Jeremy Corbyn attacks Kensington and Chelsea Council over response to Grenfell Tower fire

'Occupy it, compulsory purchase it, requisition it. There’s a lot of things you can do'

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The Independent Online

Jeremy Corbyn has attacked Kensington and Chelsea Council over its response to the Grenfell Tower disaster, saying it appeared to “lack the resources” to deal with the fire despite being the wealthiest local authority in the country.

The fire in the tower block, which including council and privately owned flats, killed at least 58 people.

The borough and the Government, Theresa May in particular, have faced criticism over the response.

The Labour leader told ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme that local people and the emergency services had been “incredible".

But he added: “What was less effective was the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, because they seemed to lack the resources to deal with a crisis of this magnitude in their borough and yet they are the country's wealthiest borough.”

Mr Corbyn defended his call for empty flats bought as an investment to be requisitioned to give people made homeless by the fire a place to stay.

“Every day at Heathrow, planes get delayed, hundreds of people get stranded ... and hotels are found for them immediately, they are sorted out,” he said.

“Four hundred or so people [made homeless by the Grenfell fire] still, most of them, have not got somewhere decent or safe and secure to stay in.

“Somehow it seems to be beyond the wit of the public services to deal with a crisis facing a relatively small number of people in a country of 65 million.”

The answer, Mr Corbyn suggested, was simple: “There are a large number of deliberately kept empty, vacant flats and properties all over London. It’s called land banking,” he said.

“People with a lot of money buy a house, buy a flat, and keep it empty.”

Such properties should be used to help people in their time of need, he said, suggesting there were different ways of enabling this to happen.

“Occupy it, compulsory purchase it, requisition it. There’s a lot of things you can do,” Mr Corbyn said.

“Cannot we as a society just think, all of us ... it’s all very well putting our arms around people during the crisis, but homelessness is rising and the housing crisis is getting worse.

“My point was quite a simple one. In an emergency we have to bring all assets to the table in order to deal with that crisis and that is what I think we should be doing in this case.”

At one point in the interview, he appeared to defend Ms May against criticisms that she had failed to show sympathy towards those affected by the crisis.

"I think everybody cares to an extent, some to a deeper extent and some show empathy in a different way to others," the Labour leader said.

"But the real issue is not about what we as individuals feel, Theresa May, me, anybody else, it's what those people are going through."

Kensington and Chelsea council did not respond to a request for comment, but its leader later defended the authority's response to the disaster, saying it had been "effective".

The Press Association contributed to this report

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