Grenfell fire unmasks a tale of two cities

No one in the past few weeks has been left untouched by the series of tragedies that have struck our nation in seemingly quick succession. The shock of the Westminster Bridge attacks was followed all too quickly by the numbing horror of the Manchester bomb and then the London Bridge attacks. Being able to quickly identify the culprits behind these atrocities offered some, if little, relief to the numbing pain of loss but it is in the senseless, appallingly irresponsible deaths of upwards of 58 innocent people in the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy that has brought us to our knees and left us confronting a painful social schism within our nation’s capital and our wider society.

For it seems improbable that had such a fire broken out in a privately owned and privately maintained property of the same height, age and proportions, it would have had anything like the same kind of devastating consequences. As this article in the BBC explains: A tale of two towers, just a short distance away from Grenfell Tower, private tower blocks not only have luxury dwellings but ‘luxury’ fire defences meaning that in the same circumstances the outcome would have been vastly different. How can such a disparity exist in 21st century Britain? Where the super rich can coexist next to the super poor? How can we allow our local governments to ignore the right to basic human safety? For as Sadiq Khan (the Mayor of London) has said today, this fire is the result of years of neglect and has been a long time in the making: Sadiq Khan.

For example, the absence of sprinkle systems in Grenfell Tower has sparked controversy. Although they are considered to be the most effective form of defense in a fire they have not been deemed necessary (and accordingly were not paid for) in Grenfell Tower’s refurbishment. Yet they are only estimated to cost £1,500per flat. A drop in the ocean in comparison to the disaster we are facing now, and more tragically, in comparison with the £5million (so far) being spent on emergency relief for the families left homeless.

And that is without considering the unquantifiable cost of the people who have died, the families that have been torn apart and the lives destroyed. Is there really any justification for such neglect?

The wider reality is that Kensington, like too many parts of Britain, has areas of great deprivation cheek by jowl with luxury redevelopments and areas of little or no deprivation at all. It highlights the deep social and economic divisions within our society that we have yet to address. No one denies that it is a mammoth task for any government to face, but an investment in even basic health and safety seems to me a very good place to start.

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