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Editor’s comment

Have the lessons of Grenfell Tower and other disasters been learnt from?

Patrick Mooney, News Editor

As we near the four-year anniversary since the Grenfell Tower disaster in which an avoidable fire killed 72 wholly innocent people, it is both sobering and appalling that similar disasters are only being narrowly averted on a regular basis. Despite the increased focus and expenditure on safety, fires continue to break out and spread in residential settings. Building owners and managers continue to argue over who will bear the cost of cladding removal while the occupants both fear for their lives and for their financial futures. I don’t think many us would have thought four years ago that we would be in a position in June 2021 where dangerous materials are still wrapped around the homes of tens of thousands of people and there is not a public outcry about this. At the public inquiry into the Grenfell fire, accounts continue to emerge about how the Tenant Management Organisation

was slow to react to earlier safety warnings and the preparations for dealing with a major incident, such as a fire, were full of holes because the needs of vulnerable residents, many of them with limited mobility, were not properly taken account of. Too much focus at the TMO and its parent council, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, was trained on the refurbishment costs and aesthetics such as the colour of the cladding panels, rather than on the safety of the tenants and their families and how to respond to their concerns and complaints. Surely important lessons have already been learnt and are being implemented by social landlords across the country. Therefore, it was very worrying to hear via a television news crew at ITN that appalling living conditions were being

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experienced by Croydon Council tenants in south London, where a water leak in a 11 storey tower block was left unrepaired for four years – resulting in tenants’ flats being left uninhabitable as a result of extensive mould, dangerous electrics and water running down walls and through ceilings. Once again it appears that tenants were raising their concerns, but their voices were largely ignored by an uncaring and incompetent landlord. It all just sounds too familiar doesn’t it, except in this particular case thankfully no-one lost their life. There is only about 12 miles between the Regina Road block in Croydon and the site of Grenfell Tower in west London, but they may as well have been on separate continents. We cannot continue behaving like this or running our housing services in this way. Tenants are clearly not being treated

like valued customers, they are still being treated like they are second class citizens, with only limited rights. In the weeks and months following the Grenfell fire, Government ministers embarked on an extensive series of consultation events and visits, meeting and talking with hundreds of tenants. Out of this we were promised wholescale changes, so the stigma of being a social housing tenant would disappear and be consigned to the dustbin. In its place a modern, respectful relationship would develop. Tenants would be equal partners and given a big say in determining service standards and quality levels. Sadly it appears a lot more work needs to be done if the culture within many social landlords is to be transformed for the good. The Housing Ombudsman is flexing his muscles and soon a building safety regulator will begin its work to ensure

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Printed in England See page 31 4 | HMM June/July 2021 |

residential properties are safer places to live in, but something is still missing from the housing landscape. In the recent past we had a national housing inspectorate who conducted visits to all social landlords in a similar way to how Ofsted inspects schools. The current social housing regulator conducts checks on the work of housing associations, but these focus much attention on how the organisations are governed and whether they provide good value for money. They do not focus sufficiently on the experiences of tenants or the quality of housing, nor do they apply to local authorities who are landlords. This is an illogical gap and one that badly needs filling. Ministers should take the opportunity in the coming months to ensure that all tenants in the social housing and private rented sectors are protected by an effective inspection regime charged with changing the culture and practices of landlords, backed up by legally enforceable powers. By all means let’s try to persuade people to change, but if this does not prove effective then prosecutions need to follow. It may be the only way to guarantee decent standards of housing and proper services are provided and there are no more Grenfell Tower fires, or Regina Road floods.


JUN/JUL 2021

Increased help to end rough sleeping

Marked loss of social rent properties

Differences in safety approaches exposed

Huge rise in evictions feared

Grenfell Tower landlord failings revealed

On the cover... Patrick Mooney

Project: Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust ModPods Manufacturer: Shelforce, Birmingham Contractor: Just Solutions Ltd, Coventry

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