Grenfell Tower - what next?

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  • Grenfell Tower - what next?

    To me, there are several issues here which are being overlooked in the midst of this tragedy. Looking at it from a LL's point of view, since most, if not all residents were tenants:

    If this combustible cladding was allowed by building control and fire regulations, then there's absolutely nothing that can be done retrospectively about this. It seems there are 30000 buildings across the country with this cladding, so it sounds like it is very common and allowed. Why is the contractor in hiding then? Neither council nor contractor can be blamed here, assuming it's all perfectly legal. it's those setting the fire regs and building controls who should have figures pointed at them. They failed in their duty, and badly so. For now, other buildings with such cladding should be re-assessed immediately.

    However, if the cladding is in breach of fire regulations, then someone - council, contractor? - is in very serious trouble and directly responsible for all these lives lost.

    Shouldn't the building insurance company be involved deeply here, especially to rehouse all these people? You're a LL, you have building insurance on your property, it burns down - don't you contact them?

    Building insurance or not, as LL don't you have an obligation to rehouse your tenants if your property burns down, especially through no fault of their own?

    Lack of fire alarms - this is very serious and there is no excuse against that. As a small LL you'll probably end up in jail if your tenants died as a result of you not putting up fire alarms in an HMO, the law is clear on that.

    Same for sprinklers here.

    Speaking of HMO, isn't this tower like a super HMO? Surely all regs should be followed to the letter?

    One way or the other, I think the council failed very seriously here.

    As a small LL with an HMO, you're saddled with red tape from the council. But when the council fails on a massive scale, probably no one but the taxpayer pays the price.

    One law for them, one law for us.

    I'd also like to see better leadership from the gov on this one. They should be providing guarantees such as alternative homes for everyone, no rent to pay for some time, money to help with buying furniture, etc, nominating a senior person to take charge of everything... It may and will cost money but this is a rich country. Of course, promises need to be realistic too, you can't say everyone will be re-housed in the borough, there simply aren't hundreds of homes lying empty. Some people seem to forget that. Theresa May had several opportunities to show leadership (NHS virus, 2 terrorist attacks, now Grenfell) by coming forward and promising impactful changes or generous help from one of the world's richest governments, but sadly leaders are lacking these days. I think I know someone 20 years who grasp a royal tragedy and led the country out of it...

  • #2
    This is a massive tragedy all concentrated in one spot.

    But there are thousands of such tragedies every day all over the country. People whose children die, whose parents die, who fall and hit their heads, who have a bleed from an aneurysm, who get raped. They deserve no less or more state/taxpayer help than people in the headlines (especially since they might have spent a lifetime contributing to that state).

    But pulling out one sentence of your piece:

    " If this combustible cladding was allowed by building control and fire regulations, then there's absolutely nothing that can be done retrospectively about this."

    This is the whole problem of regulation. Regulation is there to set minimum standards not to set what standards should be.
    A doctor who prescribes a drug which proves to be toxic (but one approved by regulators) has to account for their decision,
    as does a homeopath who kills a patient by pretending they will be cured by water (even though that water has a stamp of regulatory approval).

    Beware politicians bearing your "impactful changes" (paid for by someone else of course).

    Originally posted by kelbol View Post
    As a small LL with an HMO, you're saddled with red tape from the council. But when the council fails on a massive scale, probably no one but the taxpayer pays the price. One law for them, one law for us.
    Indeed. What is needed is for a few people to go to prison. That will sharpen minds. Architects will think - they would just do what the regulators tell them they can do.

    What is also staggering is the amount of money spent -- £100,000 per small unit for this recent refurbishment alone (and in an area that may later have demolished anyway). The state really is not the best party to make sensible decisions about provision of accommodation. Bad decisions are made when spending money that was earned by others. In any block of flats in the private sector this would mean a £100K service charge bill per flat.

    (as an aside - there are about 7 deaths from fire in the UK every week)


    • #3
      On my current understanding:

      The flats were designed to be "fire-proof boxes", so that fire in one should not spread on the same floor or to other floors, so building-wide fire alarm should not be needed and their use would hamper fire-fighting of the contained fire.
      HMOs are not normally comprised of "fire-proof boxes", so building-wide alarm is appropriate (fire in one unit would likely spread quickly to other units).

      A block of flats is not a "super HMO".

      Sprinklers would likely have been of little use, as fire spread up the outside of the building.
      But they may have had some effect in reducing smoke in common parts and in reducing fire inside flats (if fitted in each flat).

      I was listening to a "fire expert" on Radio 4, and he seemed to be saying that where cladding contains flammable materials, there should be some kind of fire-proof barrier between the cladding for each floor, to stop fire spreading vertically.

      There were also reports that there was a ruptured gas main feeding the fire, and it took significant time to get the gas turned off. Seems to me that that is one to fix.


