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Smothered by regeneration: the Grenfell Tower fire

Grenfell Tower fire

Tenants at Grenfell Tower repeatedly warned the council and its management organisation about fire safety risks before a deadly blaze engulfed the 24-storey residential tower block.

£10m of external cladding had been fitted to the tower block last year as part of a regeneration scheme for the estate. Residents said the external cladding was fitted to make the block more aesthetically pleasing for residents of luxury developments nearby, while lifts in neighbouring blocks had been left broken for years despite costing approximately £60,000 to repair.

Analysis of the fire spread and the design for the regeneration scheme suggests the cladding may have accelerated the spread of the fire by allowing it to travel around the outside of the block between sections that were supposed to be isolated for fire safety before the cladding was fitted. Similar cladding has been implicated in large tower block fires in Melbourne and Dubai.

This followed previous warnings from tenants about fire safety dating back to at least 2013, which they say were repeatedly dismissedby Kensington and Chelsea council, which owns the tower, and the local tenant management organisation [KCTMO], which manages the property.

Residents had fought the council, TMO and contractor Rydon's over the implementation of the regeneration project, raising concerns both in advance of the project and while it was completed.

In a blog posted in 2016, the Grenfell Action Group said: "Only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders."

In 2013, Kensington and Chelsea council's legal department sent the owner of a blog a letter telling them to remove "direct accusations of unfounded criminal actions".

Residents had an emergency public meeting in March 2015 to organise a response to intimidation and lack of consultation over the regeneration work:

Quote:
WE ARE MEETING TO DISCUSS THE LACK OF CONSULTATION FROM THE TMO/RYDON’S REGARDING THE GRENFELL TOWER IMPROVEMENT WORKS AND TO DECIDE HOW WE CAN UNITE AS A COMMUNITY TO ENSURE THAT WE ARE TREATED WITH RESPECT AND THAT THE TMO/RYDON’S CARRY OUT THE INTERNAL WORKS TO OUR HOMES IN A PROFESSIONAL MANNER AND TO A HIGH STANDARD.

In 2013, a series of power surges led residents to collectively descend on the estate office to demand emergency work. Shah Ahmed, Chair of the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association, wrote to Robert Black TMO and various RBKC councillors and TMO officers at the time:

Quote:
There have been two weeks of power surges in the building, most notably in the early hours of the morning and throughout the evening and night time. Electronic apparatus are seriously affected by these surges. Computers are turned on and off, lights continually flicker becoming very dim and extremely bright in the space of a few seconds.

On 11th May 2013 at 9:05pm we had numerous power surges in the space of a minute, and in that process my computer and monitor literally exploded with smoke seeping out from the back and the smell of burnt electronics filled our entire computer. My monitor also fused at the same time. When I called the TMO out of hours service the standard textbook response was given to us that I was the first one to report such a problem and I was made to feel like a fool reporting such an issue, which resulted in years of data being lost forever.

Please note if the power surges continue at Grenfell Tower, it would be very dangerous and costly because it is interfering with electric and electronic items in the household, including the telephone line, television, fridge, washing machine, computer etc”.

This year, Southwark Council pleaded guilty to four counts of breaking fire safety regulations over a blaze in a 14-storey tower block that killed six people at Lakanal House in 2009.

Basil Street fire station in Knightsbridge and Greycoat Place fire station in Westminster were both closed as part of a series of fire station closures in 2014.

Six deaths had been confirmed by 11:40 am on Wednesday with police saying the death toll is expected to rise.

In January 2016, parliament voted down legislation requiring privately rented housing to be fit for human habitation.

The current police and fire minister Nick Hurd - himself a landlord - was one of those who voted against the measure. The then local government minister Marcus Jones said it "would result in unnecessary regulation and cost to landlords".

For social housing, The Mirror is reporting that former housing minister Gavin Barwell - Prime Minister May's new Chief of Staff - "sat on" a report warning that tower blocks like Grenfell were at risk of fire.

Update 12:10pm June 15th 2017
24 hours after the start of the fire, Grenfell Tower was still burning internally across eleven floors with more than seventeen people confirmed dead and over one hundred residents still unaccounted for.

