Residents Are Still Not Safe In Tower Blocks
We need to make blocks safe immediately, before more people are killed writes Frances Clarke of Tower Blocks UK
Tower Blocks UK (TBUK) launched its fire safety checklist in parliament on 17 June. Simultaneously, Grenfell United projected its message onto the outside of the Houses of Parliament.
These two actions reflect the same issue on which, two years on from the Grenfell Tower fire and 10 years on from the Lakanal House fire nothing has changed. People in tower blocks are still not safe.
(Image: Grenfell United)
Through tools such as the fire safety checklist, TBUK is seeking to empower tenants and to enable them to systematically assess the risks in their homes and to report them to their landlords.
We have created a website where we share a huge range of information and resources that we hope will inform and empower those who are concerned about tower block safety. These are resources to amplify the tenant's voice.
We worked with the University of Kent's law school to create the checklist and we are working with e-democracy project mySociety to further develop such valuable tools. These tools are intended to make it easier for tenants such as Danielle Gregory, who described at the parliamentary launch the extraordinary lengths the Ledbury Estate tenants had to go to be heard.
Is this enough? Will this make blocks safe? Absolutely not. What else can we do?
We can stand behind Grenfell United when they project onto parliament: "This building still hasn't kept its promises."
We need a change to the regulations and laws to be put in place now that will ensure that tower blocks, old and new, are safe. We hear that changes are to be made, that Dame Judith Hackitt's recommendations in her review of building regulations will be implemented. But serious fires are happening now, as we saw in Barking a few weeks ago. Things need to change now or more people will die.
We have demanded a national inspection of all tower blocks because the safety issues in each block - in each flat - vary. The quality of design is often so poor and workmanship so variable that it is not possible to generalise from one block to another.
We are trying to identify those blocks most at risk. TBUK is an organisation with a history of campaigning about safety in Large Panel System (LPS) blocks.
The 'house of cards' design was made infamous when Ronan Point in Newham collapsed in 1968. These blocks exist across the country. If a serious fire or explosion were to occur in an LPS block, it would collapse and even more people would be killed.
Are we exaggerating the risks? In no recently reported examples of structural inspections has an LPS block been considered structurally sound and able to withstand the pressure required by building regulations. Blocks that have been investigated are being demolished all over the country.
The government have sent several letters to local authorities advising them to carry out structural investigations of their LPS blocks. But we have seen little apparent response.
Therefore, TBUK is working to identify the blocks with the highest level of risk. We consider LPS blocks with mains gas supplies and flammable cladding to be the most dangerous. We have even found blocks with mains gas supplies behind recently installed flammable cladding.
We are urging politicians - national and local - to know their blocks, to make sure they really know what they have in their area, to ensure that thorough structural investigations have been carried out, and to lobby the government for a national inspection.
In the meantime, we will continue to support residents when they identify problems because tenants know what's going on - from the residents in Barking who doubted the fire safety of their wooden balconies to the residents of Grenfell who predicted disaster.
We will continue to develop resources that seek to support and empower those who live in blocks because, as yet, there is no hard evidence that those who have the power to make blocks safe are going to act. Tower Blocks UK will not allow residents to remain on their own.
Frances Clarke - Co-founder, Tower Blocks UK