Grenfell Tower Tragedy – the known and the unknown
On 14th June 2017 Grenfell Tower caught alight when a fridge defaulted and started a fire. Whilst it is reasonable to expect fires to occur, the most shocking thing about the fire was how it spread. It has been found that the cladding that was installed on exterior of the property caused the continued spread of the fire.
Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (“KCTMO”) are responsible for managing 9,760 properties which includes Grenfell Tower. KCTMO is managed by a Board of Directors comprising of eight elected tenant and leaseholder members, four appointed Councillor members and three independent appointed other members. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea own the properties and the relationship between KCTMO and the Council is governed by a Management Agreement.
Plans for refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower were put to residents of Grenfell Tower by KCTMO and approved by residents which included using a fire retardant polyethylene core. There is usually a tendering process for a developer to do works on a building owned by a local authority. Often the most reliable developer is used. Sometimes the cheapest developer is used.
KCTMO engaged with Rydon to carry out substantial refurbishment works to Grenfell Tower. There were a number of changes to the plans in particular a cheaper aluminium cladding with a polyethylene core was used. There have been reports that savings of some £300,000 were made by changing the type of cladding used. Also, it has been reported that the cladding system on Grenfell Tower was passed by a building control officer from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea on 15 May 2015. It is not clear whether residents were consulted on this change of plan.
Cladding has become a popular step that local authorities and housing associations take to help improve the insulation and appearance of their blocks. What is concerning is the fact that samples of cladding of 181 tower blocks across the UK have failed fire safety tests. The failure to ensure a property is safe for habitation is a fundamental duty for landlords, despite this it looks as though short cuts are being made nationwide.
What is already clear is that lives were lost at present the Police believe that the death toll is likely to be 80, there have been recent reports of at least 20 suicide attempts by survivors. Survivors have been displaced – some unable to work, some have been traumatised and a huge amount of residents have lost faith in the local authority. Many feel that they are without the needed support. This was reinforced by my recent visit to the Grenfell Tower Assistance Centre. I witnessed a Grenfell Resident voice his displeasure due to the fact that he has been made to feel as though he has to beg for assistance although the fire was not his fault in any way.
At this stage the following questions remain:
- Who authorised the use of the cladding?
- Why was cladding needed in the first place?
- Who authorised the use of cheaper cladding?
- What complaints and concerns were raised by residents and how were these responded to?
- Were fire safety tests carried out on the completed works?
- Were residents consulted on the change of plans?
- Why was the cladding system passed by a building control officer?
It is hoped that the public enquiry will help provide clarity to above questions and more.