GRENFELL TOWER, NORTH KENSINGTON
IT TOOK FOR MANY LIVES TO BE LOST TO FINALLY ILLUSTRATE INEQUALITY AND SOCIAL INJUSTICE IN THIS COUNTRY…
In the early hours of 14 June 2017, a small fire broke out in one property on the fourth floor of a tower block in North Kensington. According to eyewitnesses, within 20 minutes the 24 storey block was engulfed in flames. So far, 79 people have been confirmed as dead/missing presumed dead, many more are unaccounted for.
It’s too early to speculate on causes, but there are a number of very worrying aspects that raise questions and as the companies involved in making millions out of social housing seem to be quietly deleting pages from their websites that mention any involvement in the regeneration of Grenfell Tower (what they now obviously consider to be toxic to their business instead of wishing to boast about their achievements), it’s important these documents are retained in the public domain for all to see. One important document you will see below states that the work was never approved.
There are many Grenfell Towers…
As a Londoner, I can honestly say that Grenfell Tower and it’s surroundings in North Kensington is indicative of London housing. In every borough there are a number of estates just like it, but walk round a corner and you’ll be confronted with either gentrified areas, mansions or gated complexes where only the select few may enter and the rest of society remain outside. It’s grotesque.
Public land has been quietly sold off to developers, who’ve crammed as many homes on each plot as is possible in order to make the most amount of money. For instance, in Richmond in the early eighties, the council sold off the Ice Rink – a well utilised part of the community – on the understanding it would rebuild another rink elsewhere. It never happened. Instead, the council sold off the land cheaply to Sir James Goldsmith, who then sold it on for a profit to a private developer who then built a gated complex of luxury houses on it. As it was by Richmond riverside, the asking price for the properties was (and still is) at a phenomenal premium.
The premise of creating these little gated complexes for the ‘haves’ effectively creates little pocket neighbourhoods away from the rest of society and the wonderful eclectic mix of society that makes London so special is slowly being eroded away by social cleansing.
I think that people in London need to start taking more of an interest in their council’s planning applications and begin objecting to new builds. Very little (if any) social housing is built. Instead the developers have an option of ‘donating money’ to the social housing fund. The councils then use this to build properties in cheaper areas. It’s basic greed and social cleansing at it’s most vulgar.
Tory Council Money-making
As London house prices have become out of reach of many people’s budgets, society is being pushed further out in to the cheaper areas surrounding it. I wrote a blog post on Sheerwater in Woking which perfectly illustrates this point. Sheerwater was allowed to gradually fall in to disrepair over a number of years and then suddenly the council announced (by delivering leaflets) that they were going to be regenerating the area. Around 150 private homeowners are being slapped with Compulsory Purchase Orders, social tenants are being displaced as there will be no social housing, and those in housing association properties have been told they are not the council’s responsibility. The plan is to bulldoze the estate and build little breeze block homes – all uniform and looking the same – onto the land with some artificial landscaping and a new station to connect it direct to London. The homes are out of the price range of the homeowners already there. It’s a big money-making scam with as many as these little homes as they can possibly squeeze in to one area to make the most amount of money.
Grenfell Tower Aftermath
The horror that unfolded that night is an image that will probably never leave me. Watching the footage on television was jaw-dropping. My heart broke when I thought of the suffering and the plight of many who never made their escape. The media picked over the stories of survivors like a pack of vultures, despite the fact they were dazed and clearly still in a state of shock, walking around in their pyjamas. By the afternoon it seemed the toleration levels of the residents finally broke and altercations began to break out between them and the press.
Residents are complaining of being given no information by the council. The only help they are being given is simply by the goodwill of other Londoners who have donated so much stuff that they’ve been asked to stop as they’ve run out of room to store it until it can be sorted through. There’s no coordination, people are scared, worried, tired, and desperate for news of loved ones.
The so-called Prime Minister, Theresa May, visited the area the following morning. It was a private visit – she didn’t meet any resident or volunteers assisting to look after them. She met with a select few behind the scenes, surrounded by police and security. Just like the housing in London, Mrs May kept her high class self away from the lower class plight. It’d be laughable if it wasn’t so downright insulting and offensive.
Jeremy Corbyn arrived later on. He hugged people, spoke to them, promised (with sincerity, it has to be said) that he would demand answers – and he did exactly that. He tabled a special session for questions in parliament this afternoon. Mrs May, still distracted trying to buy her way into power, was busy sorting her own needs and meeting with the DUP so she sent Nick Hurd MP as Policing and Fire Minister to lead the session. It wasn’t held in the chamber so the public could see, it was held in Westminster Hall and the cameras were only allowed to televise part of it. That does not bode well for Mrs May’s promise of a full public inquiry!