The community response to the fire has been overwhelming. People have been traveling to the area from all over London with donations, filling community centres to capacity with food, water, hygiene products and clothes. Displays of social solidarity like this are common after disasters. Disaster communities develop both due to the absence of intervention by the state beyond "keeping order" as has been seen most brutally in large scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina, as well as the tendency of people towards self-organisation when faced with horrific loss of life and displacement.

Residents in another (unnamed) dilapidated tower block had called an emergency mass meeting and organised a night watch last night.

Tragedies like the Grenfell Tower are not 'accidents' nor 'natural disasters' but the all to frequent consequence of property relations and their enforcement, whether the social cleansing of public housing in London or the public subsidy of 'regenerating' housing by cladding it in a fire hazard primarily to increase its visual appeal to wealthy neighbours.

While we must ruthlessly analyse the political and economic causes of the fire, we must also unhesitatingly politicise the response.

A demonstration has been called for 6pm tomorrow at the Department for Communities and Local Government, 2 Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF.

In addition to the immediate mobilisation, there must be a concerted campaign to permanently rehouse the residents of Grenfell Tower who have survived the fire. There has been a decade of estate demolitions in London resulting in new housing far beyond the means of the original occupants, and there is no indication that Kensington and Chelsea council will do anything different in this case.

Residents groups and solidarity networks should be strengthened and linked together so that the repeated warnings and resistance to the negligent maintenance of blocks like Grenfell Tower can be successfully resisted. These are not hypothetical issues for the future but real potential disasters latent in housing across the UK and internationally now.

Posted By

libcom
Jun 14 2017 10:48

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fingers malone
Jun 18 2017 06:59

What is it Wojtek? I can't read it

fingers malone
Jun 18 2017 22:09

[edit- intentionally homeless story has been posted by loads of reputable left wing journalists and good community activists so I think it's true]

I thought the council would try to pull loads of unhuman disgusting treatment of the residents in a few months when the fuss died down and the media went away.

I was wrong- they are not waiting. Residents are being told they have to accept being rehoused hundreds of miles away from London or else they will be treated as intentionally homeless.

INTENTIONALLY HOMELESS

I'm worrying how do we stop this, how do we back the residents here?

I went to West London on Friday and I decided I won't go again for a while until I'm given some specific task to do, because I didn't feel happy with being there standing around in the street, yes, listening to the residents directly, without relying on the media, which was important, but apart from that I didn't know what use I was being.

Saturday instead of going to West London I went to the housing group I'm already in and did what I usually do. And I do think, yes, we should be at meetings in our own areas, pushing for changes, I think we should do that but I don't think it's enough.

The government and the companies that did this need to pay, because the only way they won't do this again and again is if this fire causes such a reaction that the ruling class remember it for fifty years, and so killing people like this is judged 'politically unviable'.

The housing situation needs to change root and branch, everything, not just more safety in the high rises but but everything, there's families in overcrowded rooms all over the place cooking near the cot and the laundry drying because they have NO CHOICE and we need to make sure the Grenfell residents are not fucked over but I'm struggling with how we, as, not outsiders, I'm a high rise council tenant, anyway there's no outsiders in the working class, but as, as 'not-locals' how do we support the community and push for major change now?

There's issues with sensitivity, listening to a community that's grieving, and also with effectiveness, we will need to make sure we stay with this long term and see no one is forgotten and we don't move on when the cameras go away. But it's difficult, there's a problem with how the needs of the community get transmitted to the wider concerned movement, we have very weak associational ties in most cases, there are some housing networks but they are very under resourced.

I'm gonna stop writing this, sorry this is not coherent, I have to keep stopping and walking round the room so I don't punch walls.

fingers malone
Jun 18 2017 08:58

Grenfellsupport blog

Can someone please embed this page properly, I can't do it on this crap computer sorry

wojtek
Jun 18 2017 09:41

The twitter link was to an online list of missing people from Grenfell Tower, London (can copy and paste the link). I don't know if it's accurate.

fingers malone
Jun 18 2017 09:48

I can only tell you that in the area there are so many posters with photos of people who are missing, they are papered over the walls, there just are so many.
In poor areas the number of people who actually sleep in a tower block is much higher than the number of people officially registered as living there. The people who mostly help poor people are other poor people. So when people are in difficulties they find help in already overcrowded blocks, not in nice spacious houses with spare rooms and functioning fire safety systems.

fingers malone
Jun 18 2017 12:55

Politicians are saying we need to pull down '70s tower blocks'. That cladding was added in 2015. There are reports now that existing fire breaks got taken out during that refurbishment and then were not replaced.

