17 May 2023

National Party leader says he would support strengthening fire protection regulations

10:43 am on 17 May 2023
National Party leader Christopher Luxon and deputy Nicola Willis at the scene of the Loafers Lodge fire on 16 May, 2023.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon and deputy Nicola Willis at the scene of the Loafers Lodge fire yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

National Party leader Christopher Luxon says he would support the strengthening of regulations around fire protections for buildings if an inquiry into the Loafers Lodge tragedy deemed it necessary.

Police hope to get into the fire-ravaged hostel in the Wellington suburb of Newtown today to start recovering at least six bodies and confirm the number of people who have died, with 11 still unaccounted for after Tuesday's early morning fire.

Luxon visited the scene of the fire yesterday and spent time with residents who had managed to escape as well as with Fire Service and first responders who dealt with very difficult circumstances.

Luxon said the fire was horrific and devastating and an inquiry needed to take place.

"There are real questions to be asked there such as did the Fire Service have the resources that they needed, were the regulations up to scratch and should they be strengthened and the broader question ... why do we still have housing challenges in this country?"

Other fires such as the Auckland Convention Centre fire also needed to be looked at and understood, he said.

"I'm all up for strengthening regulations, if we find that there are real challenges or things that haven't happened. There are reports of no sprinklers [at Loafers Lodge], there are reports of fire alarms going off multiple times a day and therefore not being adhered to or listened to or turned off.

"You know we need that inquiry to be taking place and then if we need to strengthen regulations then we definitely need to do that."

Asked whether the cost of increasing regulations would be a barrier to doing so, Luxon said he made no apology for increasing regulations if it saved lives.

But he said the housing market issues also needed to be addressed.

"If you want to buy a house in this country it's very difficult, if you can't buy one you rent one - but our private rental market is failing, you know rents are up $175. If you can't rent a house you get a state house but the waitlist has gone up over 20,000 people, if you can't get a state house you're in emergency accommodation."

Each of those four housing components needed to be tackled with plans put in place to make them function, he said.

'We've failed people as a country' - James Shaw

Green Party co-leader James Shaw was one of those who in Parliament acknowledged the fire.

"What kind of country are we that we allow this kind of thing to happen to vulnerable members of our community? What kind of country are we that those people have so few options in life but to live in substandard accommodation with a reasonable chance of lethality?" Shaw asked in Parliament on Tuesday.

Shaw told First Up that we had choices as a country about issues like how people accessed accommodation, how many houses were built, what standard they were and how hard we pushed building regulations.

"The thing that I was so angry about then was knowing that you know, we've failed people as a country, that we've focused on saying our debt to GDP ratio is more important than the lives of our most vulnerable members of our community."

In fact, the country's first order of duty should be to those who were most vulnerable, he said.

Loafers Lodge contained 92 rooms for accommodation and had fire alarms, a smoke extraction system and two stairwells to get out, but it did not have sprinklers and they were not legally required.

Shaw said for accommodation of the size of Loafers Lodge there should be a requirement to have a working fire system.

"It sort of astounds me that we allow a situation in which people are allowed to rent out accommodation for that many people without adequate fire protection," he said.

"This is something that makes me very very angry is that it takes a tragedy like this for us to turn our attention to these kinds of issues and it feels like every time we lift our game and lift our standards, it's in response to a tragedy."

Shaw said every time the government tried to do something to improve the lives of renters, particularly those with few accommodation options, it got "accused of some kind of war on landlords".

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