Grenfell: The Zeppelin of the High Rise
When I was a boy an adult cousin of mine moved, from the grandparents’ house we shared, to a one bedroom flat in the first high rise development in my home city. The flat was on the first floor so it did not seem too bad. Later, after the birth of her first child, she moved to the 11th floor of a much higher block.
I never felt safe when I visited her there. Even as a boy I could see all the risks. If I could see them, as a boy, how then could fire safety “experts” not see those risks could not be overcome? In my profession there is a saying: “If it can happen, it will”. Grenfell has proved the wisdom of that approach.
Fire Proof Does Not Exist
Fire, like water, will find a way to migrate whatever precautions are taken. This means there has to be a means of rapid escape from any high rise development. That exit route must be completely separated from the main structure and so too must all service conduits. Lifts should run on the outside of the building with no lift shaft. Service pipes, likewise, should run outside the building. Stairs should be in a separate tower with links to each floor and separated from the main building by a series of fireproof doors. Each should be alarmed and if left open the alarm should sound. The floors should unbroken by any service or access facility.
Even then fire will find a way. Only a cretin could ever believe that fire could always be contained in a single flat. Only an utter moron would have clad the outside of a building in flammable materials. Looking at early pictures of the devastated interior of the building it is clear the walls between the flats had been consumed by the fire. Those walls should not have been flammable either.
I have a two storey semi-detached house. I would not use flammable materials for insulation anywhere in it. All my insulation consists of non-flammable mineral wool. Partition walls are all stuffed with mineral wool. I control my environment and I stipulate my own safety rules. In a block of flats people rely on “experts” to do that. That is like trusting a lead boat to float.
In Finland multi-storey blocks have communal heating. There is no gas to individual flats. However handy gas is, for cooking, it is not a safe fuel within individual flats in such a block.
Sprinklers Are Not A Solution
The experts might begin to admit there is no such thing as “fail safe” where fire is concerned. The fire, at Grenfell, spread on the outside of the building and so sprinklers would have been unlikely to have had any effect. Watch how the simpletons in the media and Parliament have called for sprinklers while, very probably, these would not have prevented this tragedy. Sprinklers are not the answer. The answer is not to build buildings fire fighters cannot reach.
The horror of this catastrophe was not unforeseeable. It was the image I had in my mind when I first set foot into a high rise flat. It was the image I hope all people will keep in their mind when looking at housing. This image should be in the minds of those who provide and design social and any housing.
Grenfell: The Zeppelin of the High Rise
The Grenfell catastrophe will, I believe, prove to be the Zeppelin of the High Rise. People will, at last, treat those stacked cattle-pens as the tombs they are. People need to refuse to live in these hideous structures. The people of Grenfell should not have lost their lives in vain. The future must be one without ultra-high rise. The limit must be six floors.
The walls of such buildings are only “curtain” walls. This means they are not necessary to support the integrity of the building. Why then could not those flats have had them removed, flat by flat, to be replaced by better insulating walls? Cladding is not the answer.
The Identity of the Victims and the Implications
What became clear, as the victims’ names were announced, is that Chelsea and Westminster had created a ghetto in the building. It was a ghetto of people who were relatively new immigrants, asylum seekers and the like. There is a suspicion there were a number of illegal immigrants resident there. Hence the announcements: it may be impossible to identify all those who perished.
This is an indictment of the failure of the State to control immigration. That is further justification for leaving the EU and imposing strict controls on migration. It is an indictment of the policy, of the local Housing Authority, to create such a ghetto. It is not a justification for attacking the people who proved to be victims. They came onto our land and OUR law requires they should have been kept safe because we did not make sure they could not enter onto it.