Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Grenfell: a signal moment

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  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Hebe,

    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.

    To be fair, that's not a function of budget cuts. Most fire brigades in the world - there are a few exceptions - do not have aerial appliances that can reach up 24 storeys (roughly 75 metres). Such a boom length results in a massively heavy vehicle which is hugely destructive to the roads on which it must drive, and that has consequences. They're also horrendously expensive to procure and operate; a "normal-size" aerial runs the thick end of a million NZ dollars, and needs a lot of maintenance to remain safe.

    Even FDNY, protecting its city's well-known collection of very tall buildings, only has aerial appliances with a reach of 95-100 feet (about 30 metres).

    The budget cuts have resulted in fire fighters working hours far, far beyond what is safe, but there is no reasonable case to be made that they have deprived LFB of equipment that might have facilitated rescue via the exterior of the building. Especially since much of the exterior was ablaze.

    ETA: This standard-catalogue appliance from one of the biggest names in fire appliance construction in the world doesn't even make it to 42 metres, as an indication of how little case can be made that LFB's funding has kept it from acquiring equipment that might have mattered a damn. The fire was running from the fourth floor up, and down to the second floor.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4091 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    This fire is a tragedy, and hopefully lessons will be learned. It also sounds like some people should be on the hook for manslaughter, though I'm sure some winks and nods will take care of the un-pleasantries for those truly responsible and, instead, some poor unpaid tenant representatives sitting on the board will find themselves before the courts.

    It's particularly frightening to observe the fire's spread internally, given that the leaky-building remediation here has turned up apartment blocks that have improperly-applied fire safety systems that would facilitate a similar event. In theory an apartment block is constructed so that every dwelling is a discrete fire cell - a space from which a fire cannot spread within a very generous time window before being extinguished - and this requires that all cable and pipe runs that pass through walls be closed up with fire-resistant materials, including special heat-reactive fittings that swell to shut the gap entirely. Buildings have been found that have open inter-cell penetrations, no intumescent seals, etc. And we cannot even assume that an evacuation might be able to be carried out safely, because these breaches have compromised the stairwells that are to be used in case of a fire. Hopefully we never have to find out whether such a disaster is possible here, but it will be only through good luck if that happens to pass.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4091 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    The budget cuts have resulted in fire fighters working hours far, far beyond what is safe

    Nearly 24 hours, in some cases, which is sheer madness. Nobody can safely work such a dangerous, arduous job for so long without respite.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4091 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Attachment Attachment

    Oh, here we go … The Times identified the company that subcontracted to do the cladding part of the refurbishment for Rydon, worth £2.6m of the £8.6m job. The story is paywalled below the first couple of paragraphs, but these two grabs suggest it was dodgy as hell.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22293 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    The Hillsborough Stadium disaster was the year after. Police fed false stories defaming the football fans to compliant media: most notably The Sun. It was only last year that a second coroner's inquest finally found that the crush had been caused by gross negligence on the part of the police and that supporters were not to blame at all. Ninety six people had died.

    And as a result of the fake stories, Liverpudlians rightly declared The Sun persona non grata in their city.

    This feels like a signal moment in the history of a country. 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.

    It could well be the mirror image of the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent, where Britain's trade unions were seen to have pushed their luck. In the case of Grenfell, it's the British rentier class which has pushed its luck.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5341 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    The cladding used was apparently ACP (Aluminium Composite Panel), which consists of thick foam core (5-10mm thick, or thereabouts) sandwiched between thin outer aluminium layers (0.5mm thick, or thereabouts). It's highly flammable.

    There is talk that the cladding was added purely for cosmetic reasons - private tenants in surrounding properies didn't like the look of the Grenfell Tower, so the cladding was added.

    There was a very similar fire in Melbourne in 2014.

    It's hard not to politicise this when services such as the Fire Brigade have had their funding slashed so close to the bone that the marrow is leaking out, and when the people in charge of making the rules are essentially voting to protect their own profits over the safety of those they are making money from.

    Oh, and here's Boris Johnson telling a member of the London Assembly to 'get stuffed' after being strongly questioned on Fire Service cuts.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2708 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Rich Lock,

    There is talk that the cladding was added purely for cosmetic reasons - private tenants in surrounding properies didn't like the look of the Grenfell Tower, so the cladding was added.

