Grenfell Survivors Tell Party Leaders Safety Delays Will Cost Lives
In a stark election intervention, people who escaped the west London blaze and bereaved family and friends told Boris Johnson , Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson of their “deep and grave concern that a Grenfell-like fire is going to occur again”.
“It is our conviction that a serious fire in the UK , leading to loss of life, will occur in a building wrapped in combustible materials unless you act,” Natasha Elcock , chair of Grenfell United wrote to party leaders on Tuesday. “Two and a half years since the Grenfell fire, there has been no effort to identify the buildings most at risk or to prioritise work on the basis of safety … Action is needed now.”
It echoed the prediction in a community blog six months before the June 2017 Grenfell disaster that “ only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord ”.
The families have watched with mounting concern during the past six months as fire ripped through five different housing complexes, including at Samuel Garside House in Barking, Worcester Park in south-west London and most recently at the Cube student housing block in Bolton last month where two people were injured.
Cube was clad in commonly used combustible high pressure laminate (HPL) panels, while the other two had wooden cladding. The fires all took place in buildings lower than 18 metres in height, albeit in some cases only by a small amount, which meant they were not subject to restrictions on the use of combustible cladding.
Sandra Ruiz , the aunt of 12-year-old Jessica Urbano Ramirez who died at Grenfell, visited Bolton in the immediate aftermath of its fire, which injured two people.
She wr ote in the Guardian “the acrid burning smell … took me straight back to Grenfell Tower the morning after the fire that killed my niece and 71 others”. She said her twin daughters hope to start university next year and she wants to know they will be safe in their halls.
The blazes have increased concerns that the extent of the UK’s fire safety problem has not been properly grasped by government and extends well beyond the 436 residential blocks over 18 metres known to have been wrapped in Grenfell-style aluminium composite cladding. Grenfell United has warned that the 18-metre threshold for bans on combustible cladding is “arbitrary”.
Official figures revealed that nothing has been done to remove Grenfell-style aluminium composite cladding on at least 189 high-rise blocks of flats, student halls and hotels. The government will not know how many high rises are wrapped in HPL until March 2020 .
Six buildings have been completely evacuated, with hundreds of residents moved into temporary accommodation, and the number of residents coming forward to leaseholder campaign groups to report fire safety problems with their homes has continued to rise.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing , Communities and Local Government said resident safety was “the utmost priority”.
“The government has acted urgently to ensure residents are safe in their homes,” the spokesperson said. “It has banned combustible materials on the external walls of new high-rise homes, tested a number of non-ACM materials and provided £600m to fund fully the remediation of unsafe ACM cladding.”
Grenfell United’s demand for much faster action was backed by leaseholders in some of the 169 private tower blocks wrapped in Grenfell-style cladding and others built with different combustible materials.
“No political party standing at this election has yet put forward a plan to properly deal with the cladding crisis,” said Ritu Saha , founding member of the UK Cladding Action Group . “Unless swift and decisive action is taken to identify the buildings and make them safe, there will be another fire. Our lives are at risk unless the next government solves this crisis.”
Leaseholders are particularly angry at the slow pace of government support to fix the 169 private tower blocks wrapped in Grenfell-style cladding but since ministers launched a £200m fund to help fix them in May only one grant has been confirmed for remediation works.
“The current approach has failed,” said Fran Reddington , co-founder of Manchester Cladiators, a campaign group for leaseholders in one of the worst affected cities where at least 17 tower blocks are affected. “Whoever wins this election must now promise to do better. Asking leaseholders to pay for this work is unfair. People will go bankrupt or be thrown out of their homes and the work will simply not get done.”
She said more problems were being discovered in buildings including missing fire breaks and compartmentation failures – both faults that contributed to rapid fire spread at Grenfell.
Leaseholders at Northpoint, a block in Bromley , wrapped in both ACM and HPL, said the bureaucracy involved meant getting help was extremely slow. They have been granted money for a survey but will need a further application for full works, which residents do not expect will begin until the summer.
They have run up a £500,000 bill installing fire alarms and paying for fire wardens since Grenfell and will continue to spend £11,000 a month until the problems are fixed. In some cases their annual service charges have increased from £2,100 to £7,000.