“Human rights commission to launch its own Grenfell fire inquiry”

Britain’s human rights watchdog is to launch an inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire that will examine whether the government and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea failed in their duties to protect life and provide safe housing.

The dramatic intervention by the independent Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has the potential to draw damning conclusions about the role of the state, could foreshadow the official inquiry, ordered by Theresa May and chaired by retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, which has been criticised for excluding social housing policy from its remit. The commission’s recommendations are due to be published in April, considerably earlier than the official inquiry’s full findings.

The commission’s chair, David Isaac, said the EHRC, whose application to become a core participant in the official inquiry was rejected, had decided to launch its own inquiry amid concerns that key questions – including the extent to which the state has “a duty to protect its citizens”– were being neglected. While acknowledging that the move might be seen as “controversial” in some quarters, he defended the commission’s decision to become involved.

Six months on, Grenfell Tower fire survivors are left demanding answers
“We are the UK’s national human rights body and we have a statutory duty to promote equality and human rights,” Isaac said in an interview with the Observer. “We think the human rights dimension to Grenfell Tower is absolutely fundamental and is currently overlooked. Grenfell for most people in this country, particularly in the way the government has reacted, is a pretty defining moment in terms of how inequality is perceived.”

He recalled his reaction to the tragic events of 14 June. “Like everybody else, it was shock, horror, distress. I think it was a national moment that defined how certain parts of society experience the state’s public provision of housing and also how the state responds. We need to learn from what’s happened with Grenfell, look at it in the context of our human rights obligations, and think about how we can improve. There are loads of lessons to be learned.”

Last week it emerged that four out of every five families who were made homeless in the fire are still looking for new housing, with almost half of them likely to spend Christmas in emergency accommodation.

The EHRC inquiry, which will involve a panel of legal experts, will pay particular attention to the UK’s obligations to the tower’s residents under the Human Rights Act and international law. At a time when some want the act scrapped, the inquiry’s actions could be viewed as provocative.

“Human rights are for everybody,” Isaac said. “This is political and I know there is a view among some politicians, but also among society more generally, that human rights only protect extremists and terrorists but that isn’t the case at all. I always talk about Hillsborough as a really good example of where the Human Rights Act and the human rights lens has been used effectively to ensure justice prevailed.”

In a statement to be published on its website tomorrow, explaining its decision to launch what it refers to as its “project”, the EHRC will say: “The Grenfell Tower fire caused catastrophic loss of life for which the state may have been responsible. More than 70 people died in homes managed by the state. They should have been safe and they were not. The people who died and others affected by the fire come from diverse backgrounds. They include children, elderly people, disabled people and migrants. …

… The commission’s decision to examine the Grenfell Tower fire reflects a more muscular approach to addressing human rights and equality issues. Recently it has brought a number of high-profile legal actions and launched several major inquiries, such as that into the gender pay gap.

Isaac said: “We are a more confident organisation and this is a good example of us being that – holding the government to account by doing what only we can do. It might be perceived to be controversial but I believe that’s our role.””

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/09/human-rights-commission-to-launch-own-grenfell-fire-inquiry

Swire’s new preoccupation and Owl bets you would NOT have guessed it!

“Written Answers – Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Seahorses: Smuggling (8 Dec 2017)

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2017-11-30.116795.h&s=speaker%3A11265#g116795.q0

Hugo Swire:

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, how many prosecutions have taken place for the illegal sale of seahorses in the last five years.”

HONESTLY OWL HAS NOT MADE THIS UP!

Devon/Somerset devolution: DCC Tories and Labour votes Yes on deal that scrutiny committee savaged

From the blog of EDA Councillor Martin Shaw:

“Most Labour members joined the Conservative majority on Thursday in voting down my amendment for the County Council to revisit its controversial ‘devolution’ proposals to join Devon with Somerset in the so-called Heart of the South West, first in a formal Joint Committee and then (envisaged but not proposed at this stage) in a Combined Authority. I argued that the proposals for an extra layer of bureaucracy have no democratic consent – they were not even in the Conservatives’ Devon manifesto last May.

I argued that we were being asked to support ‘a regional economic strategy that doesn’t add up to a government which doesn’t know what it’s doing about devolution, and for this we’re prepared to enter a half-baked new constitutional arrangement which will probably have to be scrapped as soon as a more rational government devolution policy is devised.’