      • #4
        I saw that report too. Strange. Protests tonight very worrying. Hijacked by far left to topple government - anyone see the "landlords parasites" banner?
        Unshackled by the chains of idle vanity, A modest manatee, that's me


        • #5
          A number of valid points made, but some misconceptions also.

          Undoubtedly cladding was the cause of the speed of fire spread. Plenty of documented evidence from the UK and overseas of previous fires involving Aluminium Coated Panels.

          Building Regulations or the enforcement and administration of BR is not fit for purpose, I say this as an ex- fire safety officer in a local authority fire service for 15 years. Anything I questioned was met with the response of "It meets the functional requirements". The process should be enforced by neutral bodies without the pressure of finance or pressure from developers.

          Fire alarms are not fitted in communal areas to high rise or in fact any purpose built flats. Alarm in the flat to wake the sleeping occupant. The property had detection in the corridors/stairs to operate smoke ventilation. A publicity documents on the internet confirmed this (before it was removed).

          Sprinklers would have made a difference. Forget the external fire spread, the fire started inside a flat, it is likely to have been contained inside the flat by a sprinkler system.

          Forget the quoted cost of sprinklers being £200,000 for the tower, based on a contrived industry experiment in Sheffield of £1150 per flat. I gave advice to a housing association in the Midlands they were quoted approximately £2500 per flat. Now add London prices. I also saw quotes of £2m to retrofit sprinklers in 6 blocks of flats 15 storeys 4 flats per floor.

          Residents do not want sprinkler when I attended public meetings - They hated the idea.

          How much did the accumulation of residents sofas, beds and other discarded rubbish contribute, I'm sure it didn't help.

          To summarise - The outcome of the public enquiry will ban the use of similar cladding products.


          • #6
            Who owns the building? The council? If these are council tenants, how is it possible that the leader of the council claims he doesn't need to resign?


            • #7
              It's a mixed block, some owner occupied plus both council and private tenants.

              Listening to residents who were on the management committee - allowed to report issues, but not to vote on any decisions - talk about how they were treated, dismissed as trouble makers by all others on the management board, it is hard to see how anyone involved can make any such statement with certainty, a clear conscience or any hope of it still being true in the near future!

              That and the Monster Shouters (like Lily Allen and many others across social media). I wish they'd shut up too! 200, 300 400 dead and the BBC are smothering the story... I hate conspiracy theorists at the best of times. This is just hideous, using such tragedy to get themselves noticed! Pillocks all!


              • #8
                The Times today is fairly scathing of K&C - getting way more in rents than the properties cost them to run, spending the surplus from social housing on such things as opera festivals & art works (Yes, The TImes, prop. Rupert Murdoch).

                I cannot but agree with the mayor about the "years of neglect" and with MP David Lammy on "corporate manslaughter".
                see also

                If someone senior doesn't end up with a criminal conviction there will have been a wicked cover-up.

                HMO regulation came in initially in Scotland after a particularly unpleasant fire in a Glasgow student property which had non-functioning smoke alarms and barred windows. Social housing needs existing laws & regulations enforced and possibly extra ones.

                Happened to have a meeting (development of plot next to one of my properties) Friday with the head of housing of a SE council: They'd spent the day before doing a review of status & procedures for (luckily for them) their only one block of over 15 stories.
                I am legally unqualified: If you need to rely on advice check it with a suitable authority - eg a solicitor specialising in landlord/tenant law...


                • #9
                  What's an HMO? When you strip out formal definitions and the law, it's just a place crammed full of people, thus more stringent requirements to keep them all safe.
                  If a high rise block of flat full of people is not a "super HMO", then I don't know what it is.
                  Fair point though about flats supposed to be fire-proof boxes and therefore building-wide fire alarms not needed. Maybe residents should take some responsibility for themselves and install fire alarms in their flat, whether the landlord is supposed to do it or not. After all, they're not expensive at all...


                  • #10
                    It is clear from the survivors stories that individual alarms waking tenants and those tenants phoning friends and relatives is what allowed some people to escape. This was a small fire that should have been contained in the flat. The fire brigade had put it out and thought the problem was over when they realised the claddding had gone up. The tenants curtains may have contributed to that but there is no reason to believe that is why so many died, a curtain on fire should not have been able to ignite cladding and it should not have been able to spread so rapidly. The panels may have given off toxic fumes, that hasnt been confirmed yet.

                    There are problems knowing how many died because of the fierce nature of the fire and the extent of the devastation. The numbers probably are currently underestimated. There needs to be an amnesty for illegals or we will never know the truth.

                    At the moment there seems to be a mix of problems - building regulations are not tight enough, panels are not easy to check. On another block the owners have said the panels installed are not what they specified and they are having them removed. There may be fraud cases to come.

                    I dont like to see victim blaming. The tenants have complained about fire precautions and not been listened to. The problem here was greed. £2 more per panel and the panels might not have gone on fire.


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