Grenfell Tower Fire: Third-Year Anniversary (Non-)Progress Report

By Lambert Strether of Corrente
June 14 was the third anniversay of the Grenfell Tower fire, when flammable ACM (Aluminium Composite Material) “cladding” that covered the outside of the building was accidentally set ablaze, and took the whole building with it, causing 72 deaths:

Naked Capitalism has been following the Grenfell Tower fire story for three years now (here, here, here, and here), beginning with a photo essay in the immediate aftermath (I was in London at the time). From that essay:

So I thought I’d issue this year’s progress report. It is true that public awareness remains high:

In tribute to each victim who died in the fire, the bells of London churches will toll 72 times and green lights will glow from tower block windows to show solidarity with survivors and the bereaved.

There was a hashtag (#GoGreenForGrenfell) and a campaign for houses to light up green at night. For example:

And naturally:

The survivors don’t think much of all this, however. From the BBC, “Grenfell Tower: Survivors say ‘nothing has changed‘”:

Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle Hesham Rahman died in the blaze, said “there’s not a lot of compliments right now” for the government.

“A lot has changed, but nothing has changed,” he said.

“We’re still talking about cladding, we’re still talking about justice. The public inquiry keeps stopping and starting.

“It never feels like there’s any urgency with the emergency that this country is in with the whole cladding situation.”

Survivor Tiago Alves added: “We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy fight. Did I think we’d still be here three years on still talking about the removal of cladding? I think that’s a bit absurd.”

Some progress has been made. But it’s patchy at best. In this post, I’ll look at efforts to remediate the cladding, the ongoing UK inquiry, and regulatory proposals. (There is also a product liability civil suit in the US against the cladding manufacturers). I’ll conclude with some remarks on the nature of the tragedy.

Remediation

This month, the UK’s National Audit Office issued a timely report (PDF), “Investigation into remediating dangerous cladding on high‑rise buildings.” The background:

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (the Department) established the Building Safety Programme (the Programme) “to ensure that residents of high-rise residential buildings are safe, and feel safe from the risk of fire, now and in the future”. While remaining clear that it is building owners who are responsible for ensuring the safety of their buildings, the Department has adopted an objective to “oversee and support the remediation of high-rise residential buildings that have unsafe aluminium composite material cladding”. In his Phase 1 Report [inquiries in the next section], Sir Martin Moore-Bick stated it was “essential” that ACM cladding be removed from the exterior of high-rise buildings “as quickly as possible”

So how’s that going:

However, concerns have been raised – for example, by the House of Commons Housing, Communities & Local Government Committee – as to the pace of remediation works. As at April 2020, 149 of the total 456 buildings, 18 metres and over with unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, have been fully remediated. There are 154 social sector and 208 private sector residential buildings within scope of the Building Safety Programme (the Programme). The remaining 94 buildings within scope of the Programme comprise hotels (30 buildings), student accommodation (54 buildings) and publicly owned buildings (10 buildings). There are 307 buildings yet to be fully remediated, of which 167 buildings have not yet begun remediation works (paragraphs 1.13 and 1.14, and Figure 4).

The pace of remediation differs between public and private buildings:

The pace of remediation has been faster in the student accommodation and social housing sectors, but slower in the private residential sector. At April 2020, 66.7% of student accommodation blocks and 46.8% of social housing buildings had been fully remediated, compared with 13.5% of private sector residential buildings…. The legal entities responsible for the private sector buildings have been difficult to identify and have required more support throughout the process than initially expected. Administrative checks and controls on funding for private sector applications have also been more exacting; for instance, State Aid declarations are required from each leaseholder in private sector buildings in order to ensure the legality of the grant scheme. As at April 2020, two private sector residential buildings had still not applied for funding.

I remember my eyes glazing over when my London friends tried to explain the difference between leasehold and freehold property. It seemed needlessly complex. The Leaseholder’s Charity goes into some detail:

After failing to persuade speculators in residential freeholds to pay up to remediate their building – not one has done so – the then Communities Secretary raided his housing budget for £200 million for ACM remediation and hoped that would be enough.

