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Posted on 20 March 2020 at 13:42 GMT

'Worst crisis in housing since World War Two' - Barking Riverside inquiry into fire

Pete Mason, Chair, Barking Reach Residents Association and East London Socialist Party
London firefighters putting out the fire on Barking Riverside estate, 9.6.19, photo Pete Mason

London firefighters putting out the fire on Barking Riverside estate, 9.6.19, photo Pete Mason   (Click to enlarge)

Our residents-led inquiry into the Samuel Garside House fire on the Barking Riverside estate in east London met for an interim review of its findings on 4 March.

We now have 20 video interviews of residents on the estate, with many emotionally charged ones of residents who fled the building bare-footed, still today suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the fire, and being constantly pressured to return.

We are witnessing the worst crisis in housing since World War Two, I said, vividly demonstrated by the Grenfell Tower disaster in which 72 people died.

World War Two marked the turning point in housing for working-class people, with mass council housing building providing a welcome escape from the decaying private slums - council housing which set higher standards than the old private estates.

Now we are heading back to the dark days of the 1930s - of reliance on private housing and callous landlords.

An expert witness at our meeting, a longstanding critic of the government, Dr Jonathan Evans, condemned building companies for lobbying the government to relax regulations.

This led to the following government guidance: "Timber cladding at least 9mm thick is also acceptable" on the first 18 metres of tower blocks. The fire in Samuel Garside house, of wooden balconies, he stated, was instrumental in exploding that 'advice'.

996 days after Grenfell, we called for all flammable cladding to be removed - and the government to 'cough up' rather than leaving leaseholders to face crippling charges.

Our treasurer and convener of the inquiry, Venilia Amorim, detailed how residents and their residents' association had warned again and again of the dangers of the wooden buildings and the cladding on the estate.

Yet the builders, the managing agents (and standing behind them, we must assume, the landlords, like Adriatic in our case) responded that everything conformed to building regulations.

They are still doing so now. Building regulations state that the external walls must resist the spread of fire. The wooden balconies, by contrast, were the means by which the fire spread.

So the interim meeting also affirmed our most far-reaching conclusions: the need for resident control over our homes and estates.

We reaffirmed our resolution, passed unanimously at our mass meeting after the fire: "We believe Adriatic has forfeited its right to ownership of this property. It should pass as commonhold to the ... residents".

The inquiry findings will be presented on the anniversary of the fire, 10 June 2020, and we will invite all those involved in the management, regulation and ownership of Samuel Garside house to defend themselves against the charges we will present.

Several days after our inquiry, the local news reported that Barking and Dagenham council has launched a review into fire safety, which aims, like ours, to interview residents affected by the Samuel Garside fire.

It hardly seems a mere coincidence, but we will do all we can to get the council inquiry to reach the same conclusions as ours.

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