The Truth about Grenfell Tower: A Report by Architects for Social Housing

24Jul17

By Architectsforsocialhousing

On Thursday, 22 June, 2017, in response to the Grenfell Tower fire the previous week, Architects for Social Housing held an open meeting in the Residents Centre of Cotton Gardens estate in Lambeth. Around 80 people turned up and contributed to the discussion – residents, housing campaigners, journalists, lawyers, academics, engineers and architects. Below is an edited film of the meeting made for us by Line Nikita Woolfe, with the assistance of Luc Beloix on camera and additional footage by Dan Davies, and is produced by her company Woolfe Vision. The presentations we gave that evening are the basis of this report, to which we have added our subsequent research as well as that collated from the numerous articles on the Grenfell Tower fire published in the press and elsewhere, to which we have attached the weblinks, with the original documents included whenever they are available.

Introduction

On the Saturday after the Grenfell Tower fire we ran into a member of the Tenants and Residents Association for Cotton Gardens estate, which includes three 20-storey blocks, and she told us that she had received over 50 calls from residents worried about the safety of their homes. We decided, therefore, to call a meeting on the estate to try and answer their questions and those of residents from other estates alarmed by the reports in the media about the safety of council estate tower blocks, and give them any advice we can on how they can put pressure on their landlords to improve that safety. To do so, we started looking at the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire – not only the technical causes but also the management structures and political decisions that led to them. In addition, we ourselves have been alarmed by the increasingly loud and widespread narrative being spread in the media that council estates are inherently unsafe and that the proper response to this disaster is to demolish all council tower blocks.

As any resident who has been consulted by their local council on the ‘regeneration’ of their estate knows, their responses to seemingly innocuous questions are similarly used to justify the demolition of their homes. As an example of which, one of the questions put to residents of Central Hill estate by Lambeth council at the beginning of their consultation was ‘would you like a new kitchen?’ Two-and-a-half-years later the same council used the answers to these consultations to justify the demolition of the entire estate. In the same way, opinions about living in council tower blocks voiced in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire are not made in a political vacuum. It is entirely understandable that a resident pulled from the hell of the Grenfell Tower fire and shoved in front of a camera crew should call for the demolition of similar tower blocks; it is something very different for a journalist who has never lived on an estate to do the same in a national paper, as it is for a politician who has promoted London’s programme of estate demolition to describe tower blocks as criminally unsafe on a news programme watched by millions. This report makes no claim to be the truth about the Grenfell Tower fire, but it is a contribution to the attempt to find it, which also means exposing and refuting the lies being spread about its causes. In trying to find that truth, we should be aware of the difference between voicing our personal opinions and formulating conclusions based on what we know.



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