Last week, the News marked the 10th anniversary of the awful fire at Lakanal House that killed six people, writes Neil Coyle, MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark…
Following an inquest in 2013, the Coroner recommended that the Government should encourage developers to retro-fit sprinklers in high rise flats to improve safety in the event of a fire. The Government failed to act and two years ago we watched in horror as 72 more people lost their lives in the horrific Grenfell Tower fire.
Whilst Southwark Council has invested over £124 million in fire safety measures since Lakanal, it is abundantly clear that not enough has been done nationally to address the risks people face in their own homes. The Government needs to step up and address concerns, overhaul building regulations, provide funding to retro-fit sprinklers, and resource the fire brigade to inspect all new buildings to ensure standards are met and safety is guaranteed.
I visited Dockhead Fire Station last week, where ‘London’s Burning’ was famously filmed, to meet with Southwark Commander, Neil Chisholm. I support the London Fire Brigade’s campaign to change the law so that the minimum height for new buildings in which sprinklers must be fitted is 18 metres. This is already the case in Scotland where sprinklers must also be fitted in all new schools, care homes and sheltered housing. We need an equal priority for fire safety in England and the Government must stop ignoring the risks.
News readers will remember all too clearly the savage cuts imposed on the Fire Brigade by the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, as he vies to become our next Prime Minister. In 2013, he slashed £29m from London Fire Brigade’s budget that caused the loss of 552 firefighters, 14 fire engines and 10 fire stations across our capital, including the historic Southwark Fire Station on Southwark Bridge Road. Some Tories are trying to fool themselves that he was a successful mayor for our city, but I remember his broken promises on tackling homelessness and his failure to address the drop in police numbers, including here in Southwark. That he is now apparently the best the Tory Party has to offer our country says a lot about their collapse in credibility.
I have secured a Parliamentary debate later this month on reforming the Mental Health Act. This law covers the compulsory treatment of some disadvantaged and very vulnerable people and was used last year to detain, or ‘section’, 50,000 people with mental health conditions. This is an issue close to my heart as my mum has been sectioned many times and it is my family’s experience which got me involved in politics as a teenager.
Southwark has a higher than average prevalence of psychoses and other serious mental health problems and I am concerned that the Government rhetoric of ‘parity of care’ has not been delivered. Since 2010 mental health service budgets have been cut dramatically, the NHS has been severely undermined and insufficient resources or priority has been attached to improving care. The legislation is shockingly out of date and I hope the debate helps shape Government plans which will be published later this year.