Six of Labour’s Exeter members followed the line of Exeter City Council which is joining the Tory-run County and district councils in supporting the current devolution proposals (one abstained). They believe that Exeter’s economy will gain from the (currently unknown) amount of money the devolution bid will gain from government (which of course will be giving back a small proportion of the money it is currently taking from services). I argued that the plan does not have a viable economic strategy behind it, and that rural, coastal and small-town Devon stands to gain virtually nothing from it.

Liberal Democrat and Green councillors joined Independents in voting for my amendment. The webcast will be available here:

https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/305858”

Labour joins Tories at Devon County Council to support joint ‘devolution’ with Somerset, against Independent, Lib Dem and Green opposition

“Angry homebuyers plan class-action lawsuit against Bovis”

One of the examples cited in the article is from Cranbrook. See last paragraph of this post. Though most problems in this area seem to centre on Axminster.

Bovis Homes, one of Britain’s biggest housebuilders, faces a potential class-action lawsuit from a group of buyers who accuse it of selling houses riddled with defects.

Puneet Verma bought a five-bedroom house with his wife for £485,000 in Milton Keynes two years ago but says he still has a list of 120 snags. He is now consulting two law firms, Leigh Day and Slater & Gordon, about taking group action.

“I have had a survey done by a chartered surveyor that categorically states the workmanship is extremely poor and that Bovis is not in compliance with building regulations,” Verma says. “Bovis has treated, and continues to treat, its customers appallingly and now the only way to get our problems resolved is to take legal action.”

Verma is aiming to raise a £100,000 fund through a £100 contribution per homeowner, assuming 1,000 of the 2,500-strong Bovis Homes Victims group on Facebook sign up.

It has been almost a year since the housebuilder issued a profit warning and was accused of paying thousands of pounds in cash incentives to get buyers to move into unfinished homes. As the scandal widened, the company set aside £7m to fix defects and appointed a new chief executive.

A year on, some Bovis homeowners say they will be spending Christmas in houses that are riddled with faults, including leaks, moving and creaking floors, lack of insulation and sewage backups, as well coping with shoddy workmanship.

Ian Tyler, the chairman of Bovis, apologised to buyers in May for “letting them down” and admitted the firm had been cutting corners to hit ambitious targets. The company says it slowed production to iron out build problems, retrained sales staff and set up an advisory homebuyers panel, which has met once.

Dave Howard, who set up the Facebook group with his wife, Ann, and who sits on the panel, doubts whether Bovis has made any progress on improving build standards and customer service. He claims homeowners who report problems are being referred to the National House Building Council (NHBC), the standard-setting body and main home construction warranty provider for new-builds in the UK. But in the first two years after purchase the housebuilder is responsible for rectifying defects.

“We have had constructive contact with the new customer experience director, but there are too many people hitting brick walls with Bovis and NHBC,” Howard says. “Some new customers have had better experiences but that seems to have slipped too.”

Bovis says: “We have made significant changes to how we operate in 2017 and a growing majority of our customers would now recommend us to family and friends.

“We remain determined to make things right for customers who raise warranty items and apologise to those to whom we have not previously delivered the high levels of quality and service they rightly expected.” …”

[The article concludes with several examples of bad workmanship in various parts of the country including this one] …

Pete Oldham and his wife, a retired couple, bought a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Cranbrook, Devon, for £234,995 in December 2015. “All the floors move,” Oldham says. “When you walk into a room the furniture moves. They haven’t fitted things properly but are in denial.” He says the floor joists should be 400mm apart, not 600mm. There has been a breakdown in communication with Bovis and he has been referred to NHBC.”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/dec/09/bovis-homebuyers-class-action-lawsuit-property-defects

Exmouth: Christmas market with not much Christmas spirit?

”There’s been mixed reaction to the “cracking” Christmas market, which took place at Exmouth Ocean on Sunday, December 3. Some visitors enjoyed the event, describing it as ‘an enjoyable day’, ‘fab’ and ‘a lovely time’. But others said it was a ‘health and safety nightmare’, with ‘no emergency procedure for elderly, infirm or young mothers’. One visitor went further, saying they thought the people of Exmouth had been ‘shortchanged’, and describing the event as a ‘creaking Christmas market’.

