The Truth about Grenfell Tower: A Report by Architects for Social Housing

This is an incredibly long read but if you want a forensic examination of the systemic failures that led to the Grenfell Tower disaster, this is the place to go…

architectsforsocialhousing

A PDF file of this report is available here: The Truth about Grenfell Tower

On Thursday, 22 June, 2017, in response to the Grenfell Tower fire the previous week, Architects for Social Housing held an open meeting in the Residents Centre of Cotton Gardens estate in Lambeth. Around 80 people turned up and contributed to the discussion – residents, housing campaigners, journalists, lawyers, academics, engineers and architects. Below is an edited film of the meeting made for us by Line Nikita Woolfe, with the assistance of Luc Beloix on camera and additional footage by Dan Davies, and is produced by her company Woolfe Vision. The presentations we gave that evening are the basis of this report, to which we have added our subsequent research as well as that collated from the numerous articles on the Grenfell Tower fire published in the press and elsewhere, to which we have attached…

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Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel accommodation with hours notice

PRESS RELEASE: Radical Housing Network – http://radicalhousingnetwork.org/

Today residents of Grenfell Tower were given eviction notices from their temporary accommodation in Kensington, in a move described as ‘barbaric’ by Radical Housing Network.

Residents of Grenfell Tower who had been staying at the Holiday Inn, Kensington, were told today that they were to be separated and moved by 4pm to other temporary hotel accommodation across London, in places such as in Heathrow, Lambeth, Southwark and north London. Following intervention by legal observers, most of the residents have been moved together to a hotel in Westminster.

Pilgrim Tucker, a community organiser working with the Grenfell Action Group and liaising with residents at the hotel, said:
“It’s beyond disgusting that after all these people have been through – losing their neighbours and watching their homes burn to the ground – authorities are prepared to tell them that they have hours to pick up their bags and move to some unknown destination, separated from their friends and neighbours. It makes you wonder if anything’s been learned from the Grenfell catastrophe.”

Radical Housing Network, an alliance of which Grenfell Action Group is a member, said:
“Today Grenfell residents staying together in a Kensington hotel were told they were going to be split up and scattered across London at a moment’s notice. Moving people around who have been through horror and trauma from one temporary accommodation to another is barbaric and unnecessary, and speaks of a degree of callousness by the authorities.

“Only yesterday Sajid Javid was promising that all those made homeless by the Grenfell fire would be rehoused in the borough within a matter of weeks. The government needs to move fast to make good on this commitment to rehouse all those made homeless by this catastrophe, according their wishes and needs.

“We still need answers as to what will happen to private renters, subtenants and homeowners of Grenfell Tower. We strongly suggest that given the scale of the disaster – and the trauma, mismanagement and negligence surrounding this case – all tenants of Grenfell, not just council tenants, are prioritised for permanent social housing in the local borough. If no so such social housing is available, we suggest Kensington & Chelsea council dip into their £274 million cash reserves to buy up property and turn it into social housing.

“Grenfell Tower is an indictment of a broken housing system – one where council housing is systematically run down and tenants are treated with contempt.

“It’s about time we had housing for people not for profit – and public investment in secure, decent, genuinely affordable housing for everyone.”

Criminal…

The horrific fire at Grenfell Tower and the tragic and needless loss of life, with the number of fatalities rising, is too much to fully comprehend at the moment. What we’re going to try and do with this post is comment on what we know so far…

Firstly, there are some people saying that the Grenfell Tower fire should not be ‘politicised’…seriously… We think this piece on Huck from Aaron Bastani is the perfect response that that assertion: Don’t you dare say the fatal Grenfell Tower fire is not ‘political’http://www.huckmagazine.com/perspectives/opinion-perspectives/greenfell-tower-fire-political-aron-bastani/

There’s the issue of why the fire spread so quickly. According to a number of reports we read, the materials used in the cladding and the cavity created after it was installed on the exterior of the tower which acted as a wind tunnel played a major part in the rapid spread of the blaze. The worst part about this is that one of the main reasons the cladding was put on the tower was to ‘improve view for nearby luxury flats’: Cladding added to Grenfell Tower to ‘improve view for nearby luxury flats’http://metro.co.uk/2017/06/14/cladding-added-to-grenfell-tower-to-improve-view-for-nearby-luxury-flats-6709369/ Words fail us…

The Grenfell Action Group have made numerous warnings about fire safety issues in the tower over recent years to the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea who own the block and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation who supposedly manage all of the social housing in the borough: Grenfell Tower Firehttps://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/06/14/grenfell-tower-fire/ It’s the same old story – arrogant local authorities who repeatedly refuse to listen to the genuine concerns of residents living in social housing.