There are private tenants all over the countriy in houses 100+ years old that have issues of fire risk, mould and damp causing breathing problems in children, too many stairs creating access problems. They are not advocating new building the entire country are they?

What's the specific issue with 70s social housing tower blocks that makes them different? Social cleansing. Development. Money. Profit.

fingers malone
Jun 18 2017 12:34

I feel like I'm talking into a void now, feedback would be appreciated.

S. Artesian
Jul 15 2017 03:57

Removed in protest of Libcom policies allowing posting of texts by racists

Fleur
Jun 18 2017 15:24

Fingers

Grenfell Fire - How To Help
https://grenfellsupport.wordpress.com/

Thank you for your posts, Fingers. I don't know about anyone else but my lack of feedback is just because it is so overwhelming. I don't even know how to pull apart the grief and the fury and I'm a long, long way away and I cannot even imagine what it's like in London right now.

Between all the inhumanity being spoken - Boris Johnson's sister blaming the fire brigade, Nicholas Paget-Brown blaming the tenants, calls to demolish yet more homes but also the overwhelming acts of solidarity, kindness, mutual aid I'm seeing, I'm pretty speechless right now. But thank you so much for your posts, they are very valuable and please take care of yourself x

Khawaga
Jun 18 2017 15:35

Please keep posting fingers. As others have said, this is just so fucking bad that I'm at a loss of words. I can't believe that they are threatened with becoming intentionally homeless if they don't accept being relocated that far away. I mean, you just fucking survived that inferno and then you are forced to move away from presumably where you have your friends, support network, jobs, etc. What the fuck? Am I misunderstanding something?

fingers malone
Jun 18 2017 15:37

The last serious block fire that I know of was Lakanal House in Southwark where six people died and more were injured. The advice given to tenants was the same as in Grenfall, stay put. The people who survived were the people who didn't follow it and who ran for the stairs.

Thing is that advice isn't wrong, exactly. The advice is sound IF all the other measures that are supposed to be in place are actually there and working. Concrete tower blocks are supposed to be built to contain fire in one flat or at worst on one floor. The fire brigade will usually have to run up the same stairwell that panicking tenants are trying to flee down carrying the children and the dog.

The Lakanal House fire led to assurances that the fire regulations would be reviewed but these reports were not made public when they should have been. One of the demands of the Grenfell residents is 'release the reports'. Which shows up all this 'wait for the enquiry' as cynical whitewashing.

I went to look around the block to see what the fire advice is- there is no fire advice. There is no fire notice. A new ladder in a locked bracket has been fitted since the fire but there are no letters telling us about safety inspections. People in other high rise blocks are telling me about all sorts of safety problems they are trying to investigate, sometimes they have been campaigning for years. Sometimes the council 'don't know' what materials have been used. People are asking on Facebook how you check the dry risers.

The trouble is we are told to obey the regulations and not panic, but now there is zero trust that safety measures are really there or that work signed off as safe is safe.

fingers malone
Jun 18 2017 15:46

Hey thanks everyone.
I'll try not to be so over emotional, I shouldn't even be complaining at all, I'm safer than many people. I'm partly freaking out here cos my family won't see it, unlike facebook.

Fleur
Jun 18 2017 15:51
Quote:
I'll try not to be so over emotional,

Fingers, you have every right to be highly emotional and it is totally understandable. You have nothing to reproach yourself for.

