News One month on from the Grenfell Tower fire, The Chronicle is still asking What Price Life? Our campaign for the residents of high rise blocks in our region goes on as meaningful reform from the top is slow to materialise Share Click to play Tap to play The video will start in 8 Cancel Play now Get daily updates directly to your inbox + Subscribe Thank you for subscribing! Could not subscribe, try again later Invalid Email
One month on from the Grenfell Tower fire, the nation’s high rise tower block residents are still waiting for signs of meaningful reform.
In the wake of the harrowing blaze, which claimed the lives of at least 80 people, The Chronicle launched the What Price Life? campaign.
Since then, we’ve seen potentially deadly cladding ripped from homes in our region and seen it identified on hospitals and several buildings in the heart of our cities.
We have heard stories from tenants of high rise blocks who feel anxious and ignored and we’ve seen political support flood behind our campaign, with every North East MP backing our calls. A month after a massive fire claimed the lives of at least 80 people, a group prepare to continue their work on a memorial garden near the remains of Grenfell Tower on July 14, 2017 in London, England (Image: Getty Images Europe)
Our aim can be summed up pretty simply: to put pressure on those who govern us to ensure residents in high rise blocks in the North East are as safe as they can be.
The Grenfell Tower fire exposed weaknesses in fire safety regulations which extend well beyond the north London borough which became the scene of one of the nation’s worst peace-time disaster.
One of our campaign’s main aims is to put pressure on government to make funding available to local authorities to retro-fit tower blocks with sprinklers.
At present, and despite the fact that modern advancements mean it can be done cheaply and quickly, just two of well over a hundred blocks in our region have had the upgrade.
Installing the safety systems in high rises has long been the preferred safety measure of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service – who, admirably, have already overhauled their protocols for dealing with fires like Grenfell – and the fire service at a national level.
But it doesn’t come without a price tag – Newcastle City Council estimate it would cost them £6m to carry out the work in their area alone. A month after a massive fire claimed the lives of at least 80 people, the remains of Grenfell Tower are seen as a London Underground train passes by on July 14, 2017 in London, England (Image: Getty Images Europe)
The government have said they will make funding available to social housing providers who need to make improvements – but we haven’t heard any specifics.
A Department for Communities and Local Governments spokesperson said: “Where work is necessary to ensure the fire safety of social housing, we will ensure that lack of financial resources will not prevent it going ahead.”
Through our What Price Life? campaign, we will continue to ask where the money is going to come from so we can see these works done.
Another key area of debate which has arisen in recent weeks is around the safety standards of electrical appliances in people’s homes.
The Metropolitan Police have confirmed that initial investigations show a Hotpoint fridge freezer was the initial cause of the deadly blaze which claimed the lives of at least 80 people. Smoke billows from a fire that has engulfed the 27-storey Grenfell Tower in west London (Image: PA) Read More
Electrical Safety First (ESF), a leading charity and campaign group, are calling for reforms to make sure housing providers do more to ensure appliances in homes are safe. Read More What price life? Why safety MUST be put first for residents in our high-rise buildings
Their research has revealed that an average of five fires are started by common household products like dishwashers and tumble dryers every day.
Analysis by the group found that 1,873 fires were started by white goods, a collective term for large household appliances like fridge freezers, last year alone.
A fire at Lakanal House, a south London high rise, which killed six in 2009 was also started by a faulty electrical appliance. A wall of condolence near Grenfell Tower on July 12, 2017 in London, England. 80 people have been confirmed dead and dozens still missing after the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block was engulfed in flames in the early hours of June 14, 2017 (Image: Getty Images Europe)
According to ESF, current government policy states that there is an “expectation” on landlords to keep electrical installations safe.
They argue that this loose approach means that potentially dangerous electrical appliances could remain in homes for long periods of time unchecked.
Martyn Allen, technical director at Electrical Safety First, said: “We have seen the risks that electrical appliances pose in tower blocks such as Lakanal House, Shepherd’s Court and of course Grenfell Tower.
“Tenants have the right to live in a home that has a safe electrical installation and appliances supplied by the landlord.
“We believe that first and foremost, those living in densely populated areas like tower blocks must be protected.
“As a result we would like to see government implement mandatory safety checks as a matter of urgency.” Read More Which household appliance is most likely to catch fire? And how to keep you and your family safe
Initial estimates suggest the policy would cost between £9.6m and £12m ​a year to implement. Metropolitan Police Officers walk near the site of Grenfell Tower on July 12, 2017 in London, England. 80 people have been confirmed dead and dozens still missing after the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block was engulfed in flames in the early hours of June 14, 2017 (Image: Getty Images Europe)
The ESF has written to Margot James MP, parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, urging her to implement some key changes.
They believe that a new policy is needed to give housing associations and councils a legal obligation to provide free mandatory safety checks, including fixing electrical installations, to make them keep a register of white goods contained and operating ​in ​high rise blocks and ​to ​ensure tenants register their products with a recognised safety body.
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “The health and safety of those living in social housing is paramount – that’s why social landlords are obliged by law to maintain their properties to a good standard.
“This includes making sure all electrical works are in proper working order.”
The Local Government Association, which represents local authorities in England in Wales, declined to comment.
We will be continuing to cover these issues through our What Price Life? campaign in the coming months. Read More