Grenfell and the Social Housing Crisis: How Kensington and Chelsea Council Behaved Like “A Property Developer Masquerading as a Local Authority”

Justice for Grenfell: banner on a march in central London on June 16, 2018, just two days after the first anniversary of the fire in June 2017 that killed 72 people (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

In a meeting of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on June 20 to discuss ‘Local Authority Support for Grenfell Tower Survivors’, Ed Daffarn, one of the survivors of last June’s entirely preventable tower block fire, in which 72 people died, reported an exchange with Kensington and Chelsea Council’s Chief Executive, Barry Quirk, who took on that role a week after the fire, which cuts to the heart of the problems facing those living in social housing in Britain today.

Daffarn told MPs that, at a meeting wth survivors’ organisation Grenfell United, Barry Quirk “said that RBKC [the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea] were a property developer masquerading as a local authority.”

Daffarn added, “Think about that. They were property developers masquerading as a local authority. They failed to keep us safe because they had higher priorities – getting their hands on the land, this massive goldmine they had.”

The confession by Quirk, who was formerly the Chief Executive of Lewisham Council, is significant because, when every aspect of social housing is made subservient to the money-making opportunities offered by housing development, residents of social housing are no longer actually safe in their homes. Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell One Year On: How Can We Feel Safe in a Country That Regards Everyone in Social Housing as Inferior?

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Exactly one year, ago, an inferno engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block in north Kensington, in west London, with such speed and ferocity that 71 people died, and a 72nd person died this January as a result of injuries sustained that night.

It was a disaster that should never have happened, and the fact that it did cuts to the heart of how Britain operates in the 21st century.

The tower block was built of essentially incombustible concrete, and the process known as compartmentalisation was meant to ensure that any fire that broke out would be contained within the flat in which it broke out, with every other flat supposed to be able to resist the spread of fire for an hour, giving the fire services time to arrive on the scene.

In fact, fire leapt up the tower like nothing anyone had seen before, clearly indicating that every safety measure that was supposed to prevent an inferno had drastically failed. At the heart of the disaster were measures taken that had fatally corrupted the structural integrity of the tower. In order to make the tower appear more attractive, new cladding had been applied to it, but the cladding was flammable, and had created the inferno that took so many lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Eddie Daffarn, Who Foresaw the Grenfell Tower Fire, Interviewed by Channel 4 News as the Official Inquiry Begins

Photos of 21 of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, 2017, in which 71 people are acknowledged to have died - and a 72nd victim died of injuries sustained in January 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

This has been a significant week for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire last June, when 72 people died in a disaster that should never have happened. On Monday, the official inquiry began, with survivors’ testimony that has been taking place all week after the inquiry’s chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, called the fire “the single greatest tragedy to befall [London] since the second world war”, and “pledged that survivors’ testimony would be treated as ‘integral evidence’ in proceedings which could run into 2020”, as the Guardian described it.

The Guardian’s detailed coverage of the hearings this week is here — Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four and Day Five — and, from the beginning, the testimony was extraordinarily powerful.

As the Guardian described it, “Marcio Gomes, the father of Logan Gomes, the disaster’s youngest victim who was stillborn after his mother went into a coma, showed the several hundred gathered survivors, support workers, lawyers and journalists an ultrasound scan of his son and told them how he had been left ‘broken.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell Campaigners Mark Eleven Months Since the Disaster That Killed 71, As MPs Debate the Government’s Response

Moyra Samuels of Justice4Grenfell speaking at the rally in Parliament Square on May 14, 2018, marking eleven month since the entirely preventable fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London, killing 71 people (Photo: Andy Worthington). Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist, and check out ‘Grenfell’ by my band The Four Fathers.

 

Please also mark the following date in your diary: Saturday June 16,
One year on: Justice for Grenfell Solidarity March’, organised by Justice4Grenfell, starting outside 10 Downing St at noon.

Yesterday marked eleven months since the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower, in north Kensington, killing over 70 people in an inferno that should never have taken place. Flats in tower blocks are designed to resist the onslaught of even a serious fire until the emergency services can arrive, but the cladding which had been applied to the tower, to make it look more attractive, was flammable, and in the process of installing it the structural integrity of the tower had been fatally compromised.

