Dark Brightness

Bleak Theology: Hopeful Science

Grenfell Tower is a standard leftist tragedy.

If there was a Tory in charge of London there would be demonstrations demanding his resignation. Let us count the errors so far: I won’t link to them all.

  • There was no sprinkler system
  • There was a fire-retardant version of the cladding put on the building. It was not used, because it cost more
  • There was only one fire escape
  • The building was full of immigrants, most of whom were poor, and most of whom had too many people in the flats

In short, the building was unsafe, was known to be unsafe, and should have been pulled down. London is learning a lesson we learned in the Christchurch earthquake: Do not build over four storeys.

But the rage is not at the Labour council. It is directed at the Tory Prime Minister, who does not run London. Mr Khan does: but he would rather blame central government.

But then, Mr Khan is known to be a weasel.

As anyone who’s traveled the Third World or even parts of post-Soviet Eastern Europe knows, it is easier to put up a tall building than to maintain it. Authoritarian regimes like the prestige of skyscrapers, even stubby ones, but you notice around dusk that there are no lights on the upper floors because the elevators no longer work; the landings in the emergency stairwell are used as “temporary” storage space that has inevitably become permanent. Not all of these problems are yet as common in a First World city such as London, but some are: at Grenfell Tower, for example, the only emergency exit was obstructed inter alia by piles of cardboard, a busted space heater and an old mattress. Other problems not quite seemly in a supposedly wealthy metropolis had also accumulated – so there were no sprinklers, and non-working fire alarms, and “cladding” from a recent remodel helped fan the flames and spread the fire and quickly became, for those seeking an issue in a tragedy, the word of the week. Nevertheless, clad or unclad, Grenfell Tower embodies what has happened to London, Paris and other European cities in their transformation from national capitals to “global cities”, as Sadiq Khan likes to call his fiefdom.

Contemporary London is like the old New Yorker ad of a Broadway marquee boasting a critical rave – “Fun for Young and Old!” – and underneath a dissatisfied middle-aged man exiting the theatre. Europe’s “global cities” are for the very rich and very poor, and the middle class are exiting the city. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, wherein Grenfell Tower is located, is also home to thousands of ambitious young French people fleeing the economic sclerosis of their own country, to the point where London is now “France’s sixth-biggest city”. But, as Le Monde recently pointed out, in London the average monthly rent (£2,600) is higher than the average monthly salary (£2,300). As with Paris, it is increasingly a city for the super-rich, and the poor who serve them. Or come to serve them, but wind up on welfare as aunts and cousins make their way to join them.

The question I have would be who is the authority to blame? I grew up in Auckland, and during my 30s a bunch of very cheap apartments were built in the central suburbs. A number of them leaked. The blame was put on the builders, as the codes had been deregulated and devolved, and on the local councils, for they signed the buildings off. The crisis then led to a reform and re regulation of building, which is why my current house — built to comply with the new regulations — has a sheaf of drawings and certifications, when as a child my Dad built a series of houses with two A5 drawings and the help of building inspectors.

Grenfell Towers is in Kensington. The mayor of that council is Tory. There are lots of protests there. A council owned company is the Landlord. The council has some accountability. But does he control the code?

There have previously been a number of local authorities responsible for the Kensington and Chelsea area. The current local authority was first elected in 1964, a year before formally coming into its powers and prior to the creation of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea on 1 April 1965. Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council replaced Kensington Metropolitan Borough Council and Chelsea Metropolitan Borough Council. Both were created in 1900 and replaced the Vestry of the Parish of Kensington and the Vestry of the Parish of Chelsea.

It was envisaged through the London Government Act 1963 that Kensington and Chelsea as a London local authority would share power with the Greater London Council. The split of powers and functions meant that the Greater London Council was responsible for “wide area” services such as fire, ambulance, flood prevention, and refuse disposal; with the local authorities responsible for “personal” services such as social care, libraries, cemeteries and refuse collection. This arrangement lasted until 1986 when Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council gained responsibility for some services that had been provided by the Greater London Council, such as waste disposal. Kensington and Chelsea became an education authority in 1990. Since 2000 the Greater London Authority has taken some responsibility for highways and planning control from the council, but within the English local government system the council remains a “most purpose” authority in terms of the available range of powers and functions.

Not sure. Let’s look at what the Greater London Authority does… it runs the police, the fire department, and the London Plan.

The GLA is responsible for co-ordinating land use planning in Greater London. The mayor produces a strategic plan, the “London Plan”. The individual London Borough councils are legally bound to comply with the plan. The mayor has the power to over-ride planning decisions made by the London Boroughs if they are believed to be against the interests of London as a whole.

Given the number of tower blocks in London one would hope that there are standard regulations about using flame retardant material, having fire escape stairwells, fire doors, and height limitations without sprinklers throughout London. And the UK. If there are not then there needs to be some. Yes, there will be a cost.

But it appears the plan is not about such things. It is about sustainability, being a global city, safety, social inclusion. Perhaps it should be.

What I do know is that the left are trying to get a Prime Minister to resign over something that she has no statutory control over. I also know that this is a tragedy, and that other towers like Grenfell exist.

I am no fanboy of May. I thinks she is a robot, a globalist, and a control freak. She has a tin ear and clumsy hands. She almost lost an election, and is held in power by the only uncucked party in parliament.

But this I know. It is not a time for tears as much as it is a time to demolish. Identify the dangerous buildings. Rehouse the residents. Repair what you can, and build better and safer. The social housing from the 1960s is dangerous.

Blow it up.

Mayer Khan and his master Jeremy Corbyn should stop talking blood and start talking building regulations. For the councils in England are not all Tory. If there are no changes and reform, there will be blood enough to be on his hands.

For Grenfell was one thing: avoidable.

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