Labour politicians refuse to stop tower block they know is dangerous

by Nancy Taaffe and Paula Mitchell, Waltham Forest Socialist Party

The Save Our Square campaign in Waltham Forest, East London, has kept the developers at bay for seven years in the fight to stop the building of two monster blocks in the town square. However, the blocks are now going up, and many more local residents are contacting the campaign — not least because of fire safety.

Photo: Save our Square

Following the Grenfell fire inquiry, the Tories are going to change the law. Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan has already changed regulations, so that blocks over 30 metres have to have two stairwells. But these monster blocks are going up with only one.

Our campaign met on 16 August. We agreed a big banner protest on 30 September at the foot of the tower — an act of mass trespass on our own land. And we will also take our big banner to the mayor’s door at City Hall.

Feeling the pressure of local residents, the deputy leader of Waltham Forest Labour council has felt the need to publicly defend the new monster blocks. That’s why we intend to hold a political debate in a community hall marked for closure, inviting all the ruling Labour politicians in the area to come and defend this model for housing – developments that nobody can really afford. If they don’t turn up, we’ll debate with a cabbage.

Below we carry a shortened edited version of a letter sent by a local resident and Socialist Party member Mike Cleverley to Sadiq Khan. The campaign has published this as a model letter, calling on the mayor to intervene.

The campaign has also launched an online petition calling on Labour MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy to raise a question in the House of Commons to ask that the safety recommendations apply retrospectively to new builds that were given planning permission before the rules were changed.

These kind of towers are littering London’s skyline, while homelessness is increasing. So, in the future, we’ll be campaigning even more for safe, secure council housing. We urge all Londoners to get involved in this fight, wherever you are.

Letter: People before profit

Dear Sadiq Khan,

We have had a Labour council for as long as I can remember. That and a Labour Mayor of London should mean that the wishes of ordinary citizens, like myself, are seen as more important than the profits of property developers.

At the heart of our community we have a town square, with both paved and grassed areas. It provides play space for the many children housed in cramped flats nearby, seating and resting places for the elderly, like myself. It’s a haven from the busy High Street and market too.

This much-loved amenity is being taken from us. The lift shaft of the first of two huge blocks is rising above our square.

These new tower blocks are not being built to meet the needs of thousands of desperate families, trapped on the council waiting list. Or the thousands more who know it is pointless waiting for council homes, and languish in cramped flats exposed to damp and mould.

500 flats will be created to be let at market rents. That’s simply beyond the budget of almost all NHS, retail and hospitality workers, and even the building workers who are involved in erecting these prefabs in the sky.

You have spoken about the Grenfell Tower disaster that killed 72 innocent people; men, women and children. You have assured Londoners that lessons have been learned. Many working-class voters expected that your words indicated that things would be better under your stewardship.

Apparently we were wrong! The Grenfell inquiry heard how the existence of only one staircase hampered the rescue attempts, and endangered the lives of brave firefighters.

Yet, here we are, watching in horror, as a tower twice the height of Grenfell; and a second tower, nearby almost as high, is erected in our midst!

These towers, and the accompanying buildings will have 500 flats, 1,000 people at least. Imagine the panic if a fire breaks out halfway up one of these towers.

The residents of Grenfell Tower were told that their homes were safe, that they complied with all the building regulations. Their concerns were met with contempt by the local authority supposed to act in their interests – a Conservative council.

Here we have a Labour council, and a Labour Mayor of London. Are these people acting in our interests? Clearly not! We feel just as the Grenfell residents felt prior to the fire that killed 72 of them – ignored and shoved aside.

You have ruled that, in the future, all buildings more than 30 metres high must have two staircases. But what about buildings like this, which have already been given planning permission, but are not yet built? That tells me that you and the council are well aware that these buildings are dangerous, and yet, the build is going ahead!

After Grenfell, the council and the developers, along with manufacturers, felt the anger of survivors and of the community. Rightly, they were blamed for their part in that catastrophe. You, Mr Mayor, and the Labour councillors in Waltham Forest, will be blamed, make no mistake, if such a catastrophe should occur here in our town square.