Tragedy in Kensington

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | June 14, 2017 21

Terrible news today from Kensington in West London.

How have Boris Johnson’s reckless cuts to the Fire Service in London and Kensington & Chelsea Council ignoring resident’s concerns on the refurbishment raised by the Grenfell Action Group contributed to this third world tragedy?

Residents were trapped “screaming for their lives” as flames raged through a 27-storey tower block in Notting Hill in the early hours today. Witnesses described “horrible scenes” as fire-fighters battled the inferno at Grenfell Tower in the Lancaster West estate near Ladbroke Grove. London Fire Brigade confirmed “a number of fatalities” this morning. They could not say how many people were killed due to the “complexity” of the operation. The Grenfell Tower was built in 1974 and contains 120 homes, according to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Forty fire engines with 200 officers were called shortly before 1am as flames engulfed the block from the second floor upwards “within seconds”. Hundreds of fire officers were joined by police and paramedics to wake and evacuate residents as set up an exclusion zone around the base of the tower as burning debris crashed down the side. London Ambulance Service said 30 people had been taken to five hospitals following the fire. Witnesses reported other people trapped on the upper storeys.

Residents had warned that the building – which has around 120 flats reportedly served by a single main entrance – was a fire hazard last year when rubbish piled up in a communal walkway. The Grenfell Action Group raised their concerns in a blog post last January, saying: “The potential for a fire to break out in the communal area on the walkway does not bear thinking about as residents would be trapped in the building with no way out.”

It was given a £10million refurbishment a year ago, with the installation of insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows and a communal heating system. Zoe lives on the fourth floor where the fire is reported to have started: “I was asleep and then someone started banging on my door, so I opened my door and my neighbour said there’s a fire, get out. So I shut the door, went and put on my trainers and when I went back to the door, opened it, the whole landing was thick with smoke. The smoke alarms weren’t going off but the way it spread so quickly from the fourth floor, all the way up to the 23rd floor was scary.”

Eyewitness Zeinab Jafari, who lives in nearby Treadgold Street, first heard sirens around 01:30 BST on Wednesday.

“I heard people shouting and screaming. I looked from my balcony, I saw the building is on fire. When I looked outside it was at the bottom of the building on the first floor. Suddenly the fire spread, it was going so quickly you can’t believe it”

Some members of Zeinab’s family live inside Grenfell Tower, on the 11th floor. “My mother-in-law and her eldest daughter realised there was a fire and got out,” she told BBC News. “They shouted at my father-in-law. But he takes lots of medication.” Zeinab says she has not heard from her father-in-law since; he is 86. She has been contacting the hospitals, but says no one is answering the number she was told to call.

The tower is former Council property which was vested in a TMO (Tenant’s Management Organisation)  by the Tory controlled Kensington and Chelsea Borough. Only last year it underwent a £10m refurbishment as part of a wider transformation of the estate. According to a report by getwestlondon last year it was funded by the council as part of a wider £67m investment in the area. Improvements including installation of insulated exterior cladding, new double-glazed windows and a new communal heating system were carried out. The two-year project was designed and delivered by the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation in partnership with Rydon Construction – it was carried out while all 120 flats were occupied. Many tenants have complained of bullying and short cuts in the refurbishment by the management company and 90% of tenants signed a petition last year outlining their concerns on safety to Nick Paget-Brown, the Leader of the Council. Tenants are unanimous their concerns were ignored and brushed aside.

The Grenfell Action Group has posted an entry on its blog this morning, stating that it has previously raised concerns about fire safety at the tower block. “Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in [the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea].”

In January 2016, they wrote: “It has been very clear for some time to the residents of Grenfell Tower that those responsible for ensuring the smooth running of Lancaster West Estate are failing in their duty of care and wilfully allowing our residential amenity to decline in unacceptable ways. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in our landlords failure to deal with a serious health and safety issue that recently developed at the entrance/exit to Grenfell Tower. This matter is of particular concern as there is only one entry and exit to Grenfell Tower during the Improvement Works and the potential for a fire to break out in the communal area on the walkway does not bear thinking about as residents would be trapped in the building with no way out!”

That particular issue was sorted out 18 months ago, but the action group warned: “Not for the first time we must ask how safe is Lancaster West, can staff be trusted to ensure it is safe, and what hidden fire risks might be lurking in Grenfell Tower or elsewhere on the estate?”

In November 2016, they wrote: “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 (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation), and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.  The Grenfell Action Group believe that the KCTMO narrowly averted a major fire disaster at Grenfell Tower in 2013 when residents experienced a period of terrifying power surges that were subsequently found to have been caused by faulty wiring.”

Similarly under Boris Johnson and his truly appalling Deputy Mayor and Tory apparatchik Brian Coleman swinging cuts were made to the London Fire Service and they openly sneered at the many warnings about increased risk to the public raised by Matt Wrack and the Fire Brigades Union who they accused of crying wolf. Well the wolf is well and truly at the door and we need to look at how this third world tragedy which should not have happened if Building and Fire regulations had been applied and if fire alarms, sprinkler systems, fire doors and effective separation between floors to avoid fire pathways had been designed into the refurbishment. We need to look at how this block privatised by Nick-Paget Brown and a Tory Council in Kensington who represent the rich  and ignore the poor in the estates north of the Westway allowed a refurb on this former Council property and if that compromised the planning process. Whatever about the response by the brave fire-fighters who have been in danger this morning we need to look at how the cutbacks have affected safety and led to reduced inspections, self certification and light touch regulation.

Serious questions need to be asked of Boris Johnson, Brian Coleman and Nick-Paget Brown about how their actions may have contributed to this appalling third world tragedy in the World City of London. Serious answers are required to respect the memory of those who have been killed, maimed and traumatised in this avoidable and well signposted tragedy.

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

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