Bolton Blaze: have we learned nothing from Grenfell?
Just over two years after illegal cladding caused the death of 72 people at Grenfell Tower in London, a student accommodation block in Bolton, Greater Manchester went up in flames.
Whilst the investigation into the fire at The Cube in Bolton is ongoing, eyewitness accounts and videos circulating on social media clearly show the cladding surrounding the building appearing to catch fire and melt. The blaze spread with incredible speed and within twenty minutes of the first fire breaking out, the top floor was on fire.
Andy Burnham, Metropolitan Mayor of Manchester, suggested that unsafe cladding is “a national issue that needs to be dealt with a matter of urgency.” At least 212 students have been left homeless without any clear plan for rehabilitation or future regulation. After the Grenfell fire, The Cube was inspected and it was found that the insulation did not comply with building regulations, but nothing was done. There seems to be confusion over how much the government is willing to regulate buildings that are owned by private companies. The implications of this are clear and the Bolton fire has only proved that there are hundreds of buildings in the UK that are using cladding that is unfit for purpose, putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people at risk.
Whilst the building did not have the same aluminium composite cladding that surrounded Grenfell Tower, the local authorities were aware that the building had been covered with a High-Pressure Laminate (HPL) material. The fact that the authorities were aware that buildings are being covered in dangerous cladding but refusing to intervene can be interpreted as nothing but neglect. In July, the government said that HPL cladding should be removed from any building more than 18 metres tall, but no regulations were put in place to enforce this. Andy Burnham acknowledges “there will be many people living in buildings with this cladding today who will be very worried.”
The Opposition under Corbyn has called for the Government to take more direct action, tweeting that the Bolton fire “shows the government’s shameful inaction since Grenfell.” Despite it being two years after the fire, there are still 267 apartment blocks with the same materials yet to be removed.
Perhaps more shocking is the Government’s lack of action to prevent further tragedies post-Grenfell. The Government named Rydon, the construction company responsible for the cladding encasing Grenfell Tower, on a list of twelve companies recommended to public bodies. It then u-turned, saying that Rydon should no longer compete for public bids, after receiving significant public criticism. It is two years after the tragedy and the Government have not put clear regulations in place to keep people safe. Rydon, despite potentially having contributed to the death of 72 people, made a £16.6 million profit in 2018, double what they made the previous year. Nothing has changed. These companies are continuing to operate with their illegal cladding which is putting the lives of anyone living in a high-rise building at risk.
With Phase 1 of the Grenfell inquiry released at the end of October, the findings seem to be buried amidst the news of the general election and of course, Brexit. The report will come in two phases, the first covering the events of the night and the second, which may not be published for two years, examining the causes. The first phase focused heavily on the inadequacies of the fire service. However, Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union said that the firefighters cannot be blamed as “the building had already been turned, in reality, into a death trap.” The report also found that flammable cladding was the most important cause of the Grenfell tragedy.
The implications of this report are clear- a government that views regulation and protection as an attack on individual and corporate freedom is responsible for deaths caused by illegal cladding. Somehow, like something out of a satirical TV show, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg got away with saying that Grenfell residents had “lacked common sense.” None of the causes of the Grenfell fire will be properly investigated, and therefore no real change or regulation will come, until after phase two of the report is published. Lawyers believe there is a higher chance that individuals and companies will be prosecuted following the official findings.
The images of the burning student accommodation in Bolton only reflect back to Grenfell and how little has changed in the two years since. The lack of regulation and protection for anyone living in a high-rise building is symptomatic of a government that cares more about corporations and distraction tactics than protecting its people.