by Mira Glavardanov, Enfield and Lea Valley Socialist Party
A lesson of the fire at Grenfell Tower is that high-rise flats need two staircases so that firefighters can do their job and residents can escape. Local campaigns in Enfield gave an unusual Christmas present to senior planners to remind them of this. The Labour-run council has given approval to a number of high rises with single staircase escapes on the troubled Meridian Water regeneration scheme. They were presented with copies of the book ‘Show me the bodies: how we let Grenfell happen.’
This is the latest scandal of many surrounding this controversial project. Meridian Water is being built on public land and the council is the master developer. If there was a will by the Labour-led council, this could mean providing a community that has exceptionally high homelessness figures with high-quality council housing.
Instead, the council’s priority from the start has been developer profits. Most of the properties will be sold privately. No properties will be available at social rent. The latest decision to build the tower blocks with a single staircase is another example of prioritising profits, this time at the expense of safety. This shows utter disregard for people’s lives, especially significant after the deadly experience of Grenfell – for which, nobody has been made responsible. Perhaps that fact gives confidence to Enfield council to neglect safety.
Following the council’s approval of single staircases last September, the London Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has written twice to express concerns. The FBU and the National Fire Chiefs Council have both called for buildings over 18 metres to have second staircases, and even the government has recently announced plans to mandate that tall buildings in England have second staircases. These developments give more confidence to the campaigners that the council’s shameful decision can be overturned.
The scandal is not unique to Enfield, 60% of proposed new high rises cause the Health and Safety Executive concern, according to an Inside Housing report based on Freedom of Information requests. The fact that it took investigative journalism to extract this fact exposes the passivity of the regulator. We need construction, fire and housing workers along with local residents to have democratic oversight of all developments.
Unite’s Housing Workers branch took part in the protest along with local campaign groups including Better Homes Enfield, Meridian for Council Homes and Black Lives Matter Enfield. Further campaigning is planned on fire safety. Clearly though, the Labour council is not putting the needs of local people before profit. We need councillors who will stand up for working-class communities. That will be the focus of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition hosted meeting in Enfield on 8 February.
Enfield TUSC-hosted public meeting
Enough is Enough! But what do we do at the ballot box?
- Wednesday 8 February, 7-30pm
- Vincent House, 2e Nags Head Road, Ponders End, Enfield, EN3 7TN
- Zoom ID: 872 7535 5659