Grenfell: the powerful are still not listening

Submitted by Matthew on 3 July, 2017 - 11:46 Author: Charlotte Zalens

So far all 95 tower blocks which have had their cladding tested since the fire at Grenfell in Kensington, west London, have failed fire safety standards. These buildings are potentially as dangerous for their tenants as Grenfell was. Many hundreds of buildings are still to be tested.

Tenants have been evacuated from tower blocks in Camden while cladding is removed; Sheffield council is removing cladding and says it cannot afford to re-clad buildings. Cladding is being removed from tower blocks in Brent, Hounslow, Lambeth, Manchester, Islington, Doncaster, Merseyside, Oxford, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Salford, Stockton, Sunderland, and Wandsworth; Croydon has said it will retro-fit sprinkler systems to all of its tower blocks. The testing operation shows how the lives of working-class people have been routinely put on the line to make ″savings″ at every level of building planning and construction. Meanwhile the grim reality of how many people may have died at Grenfell is starting to be appreciated.

Many flats will have been sublet, or have ″unofficial″ residents. Many Grenfell residents may have had undocumented immigration statuses which has led to friends and family not reporting them missing or nobody knowing to report them missing. Police have appealed for information, stating that neither they nor the Home Office will be checking immigration status. Understandably, many will not trust this. Officials now say that the final death-toll may not be established until the end of the year.

The relief effort is still chaotic, and largely left to volunteers with little official coordination. Many families may not ask for help for fear over questions over their immigration status; there are reports of some survivors sleeping in parks. The Radical Housing Network have reported that some survivors who had been temporarily housed in a local hotel were being evicted at a few hours notice because the hotel had other bookings. It remains unclear how many households will be rehoused locally, and on what basis.

Housing minister Alok Sharma was heckled on live TV on Wednesday 28 June when he promised homes to all survivors by next week (three weeks after the tragedy!). But he refused to confirm whether these homes would be on a permanent tenancy, or allay fears that people will be moved out of the borough. Failing after failing on the part of the council, the arms-length housing management organisation, and various contractors, keep coming to light.

On Tuesday 27 June it was discovered that a council safety officer had ordered newly installed gas pipes in the landings and stairwells of Grenfell to be boxed in with fire-retardant material. The work was contracted to the National Grid′s gas distribution arm which had started the work but at the time of the fire had only completed a third of it. In the course of the work the firm was sold to investors and renamed Cadent Gas. Residents had raised their concerns and been ignored. In an email to Kensington and Chelsea at least three months before the disaster, Tunde Awoderu, vice-chair of Grenfell Tower Leaseholders’ Association, wrote: “This exposed gas pipe throughout the building has put our life in danger and we don’t feel secure in the building any more.″

Residents of Grenfell and the surrounding area are demanding a say in the public enquiry. Grenfell Action Group is fundraising for legal costs to make that a reality. On Thursday 29 June the government announced that retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick will head up the public inquiry. But it is feared that wealthy, privately-educated Moore-Bick will not understand the problems faced by poor, mostly BAME, working-class people, and the impact of austerity. In 2014, Moore-Bick ruled in favour of Westminster Council being allowed to rehouse a vulnerable woman and her family 50 miles from her current home, a ruling which was overturned by the Supreme Court. Nobody in power is yet listening to the former residents and families of Grenfell. We must force them to.

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