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3 Years On: No Lessons Learned

As we approach the 3 year anniversary of the Grenfell tragedy, slow progress to make UK tower blocks safe from fire has now completely ground to a halt.

Fires continue to spread in blocks of flats where they should be contained. On 20th May a fire broke out on the balcony of a 5th floor flat in a 6-storey block in Deptford. It caused extensive damage and spread upward over the exterior of the building damaging most of the roof and also part of a roof of an adjacent building. Photographs from the scene show what appears to be timber wall cladding as well as timber flooring to the balconies. This comes almost a year after fire ripped through Samuel Garside house on the Barking Riverside estate, which also had wooden cladding and balconies.

Just days later, a fire broke out on a wooden balcony on the Lighthouse Building in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. This was the second fire in as many years for this 20 storey block. The latest fire is thought to have been caused by a discarded cigarette.

These events continue to highlight that many materials that have been used on buildings are simply not fit for purpose.

The government has yet to address this, as they fail to meet their own deadline for the remediation of blocks with ACM cladding (the type used on Grenfell.)

The danger facing many tower block residents has been demonstrated repeatedly over the past three years through a series of horrific fires. Leaseholders are suffering both mentally and financially after being served notices to pay for waking watch fire wardens and remediation costs for their buildings. Meanwhile, the government continues to back away from their responsibilities, failing to properly fund the Building Safety programme that was set up to pay for all necessary remediation works. Though they’ve accepted, following consultation, that sprinklers should be installed in blocks over 11 metres, it’s unclear how or when this work might commence.

As the government quarrels with building owners and insurers over liability, it is inevitably the residents who suffer. It’s hard to understand how the problems with wooden cladding and balconies, or other forms of dangerous cladding, such as HPL will begin to be addressed when, 36 months after Grenfell only a small fraction of ACM clad blocks have had the work they need to make them safe. One out of every five high rise blocks in Manchester has been found to have dangerous cladding and, as more checks are carried out, the list of unsafe blocks continues to grow longer.

Compounding the risk is the lack of general repairs taking place during the Covid19 pandemic. With social distancing measures in place, the overall maintenance of blocks is inevitably declining with ‘non-urgent repairs’ being postponed. It’s unclear how many blocks are undergoing regular fire risk assessments and structural appraisals during this time and how many are having fire doors and alarms regularly checked and tested. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have written to social housing tenants to warn them that ‘there will be a backlog of repairs’ for some time to come.

The lessons of Grenfell have not been learned, and with progress stagnating in all areas, there is an uncomfortable sense of foreboding as we enter what is forecast to be another very long, hot summer.

Tower Blocks UK are calling on the government to immediately

  • Ban and remove combustible materials from all residential buildings

  • Install sprinklers in all blocks over 11m

Remembering Grenfell. Forever In Our Hearts.

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