Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
There has been – and there will continue to be – much written about the appalling tragedy of the fire at the Grenfell Tower in London. Much of it is bang on the money, some of it is way off, irrelevent and even potentially harmful.
Too many people have been trying, in my opinion, to make political capital out of it. Demonstrations hi-jacked by rent-a-mob activists never solve anything and usually just serve to switch people off from the cause they are supposed to be highlighting. Day of Rage, seriously? We’re British, a Day of Tutting Crossly would be more appropriate.
That said, I’m adding my two penn’orth because I believe there are serious long term implications for the whole building and housing industries in what happened.
The results of the tests that BRE have been doing on similar claddings on other buildings seems to show that there are problems with the cladding not working the way it was supposed to work. Or, maybe, not working the way people thought it was meant to. Which is not the same thing at all.
So what went wrong?
Was the cladding used faulty? Was it perfectly fine but wrongy specified? Or badly installed? Was it the fault of inadequate regulations? Or of inadequate supervision of the regulations? Were the local authority to blame ether through incompetence or inefficiencies? Was it because there was no one person or department with whom the buck stopped? Are the fire safety checks that councils do insufficiently thorough to cover things like the external fabric of the building as one fire industry expert has suggested?
The Residents Association of Grenfell Tower had been complaining for some years about what they felt was the ‘cheap materials and corner cutting' in block's refurbishment. For years and years now, local authorities have been hiving off their housing provision to the private sector, expecting the same things to be done for less and less money. The 2010 coalition government's war on supposedly unnecessary red tape, combined with austerity and pressure on the public sector to cut costs will have compounded all this.
I suspect the answer – if the public enquiry ever comes to a conclusion – will be that it was a combination of all of these issues.
When six people died in the Lakanal House fire in Camberell in 2009, it should have been a wake-up call to everyone responsible for social housing in these types of high rise buildings. The fact that at least 79 people perished in Grenfell means that any lessons from Lakanal House had either been forgotten or never learned in the first place. And for that, someone, somewhere, should be very, very ashamed.