Bells Toll for London’s Housing Crisis – Grenfell Three Years On

Church bells across London ring out on the third anniversary of the Grenfell fire

On 14 June 2020, the third anniversary since 72 people died as a result the Grenfell Tower Fire church bells rang out across London. The fire devastated an entire community in North Kensington.

The impact of building deregulation is under intense scrutiny today. The Fire Brigade Union has said:

“This agenda was driven by the demands and interests of corporations and developers; it prioritised the pursuit of profit over people. At Grenfell it resulted in a high-rise residential building being clad with highly combustible material. The repeated fire safety concerns of residents were ignored. Earlier warnings from the FBU about the dangers of flammable cladding systems were also ignored.”

The FBU say that little has changed. Buildings clad with ACM remain. And there is a large and unknown risk to those in homes built or clad with other combustible materials. There are a host of other high risk fire safety failings in residential buildings across the country.

  • There are still over 500,000 people at risk in unsafe housing across the UK;
  • Over 23,000 homes are still wrapped in highly flammable ACM cladding;
  • Over 400 buildings still have a ‘waking watch’ due to serious fire safety issues and despite our serious concerns over the ‘waking watch’ system.

The Construction Index News reports that more than two-thirds of at-risk buildings with flammable ACM cladding have yet to be fixed mainly located in London and Greater Manchester: Salford and the London boroughs of Greenwich, Newham and Tower Hamlets have more than 20 high-rise residential buildings with ACM cladding systems yet to be remediated.

Matt Wrack, General Secretary, FBU said: “We will continue our commitment to achieve real change in legislation and to hold those truly responsible for the fire to account. There must be justice.”

Criticism about the pace of change, culture and quality of relationships at the local Kensington and Chelsea Council has been leveled by a task force, brought in by the government. It is reported that they have said that it was pleased that the council has made progress but said some residents and community groups said they their reception was “ill-considered or brusque”.

“We remain concerned about the pace of change, the culture across the council and the quality of the relationship with the bereaved and survivors and the wider affected community. Consequently, we remain unable to give you unequivocal assurance that RBKC is effectively delivering a recovery for the bereaved and survivors and the wider community in north Kensington.”

And they said: “We have noticed that the ‘law of diminishing returns’ has now come into play. After two-and-a-half years the support and challenge we provide to Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea is sometimes welcome and sometimes not.”

Cllr Emma Dent-Coad, the former Labour MP for Kensington has written in Tribune: “The Task Force’s reprimands on lack of trust inspired the council to set up an industry of what they believe is ‘community engagement.’ Given that this crucial task has been sucked into the council’s media and comms team, we see their game.”

“Any criticism of how the council ‘engages’ is met with yet another round of staff recruitment. What they do not understand is that success lies not in heavily staged get-togethers, photo ops and enforced camaraderie but in true community empowerment. To right the endless wrongs they are responsible for, they must trust the community and hand over power. It may be messy, but it would be better than this current show.”

Yvette Williams from campaigning group Justice 4 Grenfell said: “More needs to be done and a change in thinking is still needed. This will never happen with just a suite of new written policies and governance arrangements, real change and a faster pace will only happen when the leadership has the personal and political will to do so.”

In a parliamentary debate in June 2019, Emma Dent-Coad, MP said that the Shelter report on social housing has been a welcome piece of research whose recommendations I hope, in time, will be adopted.

This report proposes a wide range of measures to secure the social housing needed, it stresses that social housing should be tenure blind and within mixed communities. There should be no ‘poor doors’. More recently, the housing campaigners have launched a London manifesto called ‘A Capital in Crisis’.

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