Spikymike
Jun 18 2017 16:07

From long experience working in both the direct local state provision and improvement of Council/social and private sector housing in the UK it is not surprising, but frustrating, that both politicians and many well meaning social activists lurch back and forth with proposals and demands for wholesale demolition and then wholesale improvement/refurbishment of housing in response to each twist and turn of the social-economic and technical problems that arise in the long history of capitalism without inevitably any significant long term solutions to the problems which the working class suffer in terms of a healthy physical shelter and an urban structure supportive of working class community.
As to the recent specific problems relating to this episode of human and structural destruction it seems to me that many of the same basic refurbishment works involved could have been beneficial to the residents in relative terms if both the materials and workmanship were of the highest quality as in many private sector higher value schemes, though that would still have depended on reliable and efficient maintenance of the final product. Neither of these can be relied on in a profit driven system and one which has seen a long drift from at least the days of 'New Labour' towards more and more 'outsourcing' of both in-house technical expertise and direct works construction further exacerbated by long lines of subcontracting.
The mantra of a rigid 'commissioning'/ 'provider' split applied to UK Local Authority services has caused a further loosening and weakening of lines of accountability with the reduced expertise on the 'commissioning' side meaning that requirements to provide anything over and above basic legal housing and building regulation standards have been squeezed from both private sector provider lobbying and central government direction aimed at pushing costs down to the minimum.
Add to that the now well known reluctance to upgrade building regulations to take account of new and limited in-use materials and construction methods themselves a product of the same competitive cost-cutting system and further problems and risks were just to be expected. In social housing especially, resident consultation systems in place have improved at least on paper but are often not respected or implemented well by the different bodies involved and do not amount anyway to actual resident power and control of housing. Active Resident and Tenant associations can help to mitigate the imbalance of power but too often these become embroiled in local political power plays and serve as vehicles for individuals with their own separate ambitions to self-promote. My own individual past efforts in my work role to promote quality improvements to the provision of working class housing and respect by all for my fellow workers within the restrictive framework of the state have had some minor successes from time to time but frankly that became harder and harder as time went by. Since retiring I have seen the wholesale decimation of the total LA workforce to the point where it is hardly surprising that when an emergency arises there is a totally inadequate response to the scale of that emergency.

Zia
Oct 30 2017 17:36

Thanks for the posts and information especially Fingers, everything you've written here is excellent and we need to know. Not surprised you are struggling since it's all almost unthinkable and you're very close to it. Take care.

baboon
Jun 19 2017 21:24

According to BBC's Panorama tonight the original fridge fire, possibly caused by one of the frequent power surges, was put out and the firemen left. They weren't to know but it looks like the fire continued to burn away up the cladding which was acting as an accelerant. Incidentally, the Daily Mail tried to blame the fridge owner for the fire and apologised in the wake of a social media onslaught entirely in keeping with the general mood of solidarity within the working class.

The council had a £270-odd million surplus in the bank, particularly as a result, in its words, of an "overachieving efficiency drive". Just before the election, on the basis of its savage cuts, the council gave the wealthiest residents a council tax rebate. The Guardian reports today: 'The rebate was paid weeks before local elections which returned a Conservative council, the author of the letter wrote. “Austerity, K&C style: you give to the rich while taking from the poor (nobody with discounted bills or claiming council tax support was eligible to share in the bounty of the town hall blue-chips).
“As the toxic ash of Grenfell Tower’s vanity cladding falls over the neighbouring streets, we are left with the acrid truth in our throats: regeneration in the Royal Borough is in fact a crime of greed and selfishness,” the author wrote'.

fingers malone
Jun 19 2017 21:53

That news about the start of the fire is quite shocking.

There is great anger that the Kensington and Chelsea Council has not been supporting the homeless families or communicating with this community, the council have been 'relieved of responsibility' for the situation now and a task force has been sent in. I don't really know what that means but what people are saying is that nearly all the work is being done by volunteers and the council are not even co ordinating the volunteer effort.

fingers malone
Jun 21 2017 16:56

Hey, if you've seen these headlines about 'Grenfell Tower residents to be given luxury flats in central London development, it's massively misleading. I'm gonna go through all the details n then post something.

fingers malone
Jun 21 2017 17:28

Ok in brief when a developer wants to build flats they often have to include, for example, 20% of flats for social housing (called section 106 requirements). The flats referred to are the social housing flats in a private development. So the tenants are not being 'given' anything they will be renting those flats, and the developer hasn't been amazingly generous, they were obliged to build those flats by the planning regulations. The flats won't be 'luxury' flats, they will be the same size as any other social housing flats, although new.

fingers malone
Jun 21 2017 17:30

Questions
1 how much are the rents
2 what about the Grenfield residents who didn't have council tenancies

Noah Fence
Jun 21 2017 17:43

Yeah, I heard about this on Radio 5, the collaborationist BBC one obviously couched the language in terms of "given" and "luxury". No real challenge was mounted on Radio 4 to the suggestion by listeners that those that entered the council offices were the regular rent a mob. These fuckers close ranks pretty damned fast.

