Group beams huge projections on high-rises to highlight fire safety crisis
Tower blocks across England have been lit up in a series of guerrilla projections highlighting a national fire safety crisis that appears to be getting worse rather than better on the eve of the second anniversary of the Grenfell disaster.
As night fell on Wednesday, buildings in London, Greater Manchester and Newcastle were illuminated with messages up to 12 storeys high warning that two years after the fire that killed 72 people, they are still not fitted with sprinklers, feature defective fire doors or are wrapped in dangerous cladding.
NV Buildings in Salford were illuminated with a message that read: “2 years after Grenfell and this building is still covered in dangerous cladding. #DemandChange.” A leaseholder, Peter Brown, said nearly 250 households faced a bill of nearly £3m to make their homes safe, and families and children feared for their safety because the building was wrapped in combustible expanded polystyrene insulation.
“[The government response] has been too little, too late,” he said. “They have shrugged off responsibility for hundreds, if not thousands of buildings that do not meet regulations and are not fit for purpose. Ultimately this is the government’s responsibility.”
In London at Frinstead House on the Silchester estate, which neighbours Grenfell, the projection highlighted its lack of sprinklers. All new residential towers require them, but retrofitting is not mandatory. In Newcastle, Cruddas Park House, a council block of 159 households where there have been bin fires, was lit up with the message: “The fire doors in this building are still not fit for purpose.”
“This is not something we should have to fight for,” said Hannah Reid, 24, a dental nurse on the estate. “We are afraid the same thing [as Grenfell] could happen to us. The demands of the people of Grenfell were ignored and the same thing is happening to us. Not just us but all across the country.”
The projections were organised by Grenfell United, which represents the bereaved and survivors of the 14 June 2017 tragedy, and comes amid growing concerns about high-rise safety two years after the worst loss of life in London since the second world war.
- In the past four months, only three of the privately owned housing high-rises found to be wrapped in Grenfell-style cladding have been fixed, leaving 146 still vulnerable, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government admitted this week.
- Applications for a £200m public fund to help replace dangerous Grenfell-style cladding on close to 100 private buildings where owners have refused to pay will not be accepted until the end of the summer at the earliest.
- Fifty-six of 158 social housing blocks have been fixed, but tens of thousands of people are likely to be living in buildings that remain at risk.
- Tests on other cladding materials such as high-pressure laminates that may prove to be combustible are yet to be completed, raising the prospect that more may need to be fixed.
- Fire risks presented by faults unrelated to cladding are emerging as a potentially bigger problem, with faulty fire-breaks, dangerous insulation, missing intumescent paint and wooden cladding emerging as risks on 14 blocks in Manchester alone.
It has also emerged that MPs warned ministers in 2014 not to dismiss warnings about the safety of combustible cladding panels and the need for sprinklers in case “a major fire tragedy, with loss of life [should] occur”. The chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue, David Amess, told Stephen Williams, then the communities minister, that he was “at a loss to understand, how you had concluded that credible and independent evidence which had life safety implications, was not considered to be urgent”, according to letters obtained by Inside Housing magazine.
The MPs raised further concerns in 2016 and 2017 about the government’s failure to review fire safety regulations following the 2009 Lakanal House fire, which killed six people. They wrote several times to Theresa May’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, then the housing minister, who admitted the review was taking too long.
Karim Mussilhy, who lost his uncle Hesham Rahman in the Grenfell fire, warned “there are many other Grenfell Towers out there” and in a statement directed at whoever becomes the next prime minister, said: “You have an opportunity to make changes that will echo throughout generations … that people are safe in their homes and are treated with respect and something like this will never happen again.”
The widening threat came into focus on Sunday when fire ripped through the facade of a Bellway Homes housing block in Barking, east London, reducing timber balconies to cinders. There were no deaths, but one building expert, Sam Webb, said that if it had happened during the night like at Grenfell, people could have died.
None of the public funds so far made available are targeted at removing combustible materials other than aluminium composites.
This week, leaseholders at the Skyline Central 1 tower in Manchester were handed bills of up to £25,000 a flat to strip off and replace high-pressure laminate cladding. The building also has inadequate fire breaks built into its walls.
Bills are as high as £80,000 a household to fix Burton Place, another residential high-rise in Manchester, which has timber cladding and combustible insulation, which are not covered by public funds.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said building owners were primarily responsible for the safety of their buildings. It said it had stepped in to fully fund the replacement of unsafe ACM cladding on high-rise social and private residential properties where building owners have failed to do so and that interim steps had been taken to ensure that all buildings with ACM cladding were now safe.
Article By Robert Booth – The Guardian – Source Link