(It’s worth pointing out here that Nick Hurd is in fact one of those Tory landlords who voted against making private homes fit for human habitation).
In the afternoon, Sadiq Khan addressed the media, as he always does. He spouted off a load of sound bites, as he always does. He made promises, as he always does. The residents, by now, had begun to lose patience and he was heckled throughout his scripted performance in which he showed about as much compassion as Theresa May (ie, none!). The residents turned on him eventually and he was forced to take refuge in a local church.
To be honest, Londoners are sick and tired of listening to the televised musings of politicians. They’ve had enough of the showboating and being used as pawns. May, Corbyn and Khan should have been with those residents alongside half the council and police dealing with residents concerns, sorting out accommodation etc, rather than facing the cameras. They don’t need ‘commitments’ and soundbites, they need reassurance and information and, above all, action.
I feel it also important to highlight the reported depths that reporters from The Scum resorted to, by pretending to be the friend of a resident of Grenfell Tower in order to access a hospital. If this is true it beggars belief. I didn’t think my opinion of that disgusting so-called newspaper could reach any lower, but it did. It seems that even one of the brave firemen who risked his life to fight the fire felt the same…
Why don’t the numbers add up?
Since the fire occurred, the numbers have only very slowly crept up and there is a general disquiet about the figures being given. It has slowly crept from 7 to, now, 79.
This is the layout of Grenfell Tower. It was stated on the radio that there were 120 flats in that building. At a conservative guess, there must have been at least 400 people living in those flats. I didn’t see nearly 400 people milling around the streets on live tv when news crews were televising their reports? In fact, there seemed so little that they kept intervieiwng the same people time and again.
On top of that, thanks to human kindness, the donations that poured in to the area was immense. However most of it is surplus to requirements because there simply aren’t enough survivors to require it all!
Why are the tubes not running past the tower? Is it really, as witnesses have said, because the body bags are in view from the trains? I understand that the dead deserve to be treated with respect, but if numbers are being diluted, it shows no respect to them or their grieving families.
Who designed the landscape?
One issue that has been raised during interviews by both witnesses and emergency services alike is the fact that emergency services were unable to get close enough to the building for two reasons:
- The falling debris of the melted plastic panels; and
- The landscaping around the flats with concrete bollards.
Grenfell Tower Regeneration
Grenfell Tower underwent a £10m regeneration project last year. Plastic cladding was put around the outside of the building and papers obtained online show this was done to ‘improve the aspect of the area’. In other words, it was made to look less of an eyesore to the residents of the new private development next to it. It apparently passed all fire regulations although, as there is no paperwork online to confirm it was ever formally approved, it’s impossible to confirm if this is true.
This is concerning because the plastic cladding used was the same as that used on the Address Downtown Hotel building in Dubai which, on New Years Eve 2015, went up in a ball of flames with the fire quickly spreading upwards on the outside of the building.
Many of the buildings in Dubai are clad in this material. This is an excerpt from an article in The Telegraph on 2 January 2016 about the fire:
The fire – the third major skyscraper fire in Dubai since 2012 – has raised renewed fears about the use of highly combustible materials on the exterior facades of hundreds of skyscrapers throughout the UAE.
At the heart of safety concerns is the use of polyurethane and aluminium composite cladding on buildings throughout the height of the emirate’s building boom.
The material was only outlawed by new buildings regulations in 2013.
Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council (RBKC)
One of the first people to put their face in front of the media was Nicholas Paget-Brown, leader of the Tory-run council. Mr Paget-Brown is an interesting man – he used to be involved in the Tory think-tank Bow Group, so is clearly well-connected in Tory circles. He offered his resignation but the council cabinet unanimously declined to accept it.
The housing stock in the borough is run by Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO) – which is basically the council giving itself another name. It was KCTMO (yes, the council) who employed the services of the contractors to undertake a £10m regeneration of Grenfell Tower.
Survivors and locals keep repeating that they almost feel that it could be an intentional action as they believe the council are in the process of social cleansing an area that could potentially make them a lot of money. I won’t speculate on whether this is true or not.
Regeneration – companies involved:
An article in The Guardian covers all those involved in the project:
- Harley Facades Ltd (originally Harley Curtain Wall): run by Robert Bond, who lives in a Kent mansion, they undertook the cladding work for £2.6m.
- Rydon: construction firm was the lead contractor having won an £8.6m contract to regenerate the estate.
