Councillor John Gray has resigned from Newham Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee regarding Fire Safety in Tower Blocks, citing its closed meetings which exclude the press and public.
In a telephone interview Cllr Gray said he half-hoped his resignation would lead to open meetings but this “hasn’t been successful and I didn’t expect it to be”. Cllr Gray went on to say: “I couldn’t continue with a process which was fundamentally unfair. There should be joint scrutiny between residents and councillors.”
The West Ham ward councillor sees further problems in the work of the committee: “One of my concerns is that the committee is not considering schools or housing association tower blocks. Schools are often targets for arsonists. All public buildings, in the light of what happened at Grenfell, need rethinking.”
Cllr Gray plans to raise the closed committee issue at full council meetings, and he will visit residential tower blocks next week with a trained fire safety officer in order to meet residents and discuss concerns with them directly. He also plans to use minutes from the closed meetings to draw up an alternative report into fire safety in the borough.
Cllr Gray has served his West Ham ward for seven years and he intends to stand again in next year’s council elections.
Following the interview, I contacted Newham Council and asked for its response to the following questions:
1) Cllr Gray expressed concerns that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee regarding Fire Safety in Tower Blocks is not covering housing association tower blocks or public-school buildings, some of which have undergone cladding. Why is the council not considering fire safety in these additional areas?
2) Cllr Gray mentioned that schools are targeted by arsonists. Does the council have a strategy to prevent such attacks and what plans are in place to keep students safe in such an event?
3) Cllr Gray said he could not carry on with the Scrutiny committee because the exclusion of press and public makes it “fundamentally unfair”. Do you have any comment regarding this?
At the time of writing Newham Council has not responded to multiple requests for comment.