I went swimming on Thursday, well not swimming exactly, it was more hydrotherapy and more hydro than therapy at that. The theory was that lying on my back in the water and staying afloat by means of moving my arms on the surface of the water would in some way alleviate the pain in my left shoulder. That was the theory. Practical application of the theory proved otherwise, as my body communicated to me that I was causing it pain. That was on Thursday, and the pain hasn’t as yet fully abated. Hence the words you are reading have been typed by my glamorous assistant Julie, who is smiling as she types this!
One person who never seems to smile unless she’s looking at a horse is the Queen and she visited the scene of the Grenfell Tower disaster and met some of those affected. As any reader of my previous posts will know, I am no great fan of the royal family. In fact, they are to democracy in the 21st century what the Pied Piper of Hamelin was to child safety. The tragedy at Grenfell Tower exposes many things wrong with our cost conscious society, but not least of which is the hypocrisy that underpins our society inasmuch as the need to be cost conscious only seems to affect one strata of society, the same one that bears the brunt of austerity, the same one that didn’t create the conditions that necessitated it.
In 1992, Windsor Castle was gutted by fire. This was seen at the time as a great tragedy – although no-one died – and immediately there was talk about restoring the castle to its former glory. There was almost as much unanimous support in parliament for this to be carried out at the taxpayer’s expense, as there wasn’t public debate.
As fire-magazine notes in its excellent account of it;
Fires in such important and high profile buildings were not new: Hampton Court Palace was badly damaged by a fire on Easter Monday, 1986.
Following the Hampton Court Palace fire, a detailed survey of Windsor Castle was carried out by the Property Services Agency (PSA) which identified a works programme of £20 million to incorporate fire prevention measures including complete rewiring of the main Castle buildings, the fitting of automatic detection, installation of fire resisting doors, improved fire compartmentation, treatment of timber and separation between heating elements and combustible materials. Between the date of the report and the fire, responsibility the fire safety and royal residences was transferred from the PSA to the royal household, which employed its own consultants.
As a result of the fire, not only was Windsor Castle made safer but safety in a range of other heritage premises was improved. The interaction between listed buildings, heritage features and smoke alarms had been a concern for many years, with a general reluctance to utilise systems because of the intrusive nature of work such as drilling holes. This has undoubtedly spurred on the development of wireless smoke alarms which protect without causing collateral damage to the fabric of buildings.
Compare this to the tragedy that killed 6 people at Lakanal House in Southwark in 2009. There was a coroners inquest – of course there was – which made recommendations – of course it did – and one of these recommendations was ignored were ignored – of course it was. The coroner’s report into Lakanal House called for developers refurbishing high-rise blocks to be encouraged to install sprinkler systems. And guess what happened? With an almost predictable inevitability Lakanal House was refurbished and re-opened recently but no sprinkler system was installed. The leader of Southwark council was on ‘The World At One’ on Thursday trying to explain his reasons not to. (the interview with him starts at 37mins).
He points out that local councils have many competing demands on their funds and this is but one of them. He also points out that fires of this nature are more likely to happen in social housing as opposed to private. Quite why his comments haven’t received coverage and wider debate – especially given the media interest in this issue – is as bewildering as it is inexplicable.
How and why is it that some costs can be borne by the taxpayer, especially if they’re to a wealthy pensioner who not just works the system but is integral to it’s very perpetuation, yet other costs are somehow too expensive? Politics is about choices, and the catastrophe at Grenfell Tower neatly brings into focus how some choices can be afforded, whilst some can’t.
One more thing.
If the report in Wednesdays ‘Independent’ are true, that;
“Due to its height the tower is visible from the adjacent Avondale Conservation Area to the south and the Ladbroke Conservation Area to the east,” a planning document for the regeneration work reads. “The changes to the existing tower will improve its appearance especially when viewed from the surrounding area.”
Then the blackened ruin that is Grenfell Tower once was a home to so many, should be left as it is, as a permanent reminder of what the inherent unfairness in a capitalist society can lead to.