Branch Secretary : suz.muna.unite@gmail.com
  

Fire at Grenfell Tower

Need for investigation

 

Residents and housing workers have been shocked by the events in Kensington last night.  Below is an initial statement expressing our sympathy and concern at the incident.

 

Branch statement on Grenfell Tower fire:

 

The Unite housing workers branch sends solidarity to all affected by last night’s shocking fire at Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West estate in London. We send our deepest sumpathy to the bereaved.

 

We salute the courage of the fire-fighters, local residents and ambulance crews who responded with self sacrificing speed.  It is essential that the 400-600 people made homeless are rehoused locally in secure and affordable accommodation rapidly. The government must move fast and no talk of lack of money can be accepted in this situation.

 

Our members are deeply concerned at the implications of this fire and residents are this morning approaching housing workers with their fears about the implications.  There is real anger that resident concerns have not been listened to and that the terrible events may have been avoidable.

 

The London Fire Brigade have described the fire as an “unprecedented situation” and FBU general Secretary Matt Wrack has rightly pointed out that the fire should not have spread rapidly from flat to flat and we echo his call for “A full investigation... to be undertaken at the first possible opportunity to establish exactly what happened and what can be done to prevent such an incident happening again.”

 

It is too early to draw detailed conclusions about the nature and causes of this fire but a number of concerning features are clear and need to form part of any investigation:

 

  • Resident group Grenfell Action Group report they had repeatedly warned the owners of the block, Kensington and Chelsea Council, and Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which manages the block, about “very poor fire safety standards” in the tower.  They say their warnings “fell on deaf ears”.  If resident’s explicit concerns had been listened to it seems possible that this tragedy could have been averterted.
  • There are apparent parallels with the fire at Larkenal House in Southwark in 2009.  Although there have been calls for regulations to be reviewed in order to learn lessons this has not yet happened and no date for a review has yet been set.  Housing workers have expressed concern at this lack of action and The All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group of MPs has been calling for a review of building regulations for a number of years.   As recently as March this year the then housing minister, Gavin Barwell was pressed to start a review but refused to give a date when it would commence.  Mr Barwell is now the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.  Tower blocks are not inherently unsafe but there must be a real doubt as to adequacy of current safety regulations and material supplied by building contractors.
  • The Guardian reports that the suppliers of the cladding, Rydon, responded to the news by taking down an item on their website boasting that they supplied the cladding on this estate.  A better use of their time in responding to the news would have been to conduct an urgent review in to the risks associated with their product and the role of commercial construction companies must be under review.
  • Local services including the fire service and NHS have suffered cuts in recent years and face more planned cuts.  The number of fire deaths has risen over the last year and figures for waiting times in accident and emergency departments and ambulance response times have failed to meet targets.

 

In order to carry confidence a future investigation must be truly independent of government and official bodies.  An inquiry led by tenants and resident groups and the trade unions drawing on professional expertise is required urgently.

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