Remember when we all thought that “Grenfell changes everything”? Remember how we all recognised that we had to start listening to those who lived in apartment blocks? And wasn’t it great that, when inviting views on proposals taking forward the post-Grenfell Hackitt report, MHCLG splashed this news on 6 June:
Residents encouraged to have their say to improve building safety – The government is inviting views on a new building safety regime, as it seeks to bring forward new legislation to keep residents safe.
But this was pure spin. The MHCLG consultation document runs to 192 pages, with responses required within only 8 weeks. There is almost zero chance that residents around the country (and high-rises in particular), with busy lives will be able to give any meaningful input by the HMG’s deadline. They first need to learn about the document (Has it been publicised and made accessible to them?), then assimilate all 192 pages of it (Has it been written from their perspective and is it available in multiple languages?), and then craft a response either individually or collectively (Has the format for responding made this easy for residents?)
It used to be the case that departments were recommended to allow 13 weeks for responses to significant consultation exercises. So why did MHCLG not allow this consultation to run over the holiday period so that the general public could truly have their say? Why did the MHCLG not practise what it is proposing and conduct a more inclusive and accessible process? Did they consider using a ‘citizens assembly approach’ or training and paying local residents to run local consultation sessions and summarise responses to feed into the process?
This matter as a lot, was made clear in a recent BBC podcast Grenfell: What have we learned? One interviewee was Gill Kernick:
“For the last 10 years I have worked predominantly in high hazard industries looking at how you create safe cultures … and specifically how to prevent major accidents – low probability, high consequence events. The key to change is creating a connection between the most senior levels of the organisation and the front line. … In the case of housing, because of the complexity of the world we live in, it is the tacit knowledge of residents that is critical to keeping people safe. They have the experience of living in the building, they know what the issues are, and they probably know how to solve them.”
It is not just HMG that finds it too much of an effort to involve those who actually have experience of living in unsafe buildings. Cue London’s Deputy Mayor:-
And then there were those responsible for the safety of the residents of Barking Riverside, the wooden fronted building where fire alarms and sprinklers recently did not work. Residents had raised concerns about fire safety and specifically about both the wooden balconies and the fire alarms. And yet again no-one had listened.
It is desperately depressing stuff. We clearly need a huge culture shift in government, local government and the construction industry. But who is going to make this happen?
Martin Stanley is the Editor of Understanding Government.
ANNEX – The Pre-Fire Concerns of Grenfell Tower Residents
There is plenty of evidence that the pre-fire concerns of Grenfell Tower residents were ignored by those who were supposed to represent and defend them. Note that it wasn’t just – or even mainly – the cladding. The residents did not know that the cladding was dangerous, but they did raise lots of other concerns -– and no-one listened or cared. One pre-fire blog had noted that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude … of our landlord” only months before an ordinary kitchen fire:
- escaped through an insufficiently fire-resistant window and ignited supposedly fire-proof cladding, and then broke into other apartments through similar windows,
- whilst, the Fire Brigade couldn’t effectively fight the fires or rescue people because there was no wet riser delivering water to the top of the tower (although there should have been), and they could not take control of the lift which hampered their ability to carry out rescues and endangered the lives of residents using the lifts to escape. The lift did not meet regulations.
For further detail, please see https://www.regulation.org.uk/specifics-grenfell_tower.html and Gill Kernick’s analysis and blogs: – https://grenfellenquirer.blog/ .