As predicted by the residents, Grenfell Tower a 24 storey social housing block containing 127 units is a fire damaged blackened shell. The fire was preventable by the installation of a sprinkler system during the £10m refurbishment. It would have cost thousands not millions. The impact of this major incident will be greater than those recently experienced in London. The number of fatalities and casualties are still unknown. Yet at 16.00 on 14 June, Theresa May, Prime Minister, has not personally offered her condolence to the families. Nor has she acknowledged the life-saving work of the fire, police and ambulance services. Still, 14 hours later they are continuing to work through the carnage. The PM’s slow response matches the pace of Tory housing ministers who are yet to review the fire-related building regulations that could have prevented this tragedy.
Kensington & Chelsea is one of London’s richest boroughs. The fire took place in the less wealthy part. The people affected are on lower incomes, and in many cases, they are nonwhite residents. They are among the same groups who bear the brunt of austerity and ‘skiver, not striver’ barbs. They are the constituents that the government overlooks until they need a punch bag or votes.
So, it’s not surprising that we are still waiting for a review of the buildings fire regulations. It could have insisted on sprinklers being part of high rise refurbishment. The professional opinion is that sprinkler systems would have reduced the risk of the fire spreading rapidly, contained or extinguished it.
Fires In Social Housing
Meanwhile, Grenfell is the third fire in a social housing block in recent years. The Lakanai House fire in 2009 killed six people including three children. In just four minutes the fire spread through the twelve story building.
The rapid dissemination of the fire led to an inquiry. The All Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue group recommended tackling fire suppression by installing sprinklers to the 4,000 blocks at risk which are similar in design to Lakani House.
Ronnie King formerly the chief fire officer and now honorary secretary of the all-party parliamentary group believes that automatic sprinkler systems would have stopped the Grenfell fire spreading so rapidly.
The all-party group is pushing for a review of fire-related building regulations. They have done so since 2013. Successive housing ministers have said that they would review the building fire regulations. Those ministers are Kris Hopkins, Brandon Lewis, and Gavin Barwell.
In October 2016 Barwell said that he would review the fire regulations. It seems that he did not, and he has since lost his Parliamentary seat. However, Theresa May has snapped him up as her new chief of staff.
It has been 11 years since Lakanai House and 20 months since firefighters rescued 50 residents from Adair House in Kensington.
How many more social housing tenants have to lose their lives before the Tory government review the fire aspect of the building regulations or holds a public inquest into these tragic fires. The PM can U-Turn swiftly for homeowners and discover magic money trees in hours. So why are people living in social housing having to wait? It seems to me that their faces or votes don’t fit.
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