fingers malone
Jun 21 2017 19:18

Some piranha fish who have taken the shape of human beings are complaining to the papers that they don't want the Grenfell tenants to be rehoused there as it will lower their property prices.

jef costello
Jun 21 2017 19:38
fingers malone wrote:
Ok in brief when a developer wants to build flats they often have to include, for example, 20% of flats for social housing (called section 106 requirements). The flats referred to are the social housing flats in a private development. So the tenants are not being 'given' anything they will be renting those flats, and the developer hasn't been amazingly generous, they were obliged to build those flats by the planning regulations. The flats won't be 'luxury' flats, they will be the same size as any other social housing flats, although new.

Absolutely corrct, although the percentage is negotiable with the council and has a habit of disappearing between approval and construction.

Cooked
Jun 21 2017 20:01

A Swedish broadsheet has the headline "The Government buys luxury flats for people affected by fire" then goes on to translate a guardian article passing it of as their own.

It's really nasty how the articles even when acknowledging that they aren't actually the luxury flats still spend so much text on the description, price etc of the luxury part that having read the article you get the completely wrong impression. Coupled with the headline is so badly misleading. A narrative no one can pass down I guess.

Khawaga
Jun 21 2017 21:05
Quote:
A Swedish broadsheet has the headline "The Government buys luxury flats for people affected by fire" then goes on to translate a guardian article passing it of as their own.

It's really nasty how the articles even when acknowledging that they aren't actually the luxury flats still spend so much text on the description, price etc of the luxury part that having read the article you get the completely wrong impression. Coupled with the headline is so badly misleading. A narrative no one can pass down I guess.

Fucking clickbait titles, which conveniently operates as ideological class warfare.

fingers malone
Jun 21 2017 23:22

If the sons of company directors,
And judges' private daughters,
Had to go to school in a slum school,
Dumped by some joker in a damp back alley,
Had to herd into classrooms cramped with worry,
With a view onto slagheaps and stagnant pools,
Had to file through corridors grey with age,
And play in a crackpot concrete cage.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Buttons would be pressed,
Rules would be broken.
Strings would be pulled
And magic words spoken.
Invisible fingers would mould
Palaces of gold.

If prime ministers and advertising executives,
Royal personages and bank managers' wives
Had to live out their lives in dank rooms,
Blinded by smoke and the foul air of sewers.
Rot on the walls and rats in the cellars,
In rows of dumb houses like mouldering tombs.
Had to bring up their children and watch them grow
In a wasteland of dead streets where nothing will grow.

I'm not suggesting any kind of a plot,
Everyone knows there's not,
But you unborn millions might like to be warned
That if you don't want to be buried alive by slagheaps,
Pit-falls and damp walls and rat-traps and dead streets,
Arrange to be democratically born
The son of a company director
Or a judge's fine and private daughter.

Buttons will be pressed
Rules will be broken
Strings will be pulled
And magic words spoken
Invisible fingers will mould
Palaces of gold.

Fleur
Jun 22 2017 00:20

Wonderful song, sadly still relevant.

wojtek
Jun 22 2017 00:44
Quote:
But at the Savoy event - where tables cost up to £5,000 - the Prime Minister posed for selfies and a bottle of champagne was raffled to raise funds.

Theresa May Schmoozes Tory Donors While Grenfell Tower Residents Face Homelessness
Each family will receive £5,500.

fingers malone
Jun 22 2017 12:30

Daily Mirror saying cladding may have given off toxic fumes.

Guardian sugesting material specified in the plans was fireproof but then the material actually used wasn't.

[edit] tv news says today they've started testing the cladding on other tower blocks and some results are coming back as flammable, there are even more blocks covered in flammable material, Grenfell wasn't any kind of freak one off accident, this was gonna happen somewhere. This isn't a flaw from the seventies when they were built, cladding is recent, they have repeatedly allowed blocks with hundreds of people living in them to be turned into death traps oh my god

[edit] news is saying 600 blocks affected

Do the people need to move out while they take off the cladding? Where the fuck will that many people go? Who will pay for the work, the councils can't pay, it would bankrupt them. What the fuck is going to happen now. This is a massive infrastructure crisis.

Also I had a letter through the door today, it still tells me to stay put if the block is on fire.