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Grenfell: survivors not rehoused, inquiry not independent, blocks not safe
Paul Kershaw, chair, Unite union housing workers branch
Tories fail residents
The government has admitted that 82 households are still in temporary accommodation following the Grenfell Tower fire and not all will be in permanent accommodation by June, the first anniversary. So much for Theresa May's promise they would be rehoused within three weeks of the fire.
Sajid Javid, the minister responsible, said "this is totally unacceptable. The suffering that these families have already endured is unimaginable. Living for this long in hotels can only make the process of grieving and recovery even harder."
Quite true - he condemns both the government and himself!
There are around 1,400 empty homes in Kensington and Chelsea. In the immediate aftermath of the fire Jeremy Corbyn rightly called for requisitioning of empty homes to rehouse survivors swiftly. It is time to put that idea in to action.
Inside Housing magazine has now revealed that Sir Ken Knight, the government's safety expert, signed off a certificate which claimed Grenfell-style cladding is allowed under official guidance. And the provider of the cladding material, Arconic, still insists its product was not in breach of building regulations.
But the government has repeatedly claimed regulations did not allow the material used on Grenfell on buildings over 18 metres tall.
Lawyers representing survivors and the bereaved at the public inquiry headed by Sir Martin Moore-Bick have rightly pressed the issue. They argue the materials did not meet regulations and that Moore-Bick should resolve this by making a ruling.
This well be a real test for Moore-Bick. As a judge he supported councils' social cleansing efforts by ruling in 2014 in favour of Westminster Council's removal of a tenant to Milton Keynes.
The inquiry faces increasing questions that undermine its credibility and claim to 'independence'. As well as Moore-Bick's past role, participants have pointed out that the inquiry panel as a whole does not include any representation of working class communities like Grenfell. And there is the problem that the inquiry's remit is too narrow, allowing the establishment to duck responsibility.
Meanwhile, Knight was also responsible for advice that sprinkler fitting was not economically viable, despite a judge recommending sprinklers be retrofitted to tower blocks after the 2009 Lakanal House fire in south London. Is he still giving that advice to the government?
The London Assembly now calls for mandatory sprinklers in buildings taller than 18 metres - six storeys. But the government remains silent and has refused funding for sprinklers while high rise buildings are failing safety tests.
To really get to the bottom of the issues will need an inquiry based on the community and labour movement.
Fire door checks
The police have recently announced that an undamaged 'Manse Masterdor' fire door recovered from Grenfell protected against fire for just 15 minutes instead of the 30 minutes' resistance it was designed to give.
Government ministers responded irresponsibly by jumping to say there was "no evidence that this was a systemic issue" and that no further action was needed from social landlords.
But quite rightly many landlords have started checks where Masterdor FD30 doors are used. Shouldn't the government have insisted on this minimum action?
Investigations continue to reveal a maze of private companies which must not be allowed to obscure responsibility. Manufacturer Manse Masterdor has gone into liquidation; its assets have been acquired by a company called Synseal which then established a new, separate company that trades as Masterdor.
Action on safety
Tenants and residents nationally are right to demand to see updated fire risk assessments and to monitor progress. Residents on the Lancaster West estate living in homes facing Grenfell tell the Socialist they have waited six months for promised replacement fire doors with no information as to when they will be fitted.
After the fire the government pledged that lack of money would not stop safety work, but since then has not put a penny in place. The estimated bill to reclad at least 288 towers in England which failed combustibility tests is now on course to reach £1 billion.
The Socialist Party continues to support residents organising to explore methods of withholding rent if action is not taken - no safety, no rent!
- Requisition empty homes!
- Launch a labour movement inquiry!
- Cladding off, new fire doors and sprinklers in now - no safety, no rent!
Correction: an earlier version of this article mistakenly stated Sir Ken Knight is acting as an advisor to the public inquiry into the Grenfell disaster. In fact, he has no advisory role in the Moore-Bick inquiry.
Instead, he sits on the government's "independent expert advisory panel" on safety recommendations following Grenfell - a separate body. The 'independence' of this panel is also subject to question, including because of Knight's role in it.
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