Grenfell. The big question on everyone’s mind is how did this happen? Yes, how? That’s a question for another day. The possible answer is awful, and I won’t even go there. The fact is that people lost their lives in terrible circumstances, and guess what, this might have been prevented.
My more immediate question is ‘why?’ This fire, (however it started) didn’t need to turn into a complete tragedy. I’m no fan of high rises, but they are an established form of social housing in cities. They have enabled people to live fairly centrally, and they have the capacity to house numerous families. In a time of housing shortages and growing populations, these buildings have practical value. However, many of these blocks were constructed in the 1970s, and not updated. Without proper safety upgrades, high rises are inherently dangerous when it comes to fire breaking out. The important thing then is to ensure that they are as impermeable as possible, and that there are sufficient protections against fire spreading throughout the entire structure. It’s not rocket science. Surely we have enough fire protection technology to ensure that the people living in towers are safe? Things like fire safety doors (were there any in Grenfell?) and windows to prevent flames and smoke spreading. Reliable fire warning systems. Decent exit access, fire escapes on every floor, floor sprinkler systems, non-hazardous building and construction materials deployed on the building’s framework. Also, a fire inspection once a month and a health and safety officer employed to check for fire hazards. All of this costs money, of course, but far cheaper than acquiring valuable land and building new houses and flats.
Money. That’s the key word. Oh, and Tory that’s the other key word. Kensington and Chelsea’s council employed Ryder, a construction firm to carry out the 10 million pound ‘refurb’ which they completed last year. Ryder claim they adhered to all the safety codes and regulations in place. Really? Okay. So what were those regulations, and how come they used hazardous cladding on the building’s exterior – which allegedly caused the fire to spread rapidly on the outside of the tower block? Why all these cosmetic enhancements? New windows, the outside of the building looking spruce, and little thought given to fire protection? According to Barney Davis writing in the Evening Standard, the Grenfell residents association have been urging action on fire safety for years, and have now drawn the conclusion that the council are not only uninterested in the residents’ safety, but actively promoting the decline of social housing in the area. Why? Communities out, investors in? Is that it?
Meanwhile, Gavin ‘chipmunk’ Barwell, that guy promoted to May’s chief of staff after losing his Croydon seat in the recent election, has questions to answer. As Housing Minister, he blithely ignored the coroner’s recommendation of a fire safety regulation review, following the Camberwell fire in 2009 where several died following an outbreak of fire.
So that’s the way of things here. People’s lives don’t matter. What is important is making money, and shaving social costs to the bone. Will it ever change? Not if the last vote is anything to go by. Labour may have won seats, but they are still on the verges, and now we have the prospect of an unholy alliance between the Tories and the DUP. Result!