Socialist Worker

Warnings ignored in a Tory bonfire of regulations

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2561

Lakanal House in south London burned down in 2009. Safety recommendations made after the fire were not implemented

Lakanal House in south London burned down in 2009. Safety recommendations made after the fire were not implemented (Pic: Stephen Richards/geograph.org.uk)


The Tories and their friends in the right wing press have been working overtime to spread the blame for the Grenfell Tower murders around. They also want to deflect attention from a culture at the top of the Tory party.

“What they seem to be trying to do is just make this a debate about cladding,” survivor Joe said. “That seems to be the spin on the issue at the moment, but it goes way beyond that.”

One fire safety professional told Socialist Worker, “The 2005 regulations only deal with the common areas, the internal areas. The cladding and anything on the exterior of the building is not considered as part of a fire safety audit.”

After the Lakanal House fire in 2009 an inquiry found that tower blocks should be retro-fitted with sprinkler systems. It wasn’t implemented, merely recommended to councils.

A new government fire safety expert panel is to be set up and headed by Sir Ken Knight. He once advised that retro-fitting sprinkler systems to tower blocks was not “economically viable”.

The Tories ignored warnings and are desperate to shift the spotlight off the top-level decisions which created the conditions for Grenfell to burn.

Eric Pickles bulldozed opposition to the red tape bonfire when he was minister for local government

Eric Pickles bulldozed opposition to the red tape bonfire when he was minister for local government (Pic: pickles04/Flickr)


For instance, in 2013 former Tory local government minister Eric Pickles condemned the Welsh Assembly for introducing tighter building codes.

This came after the biggest construction firm in Britain said it would not build homes because of tighter building restrictions.

And at the 2013 Tory party conference former Tory minister for Wales David Jones slammed the proposal to fit every new house with a sprinkler system as “bizarre”.

Former Tory leader David Cameron wondered aloud in 2014, “What else can we throw on the red tape bonfire while we’re at it?”


Vague promises mean nothing from vicious Tory ministers

The Tories announced last week that the final figure of the dead will not be released until around the new year.

But the real figure will never be known unless there is a complete amnesty on prosecutions or deportations for anyone caught up in the fire.

“I would urge those with information to come forward without fear of prosecution,” said local government minister Sajid Javid.

He declared an amnesty on people subletting flats in the tower but nobody knows how long this attitude will last.

On Sunday the British Red Cross called for an amnesty on undocumented migrants who know people who died in the fire.

Tory prime minister Theresa May claimed the Tories would “not use this tragic incident as a reason to carry out immigration checks on those involved or on those providing vital information to identify victims”.

But that vague promise means nothing without solid guarantees.

“What you need is to create a situation where people feel really confident that they can come forward without any fear of reprisals,” said Alex Fraser from the British Red Cross.

He went on to call for a two-year amnesty for undocumented migrants who came forward.

That’s not enough—no one should be deported, not today, not tomorrow and not in two years’ time.

And the Tories should be paying the air fares of anyone who needs to come to Britain to attend funerals of the dead. They are responsible for the deaths.


Who was checking on Grenfell safety?

Over 180 high-rise buildings across 51 local authorities had failed fire safety tests on their cladding as Socialist Worker went to press—a 100 percent fail rate.

Years of running down fire regulations increased the likelihood of the Grenfell fire

Years of running down fire regulations increased the likelihood of the Grenfell fire (Pic: Charlie/Flikr)


“The building control regulations are very woolly about what types of materials to use,” one fire safety expert told Socialist Worker.

“That’s why you’ve got so many buildings failing this test. They don’t specify whether panels should be combustible or non-combustible.”

Meanwhile, the investigation into the Grenfell refurbishment continues to get murkier.

Over 60 companies and organisations involved in the tower’s refurbishment are now in the spotlight.

Cheaper

The firm which organised the refurbishment of Grenfell, Rydon, subcontracted out parts of the work.

That meant that the cladding used was not the fire-resistant zinc-coated one the residents had approved, but a cheaper aluminium-coated one produced by US firm Arconic. It saved just £300,000.

Arconic has pulled the cladding from distribution worldwide and is facing legal action from shareholders after its share price plummeted in the wake of the Grenfell fire.

Rydon is now suing Camden council. The north London council said the work Rydon had done “did not satisfy our independent laboratory testing or the high standards we set for contractors”.

A senior executive from the firm that made the insulation boards fitted to Grenfell Tower is an adviser to the government on building regulations.

Mark Allen, technical director of Saint Gobain UK, is on the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, which advises local government minister Sajid Javid.


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