The Socialist 19 June 2019 |
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Angry Barking residents' meeting demands answers and action following fire
Around 150 angry residents attended the emergency meeting of Barking Reach Residents' Association after the 9 June fire, 13.6.19, photo by Ian Pattison (Click to enlarge)
Helen Pattison, East London Socialist Party
Barking Reach Residents' Association hosted a large and angry meeting after the fire on 9 June which has left eight flats completely burnt and another 10-15 damaged.
There are a number of residents who have lost everything. The fury poured out of residents, demanding answers. But also demanding action!
None of the representatives of the different stakeholders in the estate or the government were let off the hook. One resident, whose flat has been completely burnt out because of the fire, grilled each of them in turn. She mostly received spluttered answers of "I'll have to get back to you on that".
To the representative from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government she asked why they weren't listening to the Fire Brigades Union's demand for the removal of combustible materials and why they didn't have more power to condemn buildings that posed a fire hazard.
To the representatives of the private landlords and property managers, there were damning questions highlighting their mistakes, sloppiness and complicity in using what has been proven to be a dangerous material.
But the greatest anger was aimed at Bellway Homes which built the blocks. It has been forced to make concessions to the residents' demands - but it hasn't done enough. At first it said it would investigate the material and remove it if it was dangerous.
In answer, the residents said the fire is all the proof we need. Pressure forced Bellway to say it will remove the material from the flats but not the houses, which they would treat with fire retardant paint. The demand remains - remove the dangerous material now!
Faith in these big building companies to build safe homes has been completely destroyed. And why shouldn't it be.
These companies exist to make a profit, the material used was purely decorative, to push up the price of the flats, its safety not adequately considered. We need to kick private profit out of our homes.
The big building companies have built death traps, with 60,000 people still living in properties clad in the same material as Grenfell Tower.
These companies should be nationalised, alongside the swathes of land they plan to build on, so that safe, quality and genuinely affordable housing can be built. We should fight for mass council house building and cheap mortgages to end the housing crisis.
The day after the fire, an independent fire safety officer went round the neighbouring building which is a mirror of the burnt block Samuel Garside, and was built at the same time. At the meeting the residents were presented with a list of the problems identified.
This was all the proof residents needed to decide they want a residents'-led inquiry into the fire and safety of the buildings. This will include the testimony of residents which the residents' association plans to collect.
On top of this they should involve housing workers organised in Unite the Union, who have been working in a campaign with residents and tenants across London for safe and affordable housing, and defending housing association stock from sale.
These workers want to support residents and tenants, with their knowledge of the housing sector.
They should also contact the Fire Brigades Union, which can give evidence against the dangerous material being plastered on buildings and the mistakes over safety being made.
Every time the residents thought they were making progress, the representative from Bellway would revert back to the company's position that all the flats would be in a liveable condition in the next six months.
The residents are understandably not happy with this. Returning to a building undergoing heavy reconstruction will be disruptive to families trying to get back to normal. But also traumatic for many who saw the building catch on fire so rapidly.
Bellway is currently building more homes on the estate. Through interrogation by the residents, it was discovered that not all of these flats have been sold.
The residents demanded that the remaining flats are set aside for residents displaced by the fire. If Bellway continues to refuse to meet this demand the campaign should be stepped up.
Over shouts of "would you live there?" the suggestion was made to protest at Bellway's offices. Worry flashed over the faces of the stakeholders' faces when protesting was mentioned.
If residents don't feel their demands are being listened to or work completed fast enough, they should take their anger to Bellway's door.
By staying organised and piling on the pressure the residents could make real gains in the safety of their estate. But it will also show others the strength of ordinary people when we organise.