That was swollen by another £1 billion in March 2020. The money comes with inconsistencies – excluding buildings under 18 metres high; sites where remediation work started before March 2020 (why?); sites that do not apply for funding within the next two months …

A further absurdity is that three years after Grenfell the government has only paid out £1.2 million for ACM remediation.

The illogic of our approach is made worse because of England’s leasehold system: speculators in residential freehold, primarily private equity and often hidden offshore, are going to have their income streams secured and perpetuated by taxpayers.

For if the leases are valueless in these buildings, then so are the freeholds.

Meanwhile, builders are already whinging. From The Times, “Time to relax ban on Grenfell-type cladding, housebuilder urges“:

One of Britain’s biggest upmarket housebuilders has said that the government should relax a ban on combustible cladding imposed after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Berkeley Group is yet to complete the renovation of 20 tall buildings featuring the same type of cladding involved in the Grenfell disaster, which led to the deaths of 72 people three years ago. The builder argues that they are already safe and that the government should not impose a blanket ban on aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding.

The Financial Times summarizes the state of play for private apartment blocks, “Thousands stuck in unsafe tower blocks three years on from Grenfell“:

Less than 1 per cent of the funds set aside to fix flammable cladding on private apartment blocks in England has been disbursed, leaving thousands in unsellable flats more than three years after the deadly Grenfell Tower fire, according to the public spending watchdog.

The comments to the FT story could be described as bitter.

UK Inquiry

The UK inquiry into Grenfell was divided into two phases: The first to determine the technical cause of the fire (chief among them ACM cladding), and the second to make assign reponsibility and make recommendations. We are now in the second phase. It’s not edifying. From Corpwatch, “Companies under investigation for deadly Grenfell Tower fire want immunity“:

At the hearing last week, every single company denied any responsibility. “Any member of the public reading those statements and taking them all at face value would be forced to conclude that… nobody made any serious or causative mistakes,” Richard Millett QC, the inquiry’s chief lawyer, said. “In every case, what happened was, as each of them would have it, someone else’s fault.”

The Guardian, in “Grenfell architect admits he did not read cladding fire regulations,” gives a splendid example:

Bruce Sounes, the project architect on the council block where 72 people died in June 2017, told the public inquiry into the disaster that he did not know that aluminium panels could melt and spread flames and had no idea cladding had previously caught fire on buildings in the UK and Dubai, including at Lakanal House in Southwark in 2009, where six people died.

Under cross-examination by Kate Grange QC, counsel to the inquiry, Sounes said that during the Grenfell Tower refurbishment he did not familiarise himself with regulations demanding external walls must adequately resist the spread of fire.

As a result, he did not see a diagram in building regulations guidance showing how external wall systems on buildings of different heights must meet safety rules, information about a cladding fire at the Garnock Court housing block in Scotland in 1999 and a diagram showing how fires could spread in high-rise apartment buildings.

Sounes said he had “no knowledge” of rapid fire spread and had not read regulatory guidance about how to design cavity barriers, features that were intended to stop fire spread and which failed at Grenfell.

Nevertheless, his firm, Studio E Architects, had included in a list of services to its client a promise to “ensure that all designs comply with the relevant statutory requirements”. Sounes told the inquiry it was the responsibility of the council’s building control department to check on compliance and other expert consultants were expected to advise.

The inquiry also heard that Studio E manipulated its fees to avoid the contract being put out to open tender..

Lol. More, much more from Inside Housing (“Grenfell cladding manufacturer aware panels were ‘dangerous’ and below standard, inquiry hears“), the Independent (“Grenfell Tower: Cladding manufacturer knew in 2011 panels were ‘not suitable for use on building facades’, inquiry hears“), and the Guardian (“Grenfell refurbishment firms ‘killed in pursuit of money’, inquiry told“),

Regulations in Reponse to 2018’s The Hackitt Report

Parallel to the inquiry above, the UK government commissioned a review of building regulations and fire safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt. recommendations for regulatory changes. From the UK’s Building, “Get ready for the building safety regulator” gives the status of that effort:

The Hackitt review, published in 2018, looked at the organisational and cultural causes of the disaster and put forward a series of recommendations to address them. This was followed by a government consultation last year called Building a Safer Future, which set out how the review’s recommendations should be translated into a new regulatory approach to building safety. And this April the government published its response to that consultation, which sets out how a reformed building safety system will look. Subject to parliamentary scrutiny, this will be given legislative form in the Building Safety Bill.

