PEOPLE living in the west London tower block Grenfell Towers that went up in flames very quickly in the early hours of Wednesday morning, leading to multiple deaths, had raised concerns about the fire safety of the building.
The block had recently undergone renovations and insulation cladding had been fixed to the exterior of the building. Witnesses to Wednesday’s fire spoke of their shock and horror at the speed at which the fire spread from a flat on the fourth floor up and across the exterior cladding “like a pyrotechnic display”.
The residents first raised fire safety concerns in 2012 when a health and safety review found that fire-fighting equipment had not been checked for up to four years
The council block was built in 1974 as part of the Lancaster Road project and recently underwent a £10 million renovation, which was completed in May 2016. It is not clear to what extent the issues raised by residents were resolved by the refurbishment.
In 2013, a year before the renovations began, the residents’ association, Grenfell Action Group, published a 2012 fire risk assessment of the building, which found that fire extinguishers in the basement boiler room, lift motor room and ground floor electrical room were more than 12 months out of test date.
Some had “condemned” written on them in large black writing and had not been tested since 2009.
“This seems to indicate that monthly occupier inspections are not being carried out,” a health and safety officer said at the time.
The resident’s association also raised concern about the single emergency exit to the building in 2016, warning that if that exit were to become blocked in a fire, people would be trapped inside.
Another post on the residents’ group blog in November 2016, six months after the renovations were completed, said: “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event would highlight the risks at Grenfell Tower.”
The post continued: “It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason for any change.”
There have also been documented problems with the building’s emergency lighting system and power surges caused by faulty wiring. The residents’ association in 2013 raised concerns about whether four fire trucks – the standard deployment for a tower block of that size – could fit in the Grenfell Tower emergency access zone.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said on Wednesday morning: “Clearly something has gone wrong. There should be safe, smoke-free access up to the highest floors and internal water supplies for fire fighters.”
Last year Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tried to pass through a law that would have required private landlords to make tenants’ homes safe and “fit for human habitation” but it was voted down by the Tory Government. The Government claimed the new law would result in “unnecessary regulation”. The Labour amendment to the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill was defeated by 312 votes to 219 in the House of Commons in January 2016. Seventy-two of the MPs who voted against the amendment were themselves landlords who derive an income from a property.