Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Grenfell: a signal moment

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  • Russell Brown,

    Sorry folks, those two Twitter videos don't seem to be embedding in Safari. Works fine in Chrome.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22007 posts Report Reply

  • John Farrell,

    This disaster seems to have stirred up the worst in some people - some of the posts on threads about this on Trademe have been vile.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 416 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I think a fire like this is a particularly poignant disaster because it can not really be blamed on anything other than pure human incompetence and greed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10443 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe,

    Well put Russell. I'm in a deep sadness for all of those people and the terrible tragedy. That general area was my manor for the years I lived in London, and good friends still live in council houses around there.

    The Fire Service cuts under Prime Minister May's reign at the Home Office were deep and savage, with much more planned under "austerity".

    The London firies had no way of reaching the top of that building from the outside.

    Appalling, all of it.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2877 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Hebe,

    The London firies had no way of reaching the top of that building from the outside.

    This is why you don’t clad a high rise in a flammable material, ever. How are you going to stop it if it it starts? Inside, there’s sprinklers, maybe, and there are walls containing the spread. Outside, it goes up like a bonfire. I could not believe what I was seeing in a country like Britain.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10443 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Meyers,

    I'm feeling pretty angry about this even though it's on the other side of the world. I've been back living in NZ for five years now but spent the previous five years living in Shepherds Bush, not far at all from this fire.

    I don't really know what to do with my anger so thought I'd write a comment here.

    It feels like a tower block in a modern rich country just shouldn't go up in flames from what was probably a small house fire. You see the Daily Mail and the Sun headlines for years where the talk about "health and safety gone mad". Governments that continually talk about cutting regulation and red-tape.

    We forget, until a tragedy like this happens, but this is the reason that regulations and health and safety exist. They were born out of tragedy but then slowly die from neglect.

    We hear about "personal responsibility" from certain politicians when they try to cut services. It often feels like the mantra of personal responsibility only cuts one way though. Anyone responsible for this might receive a stern talking to after years of inquiry. The victims are dead or homeless. Senseless tragedy.

    Even Theresa May was diminishing any sort of responsibility here with what I thought was a very wishy-washy statement about maybe investigating something in a while and maybe learning something from it.

    It's obviously early in the process so unclear what caused the fire and what caused it to spread so quickly, but it is apparent that something has gone badly wrong, either by accident or by negligence. The company responsible for the refit of the building has come out pretty quickly to say that they were totally following the regulations.

    Wellington • Since May 2014 • 51 posts Report Reply

  • Zach Bagnall,

    This does feel momentous. I recall arguing with a private landlord (who owned hundreds of London properties) when my flatmates reported smelling gas fumes from the boiler but the landlord's dodgy handyman who checked it out said he couldn't smell anything. A month later we were given notice to vacate. A management company working on thousands of properties on behalf of a public council is on a whole other level.

    Colorado • Since Nov 2006 • 106 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Michael Meyers,

    It's obviously early in the process so unclear what caused the fire

    The early indication (leaving aside how it spread so rapidly) is that the fire began when a fridge "exploded" on the fourth floor. The Lakanal fire was eventually determined to have been started when a faulty TV caught fire.

    But the Grenfell Action Group published this in 2013:

    We believe that the power surges at Grenfell Tower posed a major fire risk to many residents but this is not highlighted in the Committee report. Residents witnessed smoke coming out of light fittings and other electrical appliances, some of which literally exploded. Despite the fact that these dangerous and highly alarming incidents were reported to the TMO on 11th May no serious action was taken until the problems escalated out of control on 29th May 2013.

    The group complained that the council identified arcing in a mains supply cable as the cause of the surges – which went on for two weeks! – but made no attempt to find out why the arcing had happened.

    The same post also notes that the company that installed new wiring was also the company that got the contract to do safety assurance on the wiring.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22007 posts Report Reply

  • Glenn Pearce,

    Some lessons for Auckland Council here with the Unitary Plan and the push to rapidly increase construction of dwellings in Auckland.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 485 posts Report Reply

  • Ray Gilbert,

    This is indeed a tragedy of epic proportions that will continue to grow in the coming days and weeks. Hopefully it will be a watershed for these sorts of properties to ensure that it never occurs again. The only thing remotely good that can come out of these sorts of events is dramatic change to prevent similar happenings. Like the removal of barriers etc. from football fields after Hillsborough and the continuing building earthquake strengthening after Christchurch. It's a shame it takes a real tragedy to bring these matters to a point where time and money is spent on them.

    Since Nov 2006 • 92 posts Report Reply

  • Glenn Pearce,

    This is interesting too, if I'm interpreting this correctly the tenants themselves are effectively responsible for the management and capital works on 10,000 properties

    http://www.kctmo.org.uk/main/8/about-us

    Seems like a big job/responsibility for unpaid Board members

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 485 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    The report about disabled people living there mentioned they lived on the upper floors. Why? Lifts are dodgy at the best of times and evacuation in emergencies particularly fraught as specific skills and technology such as Evac Chairs and people trained to use them, are required. Even in many NZ high rise buildings, disabled people would struggle to get out of upper floors in fires or earthquakes.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3069 posts Report Reply

  • KathrynB,

    Thank you for writing this, Russell. It encapsulates everything that I have been feeling about this terrible (and avoidable) tragedy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2014 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Chrys Berryman,

    .....once again the poor and vunerable suffer because a wealthy first world country's elite thinks its ok to house them in substandard accomodation.....safe housing is a right not a privilege

    Pt Chevalier • Since Sep 2014 • 16 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I realise the Queen's not going to go over to Downing Street and relieve Theresa May of the keys to the nation. But Britain can not and must not go on like this.