In short, the proposals include a new regulator to ensure residential buildings over 18m high are safely designed and constructed and that they continue to be safe once occupied. The responsibility to ensure this happens will be placed on the client, the principal designer and the principal contractor, as well as the building safety manager once the building is complete. Three key gateways – planning approval, start of construction and handover – must be signed off by the building safety regulator before the next stage can commence. Details of a building’s design and construction, including any changes, must be digitally recorded and passed along the chain of responsibility. This is the so-called “golden thread” of information.

More on that “so-called” (!) golden thread, from Buildings and Cities, “Hackitt and the Golden Thread: Challenges to Implementation

Hackitt’s proposal for the creation of a golden thread approach to building safety information utilising [Building Information Modelling (BIM)] is welcome in principle, but like many of her recommendations, will likely prove ‘easier said than done’. …, Three inter-related challenges may hinder the widespread uptake of BIM: uneven investment across industry actors; the challenges of data standardisation and harmonisation; and the lack of adequate competence to use BIM systems.

First, adequate investment in BIM is a challenge because the UK construction industry comprises a wide range of actors of greatly varying sizes and resources….

The second issue then arises of exactly what this information should comprise and how to define it so that is both useful and unambiguous. BIM is an approach to the digitalisation of physical and functional building characteristics, but it is not a stable, off-the-shelf technology…. Standardisation is a key issue for the uptake of BIM, but the current situation is that: ‘The ability to capture consistent asset data that is standardised and in a consistent format remains a challenge for the industry’ (Cousins 2019). Harmonisation of operational practices may also be necessary to ensure that key actors are using data in the same way.

Third, adequate competence will be required to ensure that data is correctly inputted into the BIM system, and, crucially, that is then used in an appropriate manner in the management of fire safety. A golden thread is no substitute for competent fire risk assessment and building management. A focus on technical solutions to information management should not divert attention from this core issue of competence.

Well, we’ll see how SERCO does. Kidding! (Worth noting, however, that “golden thread,” as management speak, seems to derive from McKinsey.)

Conclusion

The UK’s Tribune magazine summarizes Grenfell Tower, not inaccurately, as “A Very Capitalist Tragedy“:

The inquiry has now lost months to the coronavirus pandemic. But, before Covid-19 shut down much of the world, a grimly familiar picture was beginning to emerge from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

At every stage, decisions were made that prioritised cost-cutting and profitability over people’s safety. Powerful corporations sold or installed products they knew were dangerous in the pursuit of profit.

The local state and its agents, for whom public safety should have been a crucial consideration, were also driven overwhelmingly by the need to cut costs. Those involved in the design and construction cut corners and made decisions based on appearance and cost, not suitability and safety.

The classic American trope for elite misbehavior and misrule is “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy…,” but I’d lilke to propose an alternative from pulp fiction author John D. MacDonald’s The Turquoise Lament (very heavily cut). Private detective protagonist McGee interviews a trailer park resident, one T.K. Lumley, regarding his serial killer suspect, one Howie Brindle:

“One thing [Howie Brindle] did got on my nerves a little bit. If he’d run an errand over to the grocery store, if he had enough money, he liked to buy himself one of those cans that squirt out whip cream or icing or chocolate for the top of a cake, and he’d go walking past, happy as a fat clam, squirting sweet goo straight into his mouth….

Later, McGee discusses Brindle with his economist sidekick, Meyer:

“Had we but the two disasters [at the trailer park], the poisoning and the explosion, and knew nothing else about Howie Brindle except the impression he made upon us, we would label him a person luck frowned upon, and marvel at the adjustment he has made.”

“And wonder why he never mentioned the disasters?”

“Too painful to mention. Or maybe even a kind of traumatic semi-amnesia. We’d make excuses for him. Even right now, we have no proof of anything. Only a chain of incidents so long and so consistent that our life experience tells us he is an amiable maniac…. I would guess that he has often booby-trapped the environment and left, not knowing what the results, if any, would be.

The cladding in Grenfell Tower was a booby trap, an accident waiting to happen. And that’s our elites, going around setting booby traps and shooting sweet goo straight into their mouths, ka-ching. I mean, our health care system works exactly the same way.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

21 comments

  1. sd

    There is this over arching and profound sense that no one in any kind of authority any where is held accountable.

    Reply
      1. Sueliz70

        I would like to know what kind of training architects get in the UK. Over here in the good ol’ US of A, we are expected to know the fire codes, understand what the exterior wall fire rating (and floor/ceiling fire rating, and fire separation walls, and escape routes) should be, especially for a high rise, and provide proof that we have met those requirements. The building code people are there for guidance and approval only. They are not responsible if anything was missed and things go south.

        And they think BIM is going to solve anything??? I have worked with everything from T-squares and ink on vellum to 2-D computer programs and finally 3-D BIM programs. Technology isn’t going to save you! BIM isn’t plug ‘n’ play – you have to have a better understanding of how a building goes together to use it (as well as computer skills) than if you are drawing simple lines in AutoCad. The information, including wall types, doesn’t draw itself! You still have to know what that wall type is, design the actual wall configuration, and insert it properly into the model. Cladding manufacturing information should have information regarding what it is certified for as well.

        This sounds like the Iraq war when soldiers were being electrocuted in showers that weren’t up to American codes, and we were finally told they were designed to British standards(!). And after 3 years people are still living in buildings with cladding that is essentially gasoline in solid form? What is wrong with these people?

        Reply
  2. Mark in Mayenne

    Have they determined the technical cause of the fire? For sure they have looked at the building matrial but did they look at the electricity supply?

    Residents complained of a wildly fluctuating mains voltage, that is characteristic of one phase of an unbalanced 3 phase system that does not have a return wire.

    Electric motors such as those found in fridges will overheat and catch fire if fed too high a voltage.

    Reply
  3. The Rev Kev

    Great survey of the situation but don’t be surprised if you eventually find yourself reading “Grenfell Tower Fire: Twentieth-Year Anniversary (Non-)Progress Report” down the track. Look at the Hillsborough disaster from 1989 which killed nearly a hundred people. It took nearly thirty years before the truth came out about what really happened and several years more before anybody was charged. And this is how British justice dealt with them-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillsborough_disaster#Prosecutions

    I would expect nothing less to happen for this criminal fire. Certainly it was unbelievable that builders want to keep on using that combustible cladding material. Profits before people in the best of Ferengi traditions I say. But to have the architect claim that he never bothered finding out what the law required is just criminal incompetence. Trying to put the blame on the council because they did not stop him means that he should have his license pulled. By his own logic, if he had designed a building to use barrels of napalm as insulation, would it mean that he is not responsible if anything happened? He may be young but does he have to sound so criminally stupid?

    In short, I have little faith in British justice to do anything constructive. There is too much money in this and people, especially lower class people, are just disposable. It will wind its way through the courts for years and probably nobody responsible will be brought to justice. If anything, I think that blame will be shifted to the firefighters there that night. If this assessment sounds too pessimistic, then ask Julian Assange about how British justice works. If I sound a bit bitter, ask me what happened to the money raised for the 1966 Aberfan disaster fund that dealt with an entire generation of children being killed some time.

    Reply
    1. Alex Cox

      What happened to the money raised? I remember the Aberfan disaster – a slide of mining waste destroyed a Welsh school and killed the children and their teachers – but don’t know of the financial scandal.

      Reply
  4. Biologist

    Thank you for staying on this sad story Lambert.

    >The pace of remediation differs between public and private buildings:
    An anecdote I heard from a friend in Hackney, a borough in East London. She lived in a building of around 8 stories high, part of a development that contains both social housing and (more expensive) private rental units, built pre-Grenfell. She told me that when built, they used fireproof cladding for the buildings with private rental units, and Grenfell-style cladding for the social housing. I recalled these remarks recently, when I was in the area and saw about 5 fire trucks with sirens outside the building. False alarm, luckily, this time.

    Reply
  5. RMO

    “Sounes said he had “no knowledge” of rapid fire spread and had not read regulatory guidance about how to design cavity barriers, features that were intended to stop fire spread and which failed at Grenfell.”

    This is equivalent to an aircraft mechanic not reading the FAR’s, the aircraft maintenance manual and the AC43-13 and blithely using undersized, corrosion prone and weak hardware store fasteners to attach the engine pylons to the wings and this resulting in a fatal accident – gross professional negligence. And then afterwards the contract maintenance company saying that the fault lies with the airline and pilots for not checking that the work was done to the applicable standards.

    He should be in prison along with his superiors at the company.

    Reply
  6. Clive

    Construction in the U.K. is just as corrupt as in the stupefyingly corrupt construction sector in Japan (that’s saying something).

    Here’s a building design and maintenance disaster we made earlier https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-44498608 — as the article correctly summarises, we’ve learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

    Even if the building won’t actually kill you, shoddy materials, poor design, undersized accommodation and lesser fair attitudes to tenants’ rights will make you a miserable inhabitant.

    One aspect which I suspect will emerge is the possible cause of the fire in the first place — a refrigerator fire. Highly flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants are being quietly rolled out because they’re a cheap way of meeting environmental requirements. But already a steady stream of cases (and ambulance chasing litigation https://emersonstraw.com/blog/hydrocarbon-refrigerants/) is brewing up. I’ll wager a dollar that this will become the next big consumer safety scandal.

    Reply
    1. vlade

      Almost 10 years ago I rented a one bed in central London in a tower which was half council, half privatised (it was fascinating cross-cut of society. In its lift you’re as likely to run into a junkie/drug dealer or a girl with the latest Herems or whatever handbag).

      I moved out after the tenants on the top of me (I’m told) put their bath in a middle of a living room, and kept overfilling it so that it leaked and my celing started dripping water *). At which time, the landlord discovered the “popcorn” celing was full of asbestos (common for houses in the UK all the way to 1990s), which was now flaking and dropping off, at which time I had enough and moved out (to a 1930s building which had asbestos only in its central heating. Duh).

      *) With a hindsight, I wonder why they needed the bath there, and if I was a conspiracy theory nut, I’d note that the guys living there were middle eastern, and you need cold water bath to run reasonably safely some exotermic reactions needed for home-brew things that go boom. The building still stands, so I guess it wasn’t that, and they probably just liked to have their baths in middle of their living room.

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think a core problem is that the system, based largely on self certification – is that it only works when there is a clear line of responsibility for each decision in the process. Ireland has a roughly similar system of building control as the UK, which historically has worked relatively well, as its a small country and most people in the construction/property industry would know each other. If a particular engineer or architect got a reputation for questionable judgement, it would become known and anyone concerned about liability (which is pretty much everyone) would get to know that and avoid anything they were associated with. Likewise, cowboy builders become known and reputable professionals avoid them, or if they do work for them, make doubly sure that every instruction is clearly recorded on paper.

        This system entirely broke down in the last 2 years of the Celtic Tiger. There was a flood of incoming building professionals with only a vague awareness and/or interest in local regulations, and were happy to sign off pretty much anything as they were simply passing through and didn’t care about repetitional value. Add to that a flood of ‘throw it up quick, grab the cash and head off to the Costa’ types’ on the buying and selling side, and you had the recipe for a collapse of the regulatory system.

        A friend of mine had a job for 2 years after the crash checking multiple properties which had come into the ownership of banks and other institutions. He said he could precisely date the breakdown of the system and learned to quickly anticipate even before carrying out physical inspections whether there would be a problem. And wow were there problems – he showed me photos of internal structures that would make me fear even visiting some of the buildings thrown up in that period. The most notorious problem was a failure to put in fire breaks in internal partitions – once the external plaster is put on, its very difficult to check for certain that the wall was constructed appropriately.

        I suspect that the core issue in England – and London in particular, is the toxic mix of public/private partnerships and ‘long arm’ type ownership models which has broken the chain of liability. Its simply too easy for the designers/builders/operators/owners to fudge liability and avoid responsibility. In such a situation, then self certification breaks down. The only alternative is intrusive regulatory inspections, and I doubt if there are even enough qualified building professionals available now to inspect ever building that needs inspecting. Its an almighty mess, but its hard not to think that the collapse of the system is a feature, not a bug, as our hosts would say.

        Reply
        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          > the system, based largely on self certification

          Like MCAS. Turns out that Boeing 737 Max aircraft were another booby trap, set by the Howie Brindles of this world, except with MBAs.

          Reply
          1. PlutoniumKun

            It’s been years since I worked in the UK, so I’m not up to date on the Building Reg system, but in Ireland most structures have to be certified as compliant by an engineer or architect with full liability insurance. Direct inspections are rare, except for fire certs for established structures, or where there is a problem with the interpretation of the Regulations. My understanding is that while in many countries the Regulations are based on strict rules on materials/designs, Ireland follows the UK and many European countries in providing more leeway for designers provided they hit fixed quantitive requirements, such as one hour firewalls between floors, evacuation speeds, or energy usage targets. This is particularly needed in places with a lot of historic structures – it can be very problematic to upgrade a 4 storey 18th Century building to modern fire/disabled access standards, so flexibility is needed.

            I don’t work in the sector, but my brother does, and he says that it usually works reasonably well, as its simply not worth the risk for an engineer/architect (except during the boom time mentioned above), to lose your liability insurance, and any structure is unsalable unless it has its certs fully up to date so building owners usually have a built in incentive to ensure they have their certs.

            There are a number of loopholes however, which may be relevant to Grenfall. For one thing, if you either do not want to sell your property (e.g. you are a landlord investing long term), or if you are selling to a cash buyer (who may either not be interested in, or be unaware of the need for up to date Certs), then there is little incentive to keep your certs up to date. Hence a building may go through upgrades without anyone bothering too much with maintaining compliance. Sometimes buildings end up dangerous through successive minor works – as an example, in my apartment building, a ground floor retail unit was upgraded by an interior design company seemingly unaware of fire regulations – they punched a hole through a concrete floor in order to move the toilet. They were rapidly reminded that this was a breach of fire regulations (the concrete floor was a one-hour firebreak) – they seemed quite shocked, I think they were entirely unaware that they would have liability for this. In this case it was fortunate that someone who knew what they were doing had seen what was happening.

            Reply
        2. vlade

          Don’t know how the process works in the UK/Ireland.

          Here (since having spent last five years renovating), the owner is supposed to get all sorts of compliance-documents (including from fire brigade, etc. etc.). Which can be outsoured to “technical inspector” who’s supposed to oversee the building process and check it at all times (and cannot be provided by the building contractor, although most have cozy relationships IMO), and then it’s his liability.

          But I guess most of them have professional liability insurances.

          The additional complication is that literally _every_ claim by the owner to their insurers will be contested in court. This is a ‘best practice’ by most of the insurers here (across anything). Any significant claim is cut down to bare minimum possible, if that, and the claimant is challenged to take it to the court. Which most can’t afford to/don’t want to.

          We had a car accident claim few years back where we told the insurance company to pay out market-price-damage (i.e. the top court here ruled that damage caused by the accident is not just the repair price, but the asset is impaired and the cost of the impariment should be carried by the guilty party too). They refused, so we took them to the court. Which they lost, as they knew they would – just days before it got to the court they suddenly accepted their liability and changed the case from “is there a liability” to “how much” – the former they would have lost immediately, but the latter they could drag on for another two years. In the end, they paid out _more_ than we initially asked for, but they kept to the established precedent that you don’t get it unless you sue (which costs time, money and nerves). Which meant that on hundreds of other cases they likely paid less or nothing.

          Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > a refrigerator fire

      Yes, the fire began with a refrigerator failure; there are diagrams of the kitchen in one of the reports. My view today is as it was in 2019: “even the most fiery of refrigerators shouldn’t be able to burn down a building.” If the refrigerator burns its way out to the cladding, the cladding should not go up in flames!

      Reply
  7. Toni M

    Some (hopefully) interesting bits of context from a local.

    Grenfell is near the Latimer Road tube station in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the wealthiest borough in the UK as far as I know. The average income in the borough is astronomical– I believe the average income tax return was in the £50,000 region. The borough also features many areas (mostly in North Kensington) that are in the top 10% most deprived areas in England. Average house prices are in the millions, yet there are still large segments of social housing available. The history of that social housing is tied in to the history of the area as working class slum dwellings, and the creation of the Notting Hill Housing Trust as a housing charity, as well as the Westway Trust to manage the land underneath the extremely destructive Westway Flyover that was constructed in the 60s.

    The area has always had waves of immigration, with a strong Afro-Caribbean community that started the annual Notting Hill Carnival in response to the race riots of the late 50s. More recently there is a strong Muslim community of Moroccan, Somali, Kurdish, Algerian and Bosnian descent. My family and I came to the area as refugees in the 90s, and were granted access to a Housing Trust flat, one that there is absolutely no chance we would be able to afford if renting privately, particularly now. The area is becoming rapidly gentrified, and the flats and families that I knew from other buildings are rapidly being purchased, re-developed and rented out as single dwellings for wealthier professionals. There is a private school being built a few streets away.

    There is a real depth of local feeling that people like us are not wanted in the borough, that there is a concerted effort to push us out and away from such ‘prime real estate’. There is absolutely zero faith in the government or in local authorities to do the right thing. The silent protest walks that were occurring every month before Covid were a stark reminder that justice has not, and (in many peoples eyes) will not be served. The years of letters from residents of the Lancaster West Estate (that includes Grenfell Tower) regarding basic infrastructure issues, fire safety and power cuts have also fed the feeling that the authorities absolutely do not care about the lives of residents.

    Days before the fire our constituency returned a Labour MP for the first time in recorded history. Emma Dent Coad was solid, always campaigning, always keeping the question of Grenfell at the forefront, always speaking to the local community. During the last election the Lib Dems parachuted a former Tory in to promise a unicorn Brexit revocation, and repeat / amplify Victoria Bothwick’s false assertion that Dent Coad was involved in the decision on flammable cladding in the Grenfell Tower refurbishment. The timeline clearly shows that Coad had praised the initial decision to refurbish the tower, and that the cladding decision came many years after she had left the tenant management organization, during cost engineering exercises and the refurbishment contract award.

    There was a split in the left leaning vote which allowed the Tory candidate Felicity Buchan to take the seat with a majority of 150 votes or 0.3%. Buchan comes from the financial services world, her Wiki states she worked for BoA and JP Morgan. Since her election we haven’t seen much of her, at least in North Kensington. At the very least, she has called for local authorities to immediately enforce action against high rise buildings with the combustible aluminium cladding, and called for the removal of Benita Mehra from the inquiry due to potential conflict of interest regarding donations from the cladding manufacturer. So that’s something, I suppose.

    Reply
    1. Biologist

      Thank you for this local context, that’s very interesting to hear.

      You say “…Kensington and Chelsea, the wealthiest borough in the UK as far as I know. … also features many areas (mostly in North Kensington) that are in the top 10% most deprived areas in England. “
      Just to illustrate these stark differences, for instance in life expectancy, over distances of just a few blocks:
      https://maps.cdrc.ac.uk/#/metrics/lifeexpectancy/default/BTTTFFT/14/-0.1869/51.5052/

      For a beautifully told personal history of some experiences of the post-war Caribbean migrant community in that area, read “The Lonely Londoners”, by Samuel Celvon (https://www.bl.uk/windrush/articles/the-lonely-londoners-a-new-way-of-reading-and-writing-the-city).

      Reply
  8. chuck roast

    After we successfully modify the corporate statutes to stipulate that: 1. money is not speech, and 2. corporations are not people, we can begin work on modifying the “limited liability” portions of the corporate statutes. For example we can expand the statutes to include “criminal liability” and “social responsibility.” We can further stipulate that the legal defenses of corporations will be curtailed to the extent that after facing one trial by jury of local electors no further appeal of a verdict will be allowed.

    Puts a whole new twist on the prison/industrial complex.

    Reply

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