Grenfell Tower will always remain the symbol of social frustration
When you walk near Latimer Road, you can immediately feel the sheer sense of death and fury on the streets and in the air, shedding from the charred towner known as Grenfell, situated in a borough managed by the elites, looking down on those from the lower income families and minorities. It has always been us against them, and this disconnect has only worsened since hell broke loose and 80 lives lost due to gross negligence of the council. The responses, justifications, excuses from the borough council only made the people angrier, and angry they should be.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), one of the wealthiest and also most populous boroughs of England also houses the second-most financially deprived ward in London — Golborne, according to the borough’s 2010 publication of Indices of Deprivation. The gap between the population in RBKC is one of the widest in the country, and this reflects the sheer divide between those at the very top and those at the very bottom, as does the housing across the borough.
The brutalist welfare housing blocks were the answer for increasingly high numbers of migration and the need to create social housing to house the waves of migration. As a part of the Lancaster West Estate, Grenfell was built at 24 stories high in 1974. This building and estate housed those from low-earning British households, migrants and various refugee; and much like other estates, it could be said to be seen as a place to dump unwanted members of society, which is another clear example of the divides within the society that lives in the borough. After years of being ignored, marginalised, living in subpar housing, with a lack of jobs, limited education, all of which facilitates the disparity within the local community: ‘us’ vs ‘them, ‘rich’ vs ‘poor’.
What has been left of Grenfell is a testament for the failures of the local government and council. Numerous concerns were raised by tenants regarding the risk of a fire but were brushed away by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) after the £8.6 million refurbishment conducted last May. These concerns were expressed in the months before the fire took place — concerns included only having one fire escape, the placement of boilers and visibly open gas pipes, the absence of a building-wide fire alarm or sprinkler system, and piles of rubbish being dumped across the building. Some tenants were even threatened by the council for trying to instigate action with regards to the shoddy refurbishment job, which had clear violations of health and safety policies.
Last November, the Grenfell Action Group warned of the dangerous living conditions within Grenfell as a whole; they later stated:
“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.”
Whatever way the investigation goes, ultimately the council will never be held accountable for what happened to Grenfell. Though we have been told that there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect RBKC and the TMO (the organisation that managed the tower block) of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act (CMCHA); however, this really doesn’t get very far. The law on corporate manslaughter would require any prosecution to prove that there was a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to those who died — and even if this happened, they would only be liable for a fine under Section 1(6).
How in a first world country, a country included on the Group of Seven (G7), a country listed as one of the most highly industrialised in the world, not have the facilities to put out a fire in a 23-story building?
How is an atrocity where due to lax fire safety standards and underfunded fire-fighting forces meant that the fire spread so unimaginatively fast, reaching temperatures of 1000C able to happen?
Why weren’t the fire brigade given the right equipment, and why were no helicopter assistance given? How in this day and age, when you can find anyone, anywhere, are we having to wait until a year or so to confirm the dead from this incident?
Since the fire at Grenfell, a further 100 buildings have a cladding system which have all failed the latest round of combustibility tests by the government. Tests conducted by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) using a cladding system with aluminium composite material (ACM) which contain both a polyethylene filler and a stone wool insulation “does not meet current building regulation guidance”.
Of all of the affected buildings, it is said that 90 of them are either local authority or housing association-owned or managed. The tragedy that befell Grenfell, has clearly exposed the sheer magnitude of the systematic failure of current building regulations.
Ultimately, 80 innocent lives have been lost due to years of incompetence by the council and the tenant’s housing association, the shoddy housing regulations and a need to hide those who are least desirable in the community. Grenfell needs to see justice, it needs to see proper accountability to the organisations responsible for those living there and the subcontractors who were commissioned for the work.
Finding RBKC and the TMO guilty of manslaughter under CMCHA is one step in the right direction, but it does not solve the problem. There needs to be further action, action to signify to the local community that yes, this atrocity was horrendous but we are taking it seriously, and not brushing it under the carpet as so many times they have done before.