Grenfell Tower. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Grenfell Tower. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The ‘bonfire of regulations’ has now taken on a chilling new meaning

Chalcots Estate in Camden was evacuated over the weekend displacing thousands of people as it emerged that the estate was refurbished by Rydon Maintenance Ltd. between 2006-2009, the same firm which oversaw work carried out at Grenfell Tower, raising serious questions about the culture of deregulation under Tory rule.

A staggering 95 tower blocks have failed fire safety inspections in a desperate nationwide operation to identify high rises with thermal cladding similar to that used at Grenfell, in 32 local authorities.

More than 700 flats were evacuated from Chalcots Estate in the early hours of Saturday morning into temporary accommodation amid safety fears after experts told Camden council they ‘could not guarantee residents’ safety’ following inspections carried out on Friday.

Residents were given just a few hours to collect their belongings and told to find alternative accommodation where possible or report to one of two makeshift relief centres with many refusing to leave their homes. Residents described the evacuation as ‘chaos.’ Renovations are expected to take up to four weeks.

The leader of Camden council Georgia Gould ordered the evacuation at 6.30pm on Friday evening after a review found cladding similar to Grenfell Tower and ‘multiple other fire safety failures.’ Gould said that the Grenfell inferno ‘changes everything.’

The official death count at Grenfell Tower is currently 79 but expected to rise. The shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said she expected the Grenfell death toll to run into hundreds and said the deaths came as a direct consequence of deregulation and Tory attitudes to social housing.

Indeed the warnings of residents, lobby groups and safety experts were systematically ignored by authorities. For them, the Grenfell tragedy was the sum of all fears and the tragic but entirely avoidable result of a litany of failures amounting to wilful neglect.

Former chief fire officer of twenty years, now secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety said that former housing minister Gavin Barwell repeatedly ignored requests for urgent meetings to discuss fire safety concerns and effectively sat on a report giving damning evidence that high rise tower blocks like Grenfell were vulnerable to vertical fires due to thermal cladding for four years.

A coroner’s report into a deadly fire at Lakanal House in South London in 2009, found that thermal cladding on the building’s exterior had directly contributed to the blaze which spread in just four minutes killing six people and made several recommendations included the installation of sprinkler systems but nothing was done.

The Lakanal House fire should have been the wake-up call which ultimately saved the residents at Grenfell. The Fire Protection Association has been lobbying the government to review combustible materials used on building exteriors for a number of years but again nothing was done.

A culture of deregulation under the Conservative government has enabled developers to cut corners and make a killing in both senses. In 2012, then Prime Minister David Cameron promised to ‘kill off the health and safety culture for good’ describing health and safety regulations as ‘an albatross around the necks of British businesses.’

One business that certainly benefitted from Cameron’s war on health and safety legislation was Rydon, who carried out a £8.7 million facelift to Grenfell tower and were also responsible for cladding used in Chalcots Estate.

CEO Robert Bond said in a press release that work undertaken at Grenfell met all required building regulations and health and safety standards and that he would co-operate with authorities in a public inquiry. Rydon has an annual turnover of £195 million and have since won a lucrative £65 million contract as the development partner for the ‘regeneration’ of High Line Estates in Ealing.

The refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was never about improving the living standards of those who actually inhabited the building. It was concerned, not with the safety of the resident, but with fashioning a more aesthetically pleasing exterior for the benefit of wealthy onlookers in nearby luxury flats. Its primary objective was ‘regeneration,’ a euphemism for social cleansing.

In a statement, Metropolitan police said they are considering manslaughter charges as well as criminal offences and breaches of regulations and legislation. ‘Strong and stable’ Prime Minister has confirmed there will be a full public inquiry. Evidently, the only stable thing about Theresa May is her ability to close the door after the horse has bolted.

The culture of deregulation created by successive Conservative and New Labour governments who referred to a ‘bonfire of regulations’ has now taken on a chilling new meaning. Locally referred to as ‘the Crematorium,’ the burnt out shell of Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road stands as an imposing monument to neo-Liberalism; the perils of deregulation and the Conservatives’ contempt for society’s most vulnerable in the richest borough in the UK.  

Kara Bryan

Kara Bryan is a writer and activist and regular contributor to the Counterfire website. She is a member of Counterfire and Stop the War

Tagged under: