Real Estate

I fear we could face another Grenfell Tower disaster | Sadiq Khan

The harrowing images of Grenfell Tower engulfed in flames will forever be seared into our city’s memory. Londoners will never forget the tragedy or the atmosphere of horror, panic and shock that rippled across the capital as daylight broke on the morning of 14 June 2017. On the fifth anniversary of the horrific fire, our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones, the survivors and the wider Grenfell community. But half a decade on, we should be able to offer more than thoughts and prayers. We should be able to provide the answers, justice and change that Grenfell residents are entitled to.

Progress has been made. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry is painstakingly unearthing the truth – revealing how profits were prioritised over people’s safety, how privatisation and deregulation weakened our country’s approach to building standards, and how institutional disdain towards those in social housing had such fatal consequences. But no one has yet been held truly accountable for the combustible cladding that turned Grenfell into a death trap. That means justice is far from being done, while at the same time the far-reaching change that is so urgently needed to avoid a similar disaster is not happening fast enough.

From City Hall, we have acted swiftly and decisively to improve building safety. We now require new buildings on Greater London Authority land to meet more stringent safety standards and have incorporated stronger fire safety policies into planning rules. The London Fire Brigade has implemented 26 of the 29 recommendations of phase one of the inquiry, with work ongoing to deliver the final three.

However, action and change at a national level has been conspicuous by its absence. The response from the government, building developers and owners has fallen far short of what the families of the victims and survivors have every right to expect. We still have too many residents in London and across the country living in high-rise buildings that are covered in dangerous flammable cladding, and we are still seeing designs for buildings that have critical safety failings.

Major reforms to fix a broken system are nowhere to be seen, and to its shame the government has so far failed to complete a single recommendation directed at ministers from the first phase of the inquiry – a disgraceful dereliction of duty that is leaving too many at grave risk.

To give just one example, ministers recently refused to implement the recommendation that personal emergency evacuation plans (Peeps) for those who require assistance should be required by law, despite the fact that 41% of Grenfell’s disabled residents died. It begs the question: what is the point of inquests and inquiries if they are simply going to ignore the findings?

Five years after Grenfell, we should be living in a country where fire safety is prioritised and comprehensive, where building regulations are robust and rigorous, and where the housing and construction industry is made to take responsibility for the welfare and safety of residents. And yet a dangerous culture of wanting to cut corners still persists – even after the loss of 72 lives.

I now fear that the country could even begin to slide backwards on building safety. I’m deeply concerned that the recommendations from the inquiry may follow those from the Lakanal House tragedy, becoming just another missed opportunity. This is why I’ve written to the prime minister to urge him again to establish a national public body with responsibility for monitoring recommendations arising from post-death inquiries to help ensure they are implemented, rather than kicked into the long grass.

But there were glimmers of hope amid the darkness five years ago. The firefighters who rushed into the tower, risking their lives to save others. The outpouring of support for the Grenfell community as volunteers flocked to offer food, shelter and clothing. And the strength of the survivors and residents who continue to show courage, dignity and resolve in their struggle for justice and improved public safety, while navigating their own personal grief and trauma.

To fail all these people now, after everything they have been through, and to forsake the residents of Grenfell for a second time by not delivering the change that is desperately needed, would be an intolerable insult. It is time for the government to step up. We owe it to all those who died, to the survivors, to the bereaved families and the whole community to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again.


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