    No, they can't -- and even if the Queen kicked off a constitutional crisis in a fit of justifiable rage, it wouldn't answer how ministerial responsibility for housing standards got split three ways (which is a recipe for disaster) and why none of them seem to have been talking to each other. Nor would I want to be anyone in the Kensington & Chelsea Council or Greater London Authority who literally has their names on the sign-off for the multi-million-pound renovations of Grenfell Tower.

    Yes, Russell, you're right that this is political. But if I was a public housing tenant in the UK today - no matter who control my local council - I'd be praying everyone wakes the fuck up and starts paying attention to the politically unsexy, never makes the papers stuff about consents processing and regulatory management that tends to get buried at the bottom of sub-committee agendas.

    Lives really can literally depend on them.

    Even Theresa May was diminishing any sort of responsibility here with what I thought was a very wishy-washy statement about maybe investigating something in a while and maybe learning something from it.

    Uh, OK. I know Theresa May doesn't have many friends around here, but IDK what anyone could have said to make anyone happy. Corbyn, May and Sadiq Kahn all seem to be getting it in the neck for somehow "politicizing a tragedy" while not being political enough. I know we're on a 24 hour news cycle blah blah fucking blah, but it is really that hard to literally let the ashes cool and the dead be counted?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12332 posts Report Reply

  • Susan Archer,

    Great post Russell, and of course it's a political issue. It reminds me of Pike River where red flags were repeatedly raised, and repeatedly ignored or down-played by everyone with the power to fix the problems and avoid disaster.
    I'm so tired of words like "strategy", "consultation", "implementation" and "governance" which seem not to carry any meaning anymore - we just need political leaders at every level who care deeply about all the people they serve and then act on the basis of that motivation.
    Even as I write that it seems idealistic, but really, it only becomes so if we stop expecting and demanding it!

    Auckland • Since Oct 2007 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Glenn Pearce,

    Seems like a big job/responsibility for unpaid Board members

    If you dig a little deeper into the website, the KCTMO is run by a fifteen member board, four of whom are appointed by the Kensington and Chelsea Council, and three "independent members" who are required by law to have relevant experience and skills. They're also responsible for a three member executive team, and I guess if they aen't up to the job they're paid to do, we're going to find out in heart-breaking detail soon enough.

    I don't have a copy of the Management Agreement between the Council and TMO sitting in front of me, but I really hope the resident board members don't end up getting thrown to the wolves. You don't have to be paid to be more than competent at often huge jobs, as the many many organisations dependent on volunteers right here can attest.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12332 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Well, yes. And those professionals are probably taking lower pay to work in social housing rather than sorting out the asses milk reticulation for the oligarchs house down the road.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5482 posts Report Reply

  • Glenn Pearce,

    Agreed, but the Resident Board members hold a majority of 8 seats.

    To me it just seems extraordinary to hold responsibilty for the maintenance of 10,000 properties in an unpaid volunteer position.

    But it appears to be a structure the Tenants/Residents wanted back in 1996 and fought to put in place

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 485 posts Report Reply

  • Max Robitzsch, in reply to Glenn Pearce,

    Some lessons for Auckland Council here with the Unitary Plan and the push to rapidly increase construction of dwellings in Auckland.

    Why does this have anything to do with Unitary Plan? The only tenous connection you could make is that the Unitary Plan wants to see more people living more closely together.

    That isn’t unsafe.

    It’s cutting safety standards which is. The UP does nothing of the thing.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2016 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • LanceWiggs, in reply to Glenn Pearce,

    The blogger complained in one of their posts that proxy voting meant the residents had no real control of those board positions.

    NZ • Since Nov 2010 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Glenn Pearce,

    The Unitary Plan will increase the number of multi level buildings as well as reducing the separation between dwellings that in itself increases risk.

    As long as building standards are sufficient and applied correctly there should be no problem?

    By all accounts the Grenfell cladding met "standards"

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 485 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Bell,

    Thanks, Russell, as always. Another London fire disaster hardly anyone knows about (although it does have its own Wikipedia entry), the Denmark Place fire of 1980: Denmark Place arson: Why people are still searching for answers 35 years on from one of the biggest mass murders in our history

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 49 posts Report Reply

  • Glenn Pearce,

    Ah, the illusion of Democracy

    Have you got a link to that?

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 485 posts Report Reply

  • jb, in reply to Michael Meyers,

    "Health and safety gone mad in the UK"
    Between 1992 and 2016, workplace fatalities dropped from 1.5 to 0.46 per 100,000 workers. Over 2/3 of UK H&S regulations were adopted from EU law.

    a.small.town.in.germany • Since Jan 2007 • 85 posts Report Reply

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