- Artelia UK: commissioned to project manage the refurbishment.
- Max Fordham: Building services engineers.
- Studio E: Architect.
- Witt UK/PSB: ventilation firm.
- Celotex: supplied insulation for cladding.
- JS Wright & Sons: worked on the ventilation.
- Arconic: Designed Reynobond PC used in the plastic cladding. Despite selling fire retardant cladding for just £2 more per piece, the council chose the cheaper option.
The questions that need answering
- Why was such a huge amount of taxpayers money spent on superficial cosmetic work when essential safety work was required but neglected?
- There is no paperwork to prove the work was ever signed off. Was this ever done?
- Why were residents concerns continually ignored and, worse still, threatened with legal action by the council solicitor?
- Why was the cladding used despite recommendations by it’s manufacturer that it NOT be used on buildings taller than 10m?
- Is it true that there used to be a sprinkler system within the tower block in the seventies?
- Why were the council offices closed all this weekend (directly after the fire) despite the plight of those who have lost everything?
- Why can the government pledge nearly £400m to refurbish Buckingham Palace (even though the Queen doesn’t live there any more) but pledge £5m for many people who have lost the only homes they had and all their possessions.
- Why did the stairwell fill with smoke?
- Why did RBKC not contact the British Red Cross until Friday afternoon to ask for their assistance on the ground? It seems that despite the devastation and carnage that unfolded in front of their eyes, they still continued to ignore the residents until they couldn’t do so any longer.
- How can your surplus stand at such a huge figure yet housing such as Grenfell be so lacking in basic safety measures?
- How can you justify spending out on making paving stones ‘less slippery’ using new equipment and extra manpower in the richer areas, yet seemed to adverse to spending money where it NEEDED spending? That is the public purse!
- Why are your wages so extortionately high? What justification is there for them – it can’t be because of added responsibility of the position as you’ve shown no responsibility whatsoever!
The council were alerted numerous times by residents and the Grenfell Action Group (GAG) of potential safety risks. Not only did the council ignore them, they even went so far as to silence them by issuing a solicitor’s letter!
In 2013, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling made cuts to the legal aid budget, the result of which meant that most ordinary folk cannot access legal aid any more because they simply can’t afford it. So even when the GAG (the abbreviation isn’t lost on me) knew the council were breaching safety with inadequate alarm systems and evacuation procedure, there was little they could do because they couldn’t afford to! This highlights the very issue of inequality in this country. The Tories have slowly chipped away at the rights of the masses until voices can no longer be heard. The latest idea of scrapping the Human Rights Act and policing the internet more heavily just adds to this.
So who’s to blame?
Without knowing the reasons why the fire started (maybe a power surge caused the fridge to ignite) it’s impossible to say. However, one thing is almost certain – the cladding used on the tower exacerbated a fire that London Fire Service say they did extinguish. So, who is responsible for the cladding?
It’s not the manufacturers – they simply fulfilled an order – although that particular cladding should now be banned.
It’s not the builders who were simply following orders to fit it.
So who made the decision to use that particular cladding? Who proposed it, who checked it, was it assessed against other options and who rubber-stamped it?
Who is the person at RBKC in charge of health and safety within social housing? Why was there no proper evacuation procedure in place? Why did it take for numerous complaints from residents to get simple signage?
Who is the person who should have been coordinating and assisting all those affected by the fire but who has been nowhere to be seen?
Who has been making the most appalling decisions since the fire occurred?
Oh, and I haven’t forgotten you Mr Barwell…
Why did the then Minister for Housing, Gavin Barwell, sit on a report that had urgent recommendations on tower block fire safety to prevent this very thing from happening? Is he going to be held accountable? He has just been promoted by Theresa May.
Why did 71 Tory landlords vote against the bill to make rental properties fit for human habitation – including Police and Fire Minister, Nick Hurd!?
Nor you, Mr Johnson…
In 2013, whilst London Mayor, Boris Johnson responded to criticisms about his cuts to fire services and the risks to life by telling a Labour politician to “get stuffed”.
So many questions. So many lives lost. So many lessons still not being learned. So much deflection of responsibility.
All those extortionately paid staff at RBKC and in the government are a shocking example of all that is wrong in our society. They lack any decency.
And all those unpaid volunteers who have (and continue to) help, do so due to simple common decency and compassion. They are a shining example of all that is good.
Here are a number of documents and images that have been gathered and I felt were worth sharing on here.
Thank you to Truthseeker1 on Twitter for the information they have provided for this blog post.