People have died in an entirely preventable fire that engulfed a 24-storey tower block in west London, after landlords clad it in flammable material and council chiefs, together with MPs, failed to review safety.
Not only that, but is it significant that Grenfell Tower, in Notting Hill, is in the Kensington Parliamentary constituency that was taken by Labour in last Thursday’s election? I wonder.
The fire began on the tower block’s second storey and spread rapidly through the building, which reportedly had only one exit. People did manage to escape, but many were either trapped or jumped out of their windows to escape the flames.
Firefighters arrived at the scene within six minutes of being called but were unable to reach the higher parts of the building where flames had already taken hold.
Members of the local Conservative-held Kensington and Chelsea Council, their officers, and government ministers all knew that the tower block was a danger to life – but did nothing about it.
Already concern has been raised that these public representatives were too keen to bury complaints – because they would have required expensive remedial action by landlords, both here and in 4,000 other blocks around the UK?
Here’s David Collins of the residents’ association:
— EL4C (@EL4JC) June 14, 2017
According to the Evening Standard:
Residents had warned that the building – which has around 120 flats reportedly served by a single main entrance – was a fire hazard last year when rubbish piled up in a communal walkway.
The Grenfell Action Group raised their concerns in a blog post last January, saying: “The potential for a fire to break out in the communal area on the walkway does not bear thinking about as residents would be trapped in the building with no way out.”
It was given a £10 million refurbishment a year ago, with the installation of insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows and a communal heating system.
But it seems the cladding was, in fact, flammable. Here’s The Guardian:
Another man who fled from the 17th floor said he was alerted to the danger by the arrival of fire engines.
The man said he only saw fire when he stuck his head out of the window.
“I went back inside the house, looked out the window. I started looking down the window – I had to really pull myself out to look down the window, from the 17th floor, and I see the fire blazing, and coming up really fast, because of the cladding – the cladding was really flammable, and it just caught up like a matchstick.”
Here he is. See for yourself:
— AssedBaig (@AssedBaig) June 14, 2017
Some of us have already drawn the logical conclusion. Here’s journalist and broadcaster Sonia Poulton, on Facebook:
The Grenfell Tower fire is ‘unprecedented’ in scale according to a London fireman with almost 30 years experience.
“We have been shouting on social media for years about how unsafe it is,” say the action group who tried to get real support from the local council, Kensington and Chelsea.
I don’t need to tell many of my friends on here that it was going to inevitably end in catastrophe. And it did last night.
Huge fire. People dead. People in hospital. People changed for life.
That tower block is in one of the wealthiest areas in the UK and, in these increasingly gentrified times, it would’ve been earmarked for ‘development’ – almost certainly by private landlords – years ago.
Councils around the UK – cash-starved by Government – are, in turn, cash-starving local services, including social housing, and mostly until they fall apart. – In one way or another.
Here is the unpalatable truth: those casualties – mums, dads, baby bear, pets, etc. – are cheap to those who are running our public services. Truly, they are collateral damage. There is no sugar coating this. The wealth divide has never been bigger. Enough is enough.
My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives and with those who are detrimentally impacted by this inferno. Thank you our fire service, also cash starved, you are the salt of the earth.
When is Councillor Sam Mackover, chairman of the committee that brushed Grenfell Tower tenants' concerns under the carpet BEING INTERVIEWED? pic.twitter.com/9wcyyoDr1s
— WirralInItTogether (@Wirral_In_It) June 14, 2017
The de-funding of the Fire and Rescue Service has already been blamed for fire crews’ inability to reach the 27th floor of the building.
And Theresa May’s new chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, was the last in a string of Tory housing ministers who did nothing at all – for four years – about a report warning that high-rise blocks like Grenfell Tower were vulnerable to fire.
According to the Mirror:
Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until losing his seat in last week’s election, promised to review part B of the Building Regulations 2010, which relate to fire safety, but the review never materialised.
A coroner’s investigation into the blaze at Lakanal House in South London in 2009, which claimed six lives, found panels on the exterior of the block had not provided the required fire resistance and insufficient fire risk assessments had been made.
The coroner made a series of recommendation following the tragedy, but while some have been taken up, a full review of building regulations has yet to take place.
Ronnie King, honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue and a former Chief Fire Officer, told LBC Radio this morning they had “strongly recommended” installing fire suppression systems and sprinklers in 4,000 similar tower blocks across the country.
He said: “We were strongly recommending this because the fire at Lakanal House spread within four minutes and came into the flat above and then went on to kill six people, regrettably.”
Mr King said it was likely similar failings existed in West London’s Grenfell House.
Well, we know there was no communal sprinkler system, thanks to the testimony of the unnamed escaped resident (above).
We may conclude that the Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy waiting to happen, in which everybody responsible for ensuring the safety of residents failed in that duty.
But there is the even worse aspect of this – that it might have been politically expedient for this to happen now that the Kensington constituency has a Labour MP. After all, what better way to smear a people’s representative than to present them as someone who cannot protect the people?
I know. It’s just a thought – but a disturbing one.
Remember the words of Ms Poulton, above: ” Those casualties… are cheap to those who are running our public services.
“Truly, they are collateral damage.”
— Jinx (@JinxMinx82) June 14, 2017
ADDITIONAL: I’m told officials have now stated that six people have died.
And it seems Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tried to pass a law to make homes safe – last year – and the Conservatives rejected it.
Devastated to see what's happened at Grenfell Tower. My thoughts are with those affected. Thank you to our firefighters & emergency services
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 14, 2017
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