We know this from the warnings published by tenants, the Grenfell Action Group, on their website, but shamefully ignored by Kensington and Chelsea Council, and by the management company responsible for their homes, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, as I made clear immediately after the fire, in an article entitled, Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents.

We have also had it confirmed, just last week, in a leaked report prepared as part of the Metropolitan Police investigation into the fire, by fire investigation experts BRE Global Ltd., which concluded that “the original concrete building was transformed from a safe structure into a tinderbox by the refurbishment between 2014 and 2016.” Read the rest of this entry »

Over 1,200 Views for The Four Fathers’ ‘Grenfell’ Video, Remembering Those Whose Lives Were Lost, and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Last month, at a party of activists in Brooklyn, towards the end of my annual US visit to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the anniversary of its opening (the 16th anniversary of its opening, on January 11), I played ‘Grenfell’, the song I wrote after an entirely preventable inferno consumed Grenfell Tower, a residential tower block in west London last June, killing 71 people.

I wasn’t sure how much the small audience of human rights activists knew about it — how much news of distant disasters spreads around the globe, despite the notion that technology has made us all inter-connected — but I realised when introducing it that it was, for me, the defining moment of 2017, and I’m sure my passionate rendition of it helped one small corner of Brooklyn to understand.

I wrote ‘Grenfell’ last summer, as my response to the disaster, and played it with my band The Four Fathers for the first time in September at a benefit gig for campaigners in Tottenham, as part of their opposition to the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), a deeply unpleasant proposal by Haringey Council to enter into a £2bn deal with the rapacious international property developers Lendlease (the destroyers of Southwark’s Heygate Estate), which would involve the council transferring all its social housing to the HDV, with the ensuing destruction of entire estates, and their replacement with new private housing, from which most of the existing tenants would almost certainly be excluded. Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell, Six Months On: The Four Fathers’ New Song Remembering Those Who Lost Their Lives and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

A screenshot from the video of The Four Fathers performing 'Grenfell' - with added titles.Before June 14 this year, anyone reflecting on the skyline of London would think about the Shard, the Gherkin, One Canada Square, the ostentatious towers of the face of modern capitalism; on the morning of June 14, however, a new vision of a tower was seared into the nation’s memory — the charred, still-smoking remains of Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey residential tower block in North Kensington, in west London, consumed in an overnight inferno with the loss of 71 lives.

The Grenfell Tower fire was entirely preventable. Designed so that each flat would be able to withstand fire until the emergency services arrived, the tower’s structural integrity was destroyed when it was given new cladding — through holes made in the body of the tower, through the use of flammable cladding to save money, and through the gaps behind the cladding that facilitated the extraordinarily swift spread of the fire. At every level, it seems clear — central government, local government, the devolved management responsible for Kensington & Chelsea’s social housing, and the various contractors involved in maintenance and refurbishment — safety standards were eroded or done away with completely,

When I wrote about the fire just two days later, I was deeply shocked to discover that the disaster had been foretold by residents in the Grenfell Action Group, who had stated in a post in November 2016, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO [Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation], and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.” Read the rest of this entry »

Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents

Grenfell Tower in west London photographed on the afternoon of June 14, 2017 after being destroyed in an inferno (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Please sign the 38 Degrees petition to the government urging them to “improve fire safety in tower blocks to make sure the tragedy in Grenfell Tower is never repeated,” which, by Saturday morning, had over 155,000 signatures.

I’ve been preoccupied since Wednesday by the terrible loss of life in the inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London, by how it was preventable and should never have happened, and, most shockingly of all, by how was foretold, in explicit detail, by tenants who published their fears and warnings on a blog, but were ignored by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, and by the management company responsible for their homes, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

On November 20, 2016, under a photo of a tower block on fire and the heading, ‘KCTMO – Playing with fire!’, a representative of the Grenfell Action Group wrote, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that 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. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.”

The author of the post also stated, “Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterise the malign governance of this non-functioning organisation.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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