Friday, 16 June 2017

Things that need to happen to stop a repeat of the Grenfell Tower fire

Earlier this week, the fire in Grenfell Tower, a housing block located within London's wealthiest borough, Kensington & Chelsea, resulted in the deaths of as many as 100 people at this time of writing, although media sources claim fewer deaths. This fire occurred because of neglect to the building by uncaring landlords, the use of flammable cladding (instead of fireproof cladding) which had been banned in several other countries after similar fires, a lack of sprinklers in the building, the fact that the fire escape was placed near the gas mains, and a lack of tenants' rights.

Grenfell Tower is located in one of the poorest areas of London, made starker by its location in the same borough containing mansions worth millions of pounds; the average house price in Kensington & Chelsea is in fact as high as £1,694,000, compared to only £220,000 in England as a whole; in other words, houses in Kensington & Chelsea cost nearly octople (eight times) as much as your average house. Rents in this area are also the second highest in England, only behind Westminster, and before the fire residents complained they were being pushed out of the borough, a process happening in social housing in many wealthy areas of London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buV929MqlWc

Limited tenants' rights in the UK compared to those of landlords, a lack of rent controls, and a lack of social housing or replacement of social housing which was sold off in the 'Right to Buy' era, exacerbate these problems, as does a lack of effective council power to enforce fair planning laws or make sure new buildings constructed by developers are safe, in an age where developers are much more concerned about profits than more important things.

So what needs to be done to prevent another Grenfell Tower fire, you ask? Several UK councils are already promising to fit new and existing blocks of flats with sprinklers, and in fact just a month prior to this event many did so following the Lakanal House fire of 2011: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/tenancies/council-gives-go-ahead-for-sprinklers-in-wake-of-lakanal/7002026.article 

However, fundamental fire safety laws regarding construction and maintenance of buildings, especially housing, need considerable reform, and so do tenants' rights. At a minimum here is what needs to be done:

1. Require all new buildings and housing to be fitted with sprinklers in case of accidental fires.
2. Ensure that fire escapes in houses or flats are not built near gas mains or anything potentially flammable.
3. The usage of cladding that is not verified to be fireproof must be banned.
4. A better balance needs to be introduced regarding planning so that developers are not able to just run roughshod over councils when building new housing.
5. Greater encouragement towards terraced housing as opposed to just blocks and blocks of high rise towers, which simply due to their physical design and height impose an inherent risk to residents in case of a fire
6. Improvement of tenants' rights in the UK and stricter limits on eviction; many tenants have been evicted simply for complaining about problems which are in fact the leaseholder's responsibility.



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