Jhe poignant images of Grenfell Tower engulfed in flames will forever be etched in the memory of our city. Londoners will never forget the tragedy or the atmosphere of horror, panic and shock that shook the capital at dawn on June 14, 2017. On the fifth anniversary of the horrific fire, our thoughts and our prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones. those, survivors and the wider Grenfell community. But half a decade later, we should be able to offer more than thoughts and prayers. We should be able to provide the answers, the justice and the change that the residents of Grenfell deserve.
Progress has been made. The Grenfell Tower investigation painstakingly uncovers the truth – revealing how profits have been prioritized over the safety of people, how privatization and deregulation have weakened our country’s approach to building standards and how the Institutional disregard for people living in social housing has had such fatal consequences. But no one has yet been held truly responsible for the combustible coating that turned Grenfell into a death trap. It means justice is far from done, while at the same time the far-reaching change that is so urgently needed to avert a similar catastrophe is not happening fast enough.
From City Hall, we acted quickly and decisively to improve building security. We now require new buildings on Greater London Authority land to meet stricter safety standards and have incorporated stricter fire safety policies into planning rules. London Firefighters have implemented 26 of the 29 recommendations from the first phase of the investigation, and work is underway to deliver the final three.
However, action and change at the national level have been conspicuous by their absence. The response from government, developers and landlords has fallen far short of what the families of victims and survivors have come to expect. We still have too many residents in London and across the country who live in high-rise buildings covered in dangerous flammable coatings, and we still see designs for buildings that have critical safety flaws.
Major reforms to fix a broken system are nowhere to be found and, to its great shame, the government has so far failed to implement a single recommendation made to ministers from the first phase of the inquiry – a shameful failure to duty which leaves too grave a risk.
To give just one example, ministers recently refused to implement the recommendation that personal emergency evacuation plans (Peeps) for those in need of assistance should be required by law, despite the fact that 41% of Grenfell’s disabled residents died. This begs the question: what is the point of surveys and investigations if they will just ignore the findings?
Five years on from Grenfell, we should be living in a country where fire safety is a priority and comprehensive, where building regulations are strong and stringent, and where the housing and construction industry is called upon to take responsibility for the residents’ well-being and safety. And yet, a dangerous culture of wanting to take shortcuts persists – even after the loss of 72 lives.
I fear now that the country is even beginning to backslide when it comes to building safety. I am deeply concerned that the recommendations of the inquest will follow those of the Lakanal House tragedy and become just another missed opportunity. That’s why I’ve written to the Prime Minister again urging him to set up a national public body to oversee recommendations arising from post-death inquests to ensure they are implemented, rather than dismissed. in the long grass.
But five years ago, there were glimmers of hope in the darkness. The firefighters who rushed into the tower, risking their lives to save others. The outpouring of support for the Grenfell community as volunteers poured in to donate food, shelter and clothing. And the strength of survivors and residents who continue to show courage, dignity and determination in their fight for justice and improved public safety, while navigating their personal grief and trauma.
Failing all these people now, after all they’ve been through, and abandoning the people of Grenfell a second time by not bringing about the change they so desperately need, would be an intolerable insult. It is time for the government to act. We owe it to all those who died, to the survivors, to the bereaved families and to the whole community to ensure that nothing like this happens again.