What’s heartening is the way the local community and people from across London and beyond have rallied round to offer whatever help and solidarity they can: How London came to the rescue during the Grenfell Tower firehttp://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/how-london-came-to-the-rescue-during-the-grenfell-tower-fire-a3564956.html We saw this quote on Facebook which pretty much sums it up for us: The people spring into action way quicker than any government or bureaucracy. The people helping those affected by the Grenfell fire are practicing anarchism. Without them people would be going hungry tonight and not have clothes. People often ask how would anarchism work? It already does, every day and whenever you don’t have anyone on your back dictating what you do or how you do it.

Emergency accommodation has been provided by the Westway Trusthttp://www.westway.org/ It’s groups and organisations like this springing into action when tragedy strikes who make a real difference. However, a comrade checked hotel vacancies in Kensington and Chelsea today and there were a fair few rooms available. It would be nice to think that these hotels would be rallying round and offering their rooms for free to those made homeless by this disaster – we won’t be holding our breath though…

Not only that, Kensington and Chelsea has the highest number of empty homes in Greater London: Map reveals shocking number of empty homes across Londonhttp://metro.co.uk/2017/05/11/map-reveals-shocking-number-of-empty-homes-across-london-6630121/ A fair number of these are owned as ‘investment vehicles’ to be flipped at a point when the property market is swiftly rising. In theory, everyone displaced by this disaster could be re-housed, temporarily and permanently in Kensington and Chelsea if the council had the political will to seize these empty, unused properties. But we know that’s not going to happen… In all likelihood, temporary accommodation will be outside of the borough and quite possibly outside of London. Somehow, we think that when Kensington and Chelsea feel the time is right to re-build the tower, they won’t be re-building it as social housing – eventually it’s going to be seen by the borough as another money spinning development opportunity. That’s if the people let them…

The extent of this disaster has yet to fully reveal itself: Grenfell Tower fire: Police open criminal investigation into blaze that killed 17 as fears grow death toll could reach 100http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/grenfell-tower-fire-criminal-investigation-manslaughter-police-latest-a7792446.html To be honest, it’s too hard to write about this at the moment as our feelings are swinging between immense sadness on the one hand and barely controllable rage on the other. Suffice to say that the authorities would rather drip feed the number of fatalities over the next few weeks rather than admit the scale of this tragedy…

The level of anger at the scale of this utterly needless disaster is visceral and goes way beyond the so called ‘usual suspects’. Needless to say that the authorities will be doing their level best to stifle and control that anger – given the inconclusive general election result and the already ongoing political and constitutional crisis, they may struggle in this objective. How all of this will eventually play itself out is anyone’s guess…

Statement from Architects for Social Housing on the Grenfell fire

GRENFELL TOWER FIRE

It cannot be a coincidence that the same cladding and insulation used in the 2016 renovation of Grenfell Tower was also used on Lakanal House in Camberwell, which in 2009 similarly went up in flames. But whatever the causes of this fire, what we do know is that the Grenfell Action Group residents organisation has issued repeated warnings about the risk of fire in the tower since at least 2013, and that all these warnings have been ignored by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation.

Like every London council, Kensington and Chelsea are implementing a programme of estate regeneration that involves the managed decline of the housing prior to its demolition and redevelopment – as is in fact happening on the neighbouring Silchester estate. The lack of accountability of the council-led TMO that led to this disaster is being replicated across London, where housing policy is to treat council estates as assets to be managed for profit, not as housing to be used as homes.

A tragedy is something that befalls someone as a consequence of their arrogance and greed. The Grenfell fire is not a tragedy but a man-made disaster that could and should have been avoided. The victims of this fire are entirely innocent of the disaster they foresaw. It remains to be seen whether those whose arrogance and greed caused it will be held to account.

Architects for Social Housing