    Potemkin village.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4529 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    This is political. But more than that it's ideological.

    This is the neolib ideology written in ashes and bones.

    If you demand that government step out of the way of business and you insist that, if there is a market then the product is good, then this is where we end up.

    The nanny state exists because things like this happened in the past and the only thing that stopped them then was the intervention of socialist governments. We know from history that businesses and unrestrained markets will be abused and people, usually poor people, will die.

    Every time The New Zealand Initiative or ACT or The taxpayers onion send out another press release this is what we need to remember because Grenfell tower is what happens when that ideology is allowed to take hold.

    And I don't want to spend another evening in front of the TV crying.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4374 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    Even the Daiily Mail has turned on May over this one.

    Her astonishing political ineptitude knows no bounds. The contrast between her and Corbyn's visit to the scene is so stark and the comparisons have been duly drawn by the British public. Teresa May seems to be an authoritarian toff who is genuinely afraid to meet her own citizens lest she be contaminated by contact with the lower orders.

    The Tories have nowhere to hide on these issues and no one else to blame. May was the home secretary who oversaw the deep cuts to services the consequences of which are now coming home to roost. Boris Johnson, her likely successor, is just as complicit.She - and her government - are recklessly risking peace in Northern Ireland to cling to office. It can't last.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2152 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    This is the neolib ideology written in ashes and bones.

    If you demand that government step out of the way of business and you insist that, if there is a market then the product is good, then this is where we end up.

    The nanny state exists because things like this happened in the past and the only thing that stopped them then was the intervention of socialist governments. We know from history that businesses and unrestrained markets will be abused and people, usually poor people, will die.

    Yes.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2880 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    The nanny state exists because things like this happened in the past and the only thing that stopped them then was the intervention of socialist governments. We know from history that businesses and unrestrained markets will be abused and people, usually poor people, will die.

    As I mentioned upthread, Grenfell could well be British Thatcherism's Winter of Discontent moment.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5341 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    I keep thinking that our rulers have forgotten the old adage: democracy is a better way to change governments than the guillotine.

    As Corbyn shows, given an alternative the people will vote for it. In Aotearoa we see the opposite.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1038 posts Report Reply

  • Mikaere Curtis, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    I totally agree, this is the logical result of neoliberal policies - privatising the profits whilst socialising risks - in this case the risks have resulted in the deaths of potentially scores of innocents.

    I note that fire-resistant cladding could have been used instead for only an extra 5000 pounds for the entire building, and that the cladding is banned in the US.

    Tamaki Makaurau • Since Nov 2006 • 522 posts Report Reply

  • Glenn Pearce, in reply to Mikaere Curtis,

    The KCTMO is a not-for-profit *owned* by the Residents so I'm not sure about that profit/risk angle but if that information about the cost of cladding is correct it would be outrageous to choose the non-fired rate version in a refurb worth 10 million quid.

    I see the former chairman of the KCTMO quit because he felt the refurb was beyond the capabilities of the TMO

    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/this-is-a-scandal-former-chairman-of-grenfell-tower-company-says-building-was-disaster-waiting-to-a3565251.html

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 489 posts Report Reply

  • Rebecca Gray, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Exactly. As irritating as it might be at times, regulation is needed to prevent this kind of tragedy.

    I went to see an architect (who I'd heard had designed the building I live in) talk recently. It was quite interesting but I got a bit irritated by his attitude. One thing that bugged me was his insistence on painting any council building inspectors as his sworn enemies. He may have been playing it for laughs a bit (I'm not sure), but his whole narrative was like "all our best ideas get thwarted by these no-fun bureaucrats; architects hate building regulators so we have to keep tricking them into letting us get away with doing things differently".

    And like... sure some compliance stuff must be tedious but, dude, I'm not sorry if your grand creative vision gets prioritised second after "don't take weird unapproved shortcuts that will compromise other people's safety".

    Wellington • Since May 2016 • 23 posts Report Reply

  • Bevan Shortridge,

    Here is a long form, eloquent interview with Joe Delaney, one of the residents from the Grenfell building.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 121 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Rebecca Gray,

    architects hate building regulators so we have to keep tricking them into letting us get away with doing things differently".

