by Pete Mason, East London Socialist Party
See also: Grenfell — Are we any closer to justice?
When Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey tweeted his opposition to a levy on building firms to solve the desperate problem of flammable cladding, residents in housing with unsafe cladding, and those already victims of fires, were furious and organised a virtual lobby.
In 2019, two years after the Grenfell tragedy, wood-framed Richmond House in Worcester Park, South West London was completely destroyed by a fire. Resident Jennifer Frame, who organised the lobby, explains: “23 families lost our homes and everything we owned. The London Fire Brigade arrived within nine minutes, but every floor of the building was already ablaze. Despite the efforts of 125 firefighters, every home was destroyed.”
A fire in Bellway-built Samuel Garside House in Barking East London also took place in the summer of 2019, destroying 20 flats and displacing 79 families. Flames spread in minutes, residents fled barefoot, lost everything they owned, and faced psychological trauma.
Profits over safety
Neither building qualified for the government’s Building Safety Fund. “If a builder sold you a faulty building, they should pay for remediation”, Bailey stated, “the same as if you bought a faulty pair of shoes”. His argument is that a few bad apples caused the cladding scandal. In fact, it is a systemic problem of the multi-billion pound big builders maximising their profits at the expense of safety.
Jennifer countered: “Berkeley group says Richmond House ‘performed’ as it should”. I added that Bellway stated it had no legal duty to repair the building after the fire. They still refuse to admit fault.
“This is not buying faulty shoes”, Jennifer added, “it’s like a car with faulty brakes, putting your life in danger”. Bailey argued that a general levy on building firms would threaten their profits and they would refuse to build. In other words, they hold the capital city to ransom.
These big building firms should be brought into democratic public ownership, to build the thousands of safe council homes the city needs, and employ workers organised in their trade unions on secure contracts with decent rates of pay.
I pointed out that Bellway made £662 million profit in 2019. Jennifer added that Berkeley group made, “£2.3 billion profits in the three years since Grenfell”. These hugely profitable building firms should be made to pay for these defective buildings, not the leaseholders.