Newham councillor resigns from fire safety committee after public and press are barred from meetings

PUBLISHED: 16:43 02 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:46 03 November 2017

Cllr John Gray

Cllr John Gray

Newham Council

A councillor has quit a scrutiny panel examining fire safety in tower blocks because its meetings were being held in secret.

Cllr John Gray says it is “completely unacceptable” that the Newham Council-run Fire Safety in Tower Blocks Scrutiny Commission intends to bar members of the public and press from sessions following the Grenfell fire disaster.

He resigned from his post at the second meeting on Tuesday after his objections were ignored, calling the decision by Overview and Scrutiny Committee chair Anthony McAlmont “a huge error of judgement” .

Cllr Gray said: “Residents are going to think we have something to hide. I don’t think we are but this is what people are going to think.

“We need transparency and openness when dealing with really huge matters.”

The scrutiny inquiry was set up to investigate fire safety in three Newham tower blocks following the deadly Grenfell Tower blaze in June, which has so far officially claimed the lives of 67 people.

In the same month, the local authority announced cladding was to be removed from Ferrier Point, Nicholls Point and Tanner Point buildings after it failed expert safety tests.

At the time, a spokesperson said: “There is no immediate risk to the safety of any of them [the blocks] that would lead to residents having to leave their homes.”

A decision to set up the commission, attended by fire and police officials, followed with the first meeting taking place on October 17.

Members will “consider the council’s programme for de-cladding and recladding” plus its “future needs for ensuring fire safety in residential tall blocks in Newham” among their objectives.

Cllr Gray, who was rebuked for sending tweets about the initial meeting, said the seven councillors on the panel (formerly including him) did not have the “inside knowledge” of residents.

He said: “They are the ones who should be asking the questions. It shouldn’t just be a handful of anonymous councillors.”

Cllr McAlmont said he was disappointed at Cllr Gray’s resignation but denied the meetings were secret

He said: “It is a Task and Finish group which meets informally to enable information to be gathered and to enable those presenting evidence to be more open in what they say to the commission.

“It also enables specific items of work to be completed quickly. A report will be produced once the commission is complete and this will be brought to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting in January which is held in public and will be attended by Councillor Terry Paul [lead member for housing].”

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