that was not something that legal aid had previously been available for.
the matters that the Grenfell residents were seeking to raise and seeking legal help for were not covered by legal aid because there was no legal mechanism to do so. They were told they could not get legal aid, I strongly suspect, because there was nothing that a solicitor could do at that point.
You can’t expect the press to get these things right but you do expect the Lord Chancellor to. However he is reported as saying:
The Legal Aid Agency advice so far is that they have no record of the Grenfell Action Group (or tenants) having applied for legal aid.”
But as Gile says –
why go on about the LAA having checked for any applications by Grenfell residents? They wouldn’t apply anyway, a solicitor would. And the solicitor would only if there was a matter for which legal aid would be granted. Which, as we have seen, there wasn’t.
Why oh why can’t we have a Lord Chancellor who is a proper lawyer?
Re-housing the Grenfell Survivors
However although this is understandably distressing for the families and we all have every sympathy with them – you can’t magic up houses which don’t exist.
There has been a chronic shortage of affordable housing in London for decades. It’s just not possible to expect to be able to re-house large numbers of families in central London within three weeks.
Other equally deserving families have been waiting for years.
This all goes back to the lack of social housing generally which Ben and I have written about regularly on this blog in the past.
One months deposit
Turning to the tenant fee ban, reports are now coming out saying that the government’s plans to limit deposits to one month’s rent only will discourage people from letting to tenants with pets.
Pets are important to people and there is evidence that having a pet can have enormously benefit effects on, for example people living on their own particularly the elderly.
However there is no doubt that some pets can do a lot of damage and naturally this is of concern to landlords. Hopefully this aspect will be considered carefully by the government.
Ex gov’t advisor on tax
Landlords will be pleased to read this report in the Telegraph about ex Bank of England policy maker David Miles who has said that government tax rules for landlords are ‘profoundly wrongheaded’.
“Making rental property more expensive, as is very likely if you reduce the attractiveness to suppliers of rented property, if a side effect of that is to make rents even higher, it is very hard to see that as helping the people who you are trying to help become homeowners.”
I still think it is unlikely that the government will do anything about it just now though. They have too much else on their plate and unlike the tenant fee ban issue, it is not a ‘crowd pleaser’.
What made me smile this week
It seems that the ancient romans knew a thing of two about concrete. A report in the guardian shows that ancient concrete in structures built by romans gets stronger over time whereas modern concrete develops cracks and degenerates.
So builders are now considering going back in time and using ancient concrete recipes! What else did the ancients do better than us I wonder? (Answers on a postcard …).