In response, LED, which organised the event, has admitted that the market had “a few teething problems”, but say that for its first event of this nature “about 5,000 people attended what was generally perceived to be a great event”.

The ‘cracking’ Christmas Market, with additional entertainment provided by Exmouth Town Council, was promoted as a replacement for the cancelled Christmas Cracker. With entertainment on other floors, the market itself took place on the top-floor Ocean Suite and outside terraces.

Visitors found there were problems with access to the market, as there was only one small lift, reserved for those with limited mobility and mothers with buggies. Consequently the stairs became clogged and LED staff restricted the numbers who were allowed in. At times it’s understood that crowds were three deep on the stairs, and the lift broke down, allegedly trapping a person in a wheelchair.

Visitors took to social media to praise and criticise the event. One community group described the event as ‘a really enjoyable day’, and that customers were ‘generous and appreciative’. Other comments included ‘fab’ and ‘a fun day’. However, one visitor, who did not wish to be named, was unhappy, flagging up over-crowding, uninspired stalls and mulled wine – served by LED – that was cold. It was not a particularly inspired craft market with nothing to distinguish it as a Christmas event. The bar was offering a festive menu, but when you’ve got cold mulled wine, how festive is that? “I think it was very sad. The people of Exmouth have been short-changed. A cracking Christmas market? More like a creaking Christmas market!”

LED Leisure has defended its festive offering, saying it was a ‘super event for Exmouth’. “In response to the few negative comments that have been received by the Journal, LED Leisure welcomes constructive criticism as an opportunity to improve,” said Peter Gilpin, chief executive officer, LED Leisure. “As our first event of this nature, it was probably inevitable that there would be a few teething problems. Despite these few problems, about 5,000 people attended what was generally perceived to be a great event – so no wonder there were queues to get in at some times of the day!

“We received many compliments from visitors, who despite the wait loved the Christmas gifts, sweets, music and entertainment. Between them, Ocean and the Pavilion had over 90 stalls, including some that were accommodated from the cancelled Christmas Cracker event from the Strand, at fairly late notice. Stall holders were also very complimentary – they were busy all day!”

Mr Gilpin also thanked Lisa Hamer, Janette Cass and their respective teams at Ocean and the Pavilion ‘for putting on what I think was, overall, a super event for Exmouth – 5,000 people having a great time on Exmouth seafront in December; whatever next?!’ “

http://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/mixed-reaction-to-exmouth-s-cracking-christmas-market-1-5310426

“The Guardian view on social housing: time to fight for affordable rents”

“ …On Friday the specialist journal Inside Housing published research that showed a new and significant factor behind the sharp rise in the numbers relying on emergency support.

The right to buy, first introduced in 1980, already abandoned in Scotland and soon in Wales, was successfully reinvigorated in England by David Cameron five years ago. It has been a boon to the buy-to-let market and a curse on councils that find themselves renting them back at hugely inflated cost.

Soaring house values have turned what should be a place to live into a golden asset. Former council properties have been snapped up by private landlords. In the most prosperous areas, up to 70% of former council homes are now privately let. Private rents out of London average over £200 a week while council rents are nearer £90 a week.

Councils in England have been sending up emergency flares for more than a year, trying to alert the government to their inability to build enough new homes to replace the ones they have been forced to sell, with predictable consequences.

In the last five years, since right-to-buy discounts were nearly doubled, 54,581 homes were sold and only 12,472 homes were started. Some are built in one authority from receipts of sales in another, compounding local shortages.

Councils have to use part of the receipts from sales to pay off housing debt, and can only keep a third for replacement. They are still banned from borrowing to make up the full cost of buying or building new ones. Between now and 2020, councils also face having to sell off higher-value council homes in order to fund discounts on housing association homes that are due to come in under right-to-buy provisions.

Like so much else that has happened since 2010, social housing policy has not just been damaging but contradictory, fostering the chimera of a property-owning democracy in an age of shrinking social housing stock and rapidly growing demand. The government makes bold promises on new affordable homes to buy. But what’s needed is homes that people can afford to rent.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/08/the-guardian-view-on-social-housing-time-to-fight-for-affordable-rents