It goes without saying that the Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington, London, was the worst human tragedy in the UK since World War Two. Approximately eighty people were killed, and that number is expected to rise. A several hundred people lived in the tower and were thought to be inside there as the tragedy was unfolding.
Residents that lived nearby described their shock and horror to what had occurred that night and some described the event as “a disaster waiting to happen”. Others described it as “something that would happen in the third world”. Many locals set up churches as centres for relatives looking for loved ones, and the nearby Westway Sports Centre was turned into a provisional place for people to donate clothes for residents that had been left with nothing.
A local group had recently voiced their concerns about building regulations and the safety of Grenfell Tower. The building company, Rydon, had carried out an £8.7 million renovation just last year; the company said they complied with current building regulations and fire safety – which was their top priority. The government had confirmed that all regulations were adhered to safely. However, building regulations in the UK have not been changed for at least twenty years, and nearby residents to Grenfell want them changed to the modern day to accommodate more residential blocks.
Some local residents near to Grenfell blame Conservative austerity. The fact there were no sprinklers or fire detectors fitted was an alarming concern. No one had quite expected a tragedy on this scale to ever occur. Many people across the country, not just in London, want answers as to how and why this disaster happened and what strategies will be implemented to prevent it from occurring again.
Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has voiced his concerns about the tower blocks, contending that there have been “terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners” and was a “disregard for working-class communities”. He blamed the Grenfell deaths on the Conservative spending cuts since they took power in 2010. He also has mentioned in the past that there are now fewer building control inspectors and planning inspectors.
Although not realised, the cladding material used by the building company, Rydon, during the renovation last year was banned by the government beforehand – and when the local authorities were making checks in the building they did not spot this. Cladding that is fire resistant for sixty minutes (FR60) was compulsory on all tower blocks in the UK until 1985 when this order was lifted. These regulations have still not been changed – and have not been changed as recently as when the tragedy at Grenfell Tower occurred.
A few weeks ago, the Kensington and Chelsea local authority was told it would face manslaughter charges for what happened at Grenfell. Many local residents say the whole tragedy was the government’s and the local authority’s faults.
In the weeks since the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, a government taskforce has taken over parts of Kensington and Chelsea council because of the lack of authority in place at the time, and also to keep check on the operations by the council, with the government overseeing responses to senior resignations. Unfortunately, such government action comes too late for the victims of the Grenfell fire.