By Sam Ord
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Relay Building residents raised fire safety concerns before fire

The lack of safe, affordable housing is the result a profit-driven housing system
Issue 2795
A picture of the Relay Building before the fire

The Relay Building in Whitechapel, east London (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Residents at an east London tower block raised concerns about fire safety before a blaze broke out on Monday. Around 70 people were evacuated from the Relay Building in Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, as over 125 firefighters tackled flames on the 17th floor. Two people were rushed to hospital.

It took three hours for the blaze to be put under control which affected three floors. Passengers at Aldgate East station—below the building—reported smoke flooding the building. Spectators heard screams as they watched o, narrowly avoiding huge glass panels that crashed to the floor.

Warning signs had been flagged by residents years prior. During the fire, many residents didn’t hear fire alarms and decided to evacuate. Andrew Meikle, who has lived in the building for five years said, “There have been complaints about fire alarms, the ‘stay put’ policy and the high risk of fires on the wooden balconies, and guess what was burning today? The wooden balconies.”

He added that fire alarms hadn’t been heard in previous smaller fires. “When the ‘stay put’ policy fails, alarms should be put in to tell people to get out,” he told the Evening Standard newspaper. “Why is someone running around banging on doors saying ‘get out, get out get out’ or a WhatsApp group telling the residents that there is a fire, the evacuation process we had?”

This is the unfortunate reality of a profit-driven construction and housing system. People’s lives are always considered second. The Relay Building was completed by developer Redrow in 2014. The building includes “affordable housing”, where the fire started. To access the affordable section residents must enter a separate entrance, at one side of the building. 

These systems are often branded as “poor doors”, reinforcing a strong class divide from the wealthy residents – some of which can afford £4.2 million penthouses. Despite some apartments being branded as affordable, a small two bedroom flat is currently on sale for £650,000.

Redrow currently owns 1034 private homes—and in the second half of last year pre-tax profit hit £203 million. Relay Building was Redrow’s first development, Architecture magazine Building Design commented, “First flagship development? Please God let it also be their last.” In 2018, Harbor Group International, LLC, and ZC Ronogil bought the Relay Building for over £90 million. The Harbour Group are valued at £10.2 billion.

The money for safe, affordable homes is there and it should be a right for all—but it will take resistance to win it. 

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