By Harry Scoffin
Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have this week joined forces with leaseholders stuck in privately-owned blocks clad with deadly combustibles, telling the major party leaders of their “deep and grave concern that a Grenfell-like fire is going to occur again”.
In a letter sent on Tuesday to Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson, Grenfell United chair Natasha Elcock highlighted government failings over building safety, saying “there has been no effort to identify the buildings most at risk or to prioritise work on the basis of safety” despite two and a half years passing since the catastrophic loss of life at Grenfell.
The government’s flagship private sector ACM cladding remediation fund was also heavily criticised:
“The remedial fund to remove ACM cladding has not been successful with cladding still present on 318 out of 436 affected buildings. We still do not even know the number of buildings with dangerous materials of other kinds – although experts predict it will run into thousands.”
“We believe this is an issue of public safety that transcends party politics … It is too late to save our loved ones, but it is not too late to save others,” Ms Elcock added.
The letter implores the next administration to follow the lead of the state government of Victoria, Australia which moved fast following Grenfell to establish “a national taskforce with legal powers, a priority list of buildings and an innovative funding model including a development levy to ensure the construction industry bear some of the costs.”
“It is deeply frustrating that the government of the country where Grenfell happened has taken less decisive action.”
People will be burned to death in their homes unless the next government accelerates action to fix hundreds of unsafe apartment blocks, survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster have warned party leaders.
The dramatic election intervention was reported by Guardian social affairs correspondent Robert Booth and backed by a moving commentary from Grenfell survivor and campaigner Sandra Ruiz.
Ms Ruiz said Grenfell United “has written a letter to party leaders that we never wanted to write”, which has been compared to the now-famous plea co-authored by Edward Daffarn, also a Grenfell United member, for the authorities to heed resident concern over building safety just six months before the inferno that killed 72 people.
“If the government’s main job is to keep citizens safe, taking responsibility for the cladding scandal must be top of the list. That another Grenfell could happen under the next government should keep any prime minister awake at night,” Ms Ruiz wrote.
The smell was the same – that acrid, burning smell. As we walked towards the burnt-out wreckage of The Cube in Bolton, it took me straight back to Grenfell Tower the morning after the fire that killed my niece and 71 others.
The move by Grenfell United to articulate the concerns of those residents on cladding sites in the private sector follows the group’s attendance at an event held in central Manchester last Wednesday, which saw hundreds of local leaseholders affected by the combustible cladding crisis unite.
Organised by Manchester Cladiators, the packed venue heard from Grenfell United and others including LKP’s Martin Boyd and Inside Housing deputy editor Peter Apps.
National Leasehold Campaign co-founders Katie Kendrick and Cath Williams were also in attendance.
The strengthening of links between Grenfell United – which originally focused its limited resources on campaigning to make social blocks safe – and groups representing residents of private cladding sites supports the view of Lord Porter.
The London Greater Authority building safety spokesperson recently clashed with Labour politician David Lammy on Channel 4 News.
He challenged Mr Lammy for framing the Grenfell tragedy almost exclusively as a “tenure” and “class” issue when “it is a type of building issue”, which he said must be addressed “for the benefit of everybody going to sleep at night, not just some people.”
In the Guardian coverage of the Grenfell United letter, Rita Saha, founding member of UKAG, slammed politicians across the political divide for failing to grasp the severity of the cladding crisis:
“No political party standing at this election has yet put forward a plan to property deal with the cladding crisis.
Unless swift and decisive action is taken to identify the buildings and make them safe, there will be another fire. Our lives are at risk unless the next government solves this crisis.”
Fran Reddington, co-founder of Manchester Cladiators, also spoke out:
“The current approach has failed. Whoever wins this election must now promise to do better. Asking leaseholders to pay for this work is unfair. People will go bankrupt or be thrown out of their homes and the work will simply not get done.”
The Northpoint development in Bromley, south-east London, incidentally where Ms Saha lives, has had grant confirmation for the remediation works programme announced by government in May.
It represents just one of the 169 private residential towers with Grenfell-style cladding that should be in line for the fund money.
Concerns remain over the EU State Aid declaration form. LKP understands MHCLG officials still require the signature of every single leaseholder of an affected site in order to be able to approve an application, a major challenge when many will be based elsewhere, possibly resident overseas.
The deadline for applications closes at the end of the month.