    I think it's important to remember that architecture is the art of drawing pretty pictures of buildings that might come to be, civil engineering is the practice of designing those buildings so they are safe (etc). Project Management is the torture of trying to get tradespeople to assemble what is on the plans despite the "active involvement" of the architect and owner. Then to take it apart and put something different in when the architect and owner agree to pay for that to be done.

    There is a degree of cross-over, but having lived with an architect for 10 years now and listened to a lot of architects complain about a lot of things, 99% of their whining is about the appearance of the building and 1% about the structure. Commonly they hate restrictions that come from heritage listing, anything about colour, form or siting, and especially "fitting in with the existing houses". Give an architect complete freedom and they'll make Dr Seuss look conservative.

    The practical restrictions they gripe about tend to be things like fire zones (in Australia), flood and earthquake requirements (what do you mean I can't build in the red zone?), much more than random engineering restrictions like fire-proofing.

    (why yes, I *am* irritated by 10 years of this whining.Thank you for asking. I have made the exact point above on a number of occasions).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1038 posts Report Reply

  • Rebecca Gray, in reply to Moz,

    Haha, all fair points. It's a tricky process no doubt, and I'm certainly not objecting to architects being creative, particularly at the "pretty pictures" phase of design.

    Just reckon the bureaucrats deserve some sympathy :)

    Wellington • Since May 2016 • 23 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Bevan Shortridge,

    Here is a long form, eloquent interview with Joe Delaney, one of the residents from the Grenfell building.

    Phenomenal. Thanks so much for that.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4529 posts Report Reply

  • John Farrell, in reply to Bevan Shortridge,

    Horribly revealing. Thank you for posting that.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 442 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bevan Shortridge,

    Here is a long form, eloquent interview with Joe Delaney, one of the residents from the Grenfell building.

    This is extraordinary and I'm enraged and saddened all over again.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22293 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    There was an unrelated article published a few days before this, discussing a new development near me.

    It, and the comments, are illuminating insofar as they show how local authorities have been made progessively toothless when attempting to counter the demands of developers, by a combination of removal of legislation, and a lack of funds to fight legal battles.

    From the comments:

    "As a councillor who has fought unwanted developments for years, and understands the national planning guidelines, localism act etc etc., I can state that developers in effect have carte blanche. There are numerous pieces of legislation and planning process that seem to suggest there is local ability to shape development. In practice, they are a fig leaf to mask the impotence of local authorities at every level."

    And

    "Welcome to the world envisaged by Thatcher whose first act in 1979 was to repeal the 1947 Planning Act and subsequently severely diluted councils ability to plan and preserve."

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2708 posts Report Reply

  • Katharine Moody, in reply to Rich Lock,

    It, and the comments, are illuminating insofar as they show how local authorities have been made progessively toothless when attempting to counter the demands of developers, by a combination of removal of legislation, and a lack of funds to fight legal battles.

    I've just read this;
    http://www.eds.org.nz/our-work/publications/books/last-line-of-defence/

    which points out the same issue regarding lack of funds to take environmental enforcement actions in NZ. The situation is so bad that many of our regulators don't even have the funding to monitor - so have no idea about the real state of compliance. It's a tragic read.

    Palmerston North • Since Sep 2014 • 764 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The Financial Times gets blunt:

    Some of the remedies can only be determined once the investigation is complete. But there must be immediate action to help those who are now homeless and ensure the safety of the many thousands living in similar buildings. Ministers must fulfil the promise they have made to rehouse people in the local area. Any backsliding will provoke a fierce backlash from a community that already suspects the authorities would like to clear the way for gentrification. Inspections of social housing must be matched by action to enforce standards in the private rental sector. And there must be a way for residents to make their voices heard, in a system where layers of management committees and contractors can make it hard for them to extract a response.

    Finally, this should serve as a warning to anyone in government who still believes in deregulation, measured on an absurd “one in three out” numerical basis, as an ideological goal.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22293 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    If you demand that government step out of the way of business and you insist that, if there is a market then the product is good, then this is where we end up.

    So much this.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 578 posts Report Reply

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