Grenfell Tower is located in Kensington and Chelsea Borough. This borough is known to be one of the most expensive and prestige areas of London, however there are still council housing that remained in that area, currently there are 433 registered council housing properties, this is not a large number compared to Peckham area for example, where there are 8,582 registered social housing. The question that is interesting : if it was a luxury housing, how would the situation be different or would it happen at all, especially in such an expensive area. There was a lot of complaints about how the council has not given much attention to the council housing, especially about providing them with safety. This has started from May 2013, location based in the area of 5 to 6 storey apartment blocks, Grenfell Tower was obviously one that stands out the most, with an amazing view of London, just when you think that you were lucky enough to be placed there. The problems started off when the residents experienced power surges, when smoke was coming out from their appliances like computers, TV’s and other machines, to the point that some of them were exploding. Eventually the whole electrical system went into breakage, damaging the appliances of the people who lived there. After a number of complaints, they also asked for the emergency lights on the only staircase to be looked at, to make sure that in the case of emergency it would be possible to see where they are going, as there was no other sources of light, due to the staircase being placed right in the middle of the tower. After the petition followed by a meeting with the KCTMO, one of the members that was present, has said that there was no smoke, it was just steam from the water leak that was dropping on something hot. After a number of times the residents tried to resolve this issue and fight for the rights, a statement was made, that is now a sad truth:
«It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.»
November 20, 2016
So how has the fire actually started and what caused it?
It was the 14th of June 2017, when London has been witnessing one of the most horrific events that has happened in the last few years, taking away 71 life’s of innocent people. It can be argued that due to the architectural planning a lot of damage has been created – starting of the the staircase and the lift right in the middle of the building – in the core. When thinking about the fire escapes, this was the only way to get out of the building, as there was no other way to go. But the main issue was the new redevelopment of the Grenfell Tower that has happened in 2016. In order to improve the aesthetics of the building a new external cladding has been introduced which has been main cause of the fire.
The cladding consists of three layers:
1) 150 mm thick layer of Celotex RS5000, this was the thermal insulation, which were fixed to old concrete panels. This material proves to have Class 0 in the Building Regulations in fire performance, which is the highest one you can get. However this rating indicates surface spread and not the resistance to fire.
The most interesting aspect of all, is the company’s technical director, Mark Allen, actually sits on the building Regulation Advisory Committee, which is setting the standards for the design and also the construction of the building. So this opens up another opinion on who is to blame in this case? Could he have approved the case, knowing that this huge project would be beneficial to the company? Also after this incident, when documents have been found, it was stated in the Sustainability and Energy statement, that was submitted in the planning application, that a different material would have been used, that was indicating that it was fire resistant one. Who was to blame that the material that was actually used, was not the one that was noted down on the statement? Should have the council check this material with more care and again would this happen if it wasn’t a social housing property.
2) A cavity that was between the outer building and the exterior cladding. This was created so that the moisture that would of been created in between those two parts, would evaporate and not cause a build up of mould etc. The distance was 5 cm.
3) Third component was the outer cladding, which was the BCM glass reinforced concrete columns, and also the rainscreen cassette panels, which then was proved by the company supplying the panels, that the cheaper option was chosen, which was not also fire proved.
At the four edges of the tower where the cladding was, there were additional ‘cavities’ of 50mm that would create extra space for the fire and heated air. So the whole construction has created a chimney effect between the cladding and the insulation that spread the smoke through the building with a rapid speed. So this part of the construction was the weakest in the case of fire safety, if the cladding was created differently by the architects, this would be a completely different story, so could it also be a design fault?
But why was it necessary to renovate the tower in the first place? One of the opinions was, that as some flats were on offer, and there is a possibility to buy them if a new renovation would be created and this would really improve the cost of the flats that are currently there (due to location), this way returning money back to the council and creating aesthetically pleasing environment and and also a more positive atmosphere to the post war architecture that was present at the time. Who is to blame? People who decided to use cheap materials that would make a profit in future due to the housing crises in the UK and not the architecture of Grenfell Tower? The new gas system that was installed by the National Grid was placed right at the core of the tower, where the emergency staircase was, where two thirds of it was not even covered by the fire rated material, the residents again had to complain and protest to be safe and not to have ‘panic attacks’ while using the staircase.
“If there was a gas leak on one of those pipes and someone was smoking that would be the end of the building … we demand that the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation must … give assurance that the building is secure by tonight before everybody goes to bed. We wait to hear from you and the leadership of the KCTMO, not in due course but NOW.”
Due to the the fire of Grenfell, council-owned tower blocks had to under go fire inspections, 181 council-owned blocks in 51 local authorities across England have failed to meet the fire safety requirements, with 100 percent failure rate on those that were tested. This number is terrifying, which only gives a thought that those councils try to safe money on peoples life’s. But is it fair? Why are people put at such risk? Only around London 22 buildings are proved to be at a risk of fire. In July 2009 there was another fire that has started in Camberwell, killing 6 people spreading out on 5 floors, however what was later found, that this building had also had a similar cladding system that was then applied to Grenfell Tower.
Another case two years before Grenfell Tower, in October 2015, a fire broke in to KCTMO property, this was 14 storey Adair Tower , also in North Kensigton, causing a mass panic amongst the neighbourhood, and the residents which resulted in a number of people going to the hospital due to breathing in smoke. In years people in those buildings have not been properly informed, as how they should act in a case of fire, in Grenfell Tower, there has been signs of staying indoors on some floors, however as we have noticed this lead to certain fatalities.
In the end who is to blame? In my opinion there is no person who can be blamed directly, I feel that everyone who was dealing with the development of the new reconstruction could be blamed, even the fire alarm was not working, due to the faulty alarming system that was installed in that building, and the company that has provided the product is now being investigated by the police as fraud, the only way how people could have found out about the fire is from their neighbours who were banging on door, so could they be blamed too? It is sad to say, that people tried to fight for their rights to live in such a good location, but with such a bad council management of the housing. The redevelopment has been made without looking at the other issues that were present even before that, which has made things even worse for the residents.