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Politicians continue to misread the public mood

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

As this briefing drops into your inbox, Kensington & Chelsea’s cabinet is preparing to hold a meeting about the fire at Grenfell Tower behind closed doors.

For a council which has come in for scathing criticism about the way it has responded to the disaster, this is yet another PR faux-pas (to put it mildly) even if councillors are concerned about public disruption.

Talking of PR disasters, new housing minister Alok Sharma did little to endear him to the sector as he pulled out of his keynote speech at the Housing 2017 conference in Manchester at the last minute this morning. Cue outrage from many delegates on Twitter. Still, at least he had enough time last night to help the Conservatives (with a little help from the Democratic Unionist Party) vote down proposals to end the public sector pay cap. Priorities.

Mr Sharma was replaced at Housing 2017 by local government minister Marcus Jones but even he did not hang around to answer any questions after finishing his speech.

When LGC spent a day at Housing 2017 earlier this week, Grenfell Tower was never far from everyone’s lips.

There was, however, a sense that the disaster might just provide an opportunity to further raise the profile of social housing, and the case for more of it, in not only the public’s mind but that of ministers too.

The Chartered Institute of Housing has long expressed concern about the loss of socially rented homes and the shortage of replacements being built. Today, the latest figures to come out of the Department for Communities & Local Government showed the number of right-to-buy replacements has almost doubled in a year, although it is still about a third of the number of homes sold last year.

“We are deeply concerned about the loss of social rented homes at a time when more and more people are in need of genuinely affordable housing,” said CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat today.

Another person concerned about the lack of affordable housing is Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham.

Among a range of bold proposals to increase housebuilding and tackle homelessness, the Labour politician wants to see a greater emphasis on higher density development in town centres and “a greater mix of housing types and tenures”. This, Mr Burnham said, “might mean building more homes in the council and not-for-profit sector”.

Criticising national housing policy as being “way too centralised”, Mr Burnham also said it was too “developer-led”.

There has been plenty of discussion of the regulations that are in place, and those that have been dispensed with in order to make construction less onerous.

As the number of towers found to have cladding which has failed fire tests continues to rise, the prime minister yesterday implied councils are the ones to blame for the widespread installation of combustible cladding.

Yet Barry Turner, director of technical policy at the Local Authority Building Control, told LGC the government’s own guidance Ms May had been quoting from allows developers to use flammable cladding if it passes a “composite” test that includes other components surrounding the cladding, such as insulation.

A little more than two weeks on from the fire at Grenfell Tower, there is still no clear answer to the question: how was it allowed to happen?

Yes, a public inquiry will be held which will (hopefully) get to the bottom of that but councillors holding meetings in private and ministers shying away from speaking to the sector in the meantime won’t stop conspiracy theories and conjecture, and will do little to restore what is left of public confidence.

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