It is five years today since the tragic night when the North Kensington community witnessed the biggest civilian disaster of its kind since World War 2. But it is almost six years since Francis O’Connor wrote the now infamous “Playing With Fire” piece on the Grenfell Action Group blog and yet his warnings remain as relevant today as were they were proven to be back then.
In the time since that piece, public attention has certainly been drawn to the issue of building safety but there has been far too little action from the government. At present, there are weak commitments from industry but this will only cover a fraction of the almost 10,000 buildings in the UK that still have unsafe cladding on them.
But why is our government negotiating with house builders at all? What is the point of holding such expensive inquiries if the recommendations (Chapter 33 of Phase One’s report has all of those made so far) are simply ignored despite promises by the prime minister to the contrary?
The government has shown that it lacks the expertise to properly oversee these things. It should not therefore have a veto over expert recommendations. The cladding crisis has continued to claim lives since Grenfell, as in the terrible case of a recent suicide that was partly blamed on cladding debts. If it not properly addressed, then it is likely to claim even more.
This government cannot cite cost as the reason it has failed to take any action, not after the scandalous waste of public funds witnessed during the Covid crisis that continues to this day. The £5bn the government has managed to get the construction industry to pledge is dwarfed by the cost of £50bn, as estimated by the company Colmore Tang construction, that the situation will cost to rectify. The Prime Minister acknowledged years ago that it was “disgraceful” that the cladding crisis had not been addressed – one wonders what he would call it today.
We have witnessed over 300 fires since Grenfell and yet still our government fails to protect its citizens.
The fire service have implemented 26 of the 29 recommendations made and are well on the way to implementing the final three providing that they receive adequate resources to achieve this. They have shown a commitment to reform and a willingness to use new powers that is to be welcomed and will hopefully ensure that fewer lives are lost whilst we wait for the Government to sort out the mess of regulations and regulators responsible for various aspects of building and product safety.
Perhaps the biggest recent scandal is the government’s refusal to demand personal emergency evacuation plans (Peeps) for less-abled residents. 41 per cent of disabled residents who lived in Grenfell Tower died and so this decision has rightly been condemned as “deplorable” by the charity Inclusion London.
Ensuring that less-able residents have an adequate means of escape seems like a common sense requirement, yet it is one the government has refused to implement.
The outpouring of support we have seen shows that the people of the country deplore the events that led to the Grenfell Tower fire and yet the government has ignored repeated calls for it to do better.
Nor can we expect real change from a Royal Borough that feels as if rules do not apply to it. The situation locally has not improved although you would never hear this from Kensington and Chelsea which has recently closed its recovery centre.
Britain likes to think of itself as a fair and just society; justice delayed is justice denied so we must have prosecutions for the litany of criminality uncovered or else it is not a case of if there will be another Grenfell, it is simply a case of when.