Priti Patel rejects plan to prevent repeat of Grenfell tragedy in favour of ‘stay put’ advice

’Personal emergency evacuation plans’ for disabled too costly and impractical, Home Office decides

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 18 May 2022 19:22 BST
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry explained

Priti Patel has rejected key recommendations to prevent a repeat of the Grenfell tragedy, sticking with “stay put” advice in tall buildings instead.

The inquiry into the deadly fire called for new legal requirements on building owners to have evacuation plans, in particular of disabled residents – something the Home Office was expected to accept.

Fifteen of the 72 people who died in the 2017 blaze had disabilities, which made escape more difficult and “many more lives” could have been saved with an evacuation plan, its report found.

But a new strategy on “improving fire safety” has rejected both evacuation plans and so-called “personal emergency evacuation plans” (PEEPs) for the disabled, which are deemed to be too expensive and impractical.

Instead, a new consultation will be staged on sharing the location of disabled residents with fire services – but only in buildings known to have serious fire safety risks.

Grenfell United, which represents people affected by the 2017 tragedy, described the response as “a disgrace” for putting disabled people at risk.

“We are enraged at the government, whose sole focus continues to be profit and not public safety,” the group said.

“We’ve fought for years to create a legacy for our 72 loved ones, and to prevent another Grenfell. But, five years on, the government has reverted back to the same policy in place before Grenfell.”

Requiring PEEPs would leave building owners with “no practical choice but to respond by ‘staffing up’ their building with a 24/7 presence”, the Home Office has argued.

A single staff member would cost £8,800 to £21,900 for each building every month, with many more staff required – a cost that would fall on the residents.

Unveiling the fire reform white paper at a London fire station, Ms Patel said the capital is still “scarred” by Grenfell, adding: “We have to be very respectful and reflective of that, we really do.

“But what I would say is that it is vitally important that the service never stands still, and that the service learns constantly.”

The rejection of the recommendation came as the boss of London Fire Brigade warned that more than 1,000 residential buildings in the capital still have serious fire safety failings.

Last September, Rita Dexter, the former deputy assistant commissioner at the London Fire Brigade (LFB), said the “stay put” policy “can’t be trusted”, the website Inside Housing pointed out.

“Both the Lakanal and Grenfell fires demonstrate that this assumption can be wrong and fatal in its outcomes,” she said.

“The brigade cannot be expected to be certain that all of the buildings where they attend fires will be constructed or maintained in accordance with regulations and that it will ‘perform’ in any specified way if a fire occurs.”

The UK has been seen as an outlier in placing reliance on “stay put” – with the 72 deaths at Grenfell the highest fatality rate by far in any facade fire globally.

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