On the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says action to stop a similar “wholly preventable” disaster is now an emergency.
“In the time since the fire, the government’s facile approach has utterly failed all those involved that night and the thousands of people who are at risk across the country,” said FBU general secretary Matt Wrack.
“After two years, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has delivered no answers, and we are no closer to tackling any of the underlying causes of the tragedy.”
The FBU wants the reflection two years on filtered through “determined action”, when hundreds of homes are still wrapped in flammable materials; warnings from tenants about safety risks go ignored and fire and rescue services, in the face of continued cuts, are unable to prepare for a similar incident; and with no national structures or coordination from government.
“We have seen 72 lives lost, in a wholly preventable blaze, all while desperately firefighters risked their own lives to save others in a fire nobody had planned for,” said Wrack.
“As things stand, we risk sleepwalking into another catastrophic loss of life.
“We demand urgent action from government to ensure that the events of Grenfell Tower can never happen again.”
Releasing recommendations of its own to mark the start of its Grenfell: Never Again campaign, the FBU is calling on the government to:
- Remove flammable cladding from all tower blocks and public buildings
- Retrofit sprinklers in high rises and schools, wherever a risk assessment deems them necessary
- Ensure tenants are given a real voice in the running and upkeep of their buildings
- Reverse the cuts to firefighter numbers and Fire Safety Officers
- Create a new independent national body to oversee standards and best practices in fire and rescue services across the country.
The survivors and bereaved from the disaster are due to gather today (14th June) by the tower to march in memory of the 72 who lost their lives to the fire.
Other events marking the second anniversary will begin at St Helen’s Church, North Kensington, where Leanne Mya, a survivor who has reached the final stages of Britain’s Got Talent, will sing in front of a congregation including Housing Secretary James Brokenshire.
This evening there will be a wreath-laying at the base of the tower, a multi-faith vigil and a roll-call of the dead.
But the anniversary is also marked by growing anger at the slow pace of related inquiries and continued risks posed by combustible cladding – only 69 of the 334 privately-owned and social housing high-rises found wrapped in such cladding have been fixed.
The public inquiry has been delayed and, just last week, the Metropolitan police warned that, though interviews are being carried out under caution, decisions on any criminal prosecutions are unlikely until 2021 – with the prospect of no prosecutions at all.
Nor is there any indication – despite emerging evidence – of former housing ministers being called to account for effectively dismissing fire safety action recommendations following the fatal Lakanal blaze.
“People are increasingly feeling a sense of injustice, rather than a walk to justice,” said Yvette Williams, a co-ordinator of campaign group Justice4Grenfell.
“I think foremost in people’s minds will be 72 dead, still no arrests,” she said.
Karim Mussilhy, vice chairman of Grenfell United, said that as well as sharing tears, the purpose of the day was to “be a presence to everyone else, show them that we are still here and…we aren’t going to go away”.
On Wednesday night, Grenfell United lit up three tower blocks in Salford, Newcastle and London, with projections highlighting fire safety risks.
The 12-storey-high messages warned they are still not fitted with sprinklers, feature defective fire doors or are wrapped in dangerous cladding.
The message on NV Buildings in Salford read: “Two years after Grenfell and this building is still covered in dangerous cladding. #DemandChange.”
There, some 250 households are said to face a bill of almost £3m to make their homes safe – with the tower wrapped in combustible expanded polystyrene insulation.
In London, at Frinstead House on the Silchester estate neighbouring Grenfell, the projection highlighted its lack of sprinklers.
And in Newcastle, Cruddas Park House, a council block of 159 homes, was lit up with the message: “The fire doors in this building are still not fit for purpose.”
In Manchester, the city council has identified fire safety problems in 14 high rise blocks not caused by the now-banned aluminium composite cladding but by missing fire breaks and intumescent paint, timber balconies and defective insulation.
These could cost even more to fix than dangerous cladding.
Brokenshire said the government is “determined to improve building safety, to search for the truth and to ensure no such tragedy can ever happen again”.
Theresa May urged her successor to “do everything necessary to support all those affected and make certain the voices of the Grenfell community are heard”.