Tenants at Grenfell Tower repeatedly warned the council and its management organisation about fire safety risks before a deadly blaze engulfed the 24-storey residential tower block.
£10m of external cladding had been fitted to the tower block last year as part of a regeneration scheme for the estate. Residents said the external cladding was fitted to make the block more aesthetically pleasing for residents of luxury developments nearby, while lifts in neighbouring blocks had been left broken for years despite costing approximately £60,000 to repair.
Analysis of the fire spread and the design for the regeneration scheme suggests the cladding may have accelerated the spread of the fire by allowing it to travel around the outside of the block between sections that were supposed to be isolated for fire safety before the cladding was fitted. Similar cladding has been implicated in large tower block fires in Melbourne and Dubai.
This followed previous warnings from tenants about fire safety dating back to at least 2013, which they say were repeatedly dismissedby Kensington and Chelsea council, which owns the tower, and the local tenant management organisation [KCTMO], which manages the property.
Residents had fought the council, TMO and contractor Rydon's over the implementation of the regeneration project, raising concerns both in advance of the project and while it was completed.
In a blog posted in 2016, the Grenfell Action Group said: "Only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders."
In 2013, Kensington and Chelsea council's legal department sent the owner of a blog a letter telling them to remove "direct accusations of unfounded criminal actions".
Residents had an emergency public meeting in March 2015 to organise a response to intimidation and lack of consultation over the regeneration work:
WE ARE MEETING TO DISCUSS THE LACK OF CONSULTATION FROM THE TMO/RYDON’S REGARDING THE GRENFELL TOWER IMPROVEMENT WORKS AND TO DECIDE HOW WE CAN UNITE AS A COMMUNITY TO ENSURE THAT WE ARE TREATED WITH RESPECT AND THAT THE TMO/RYDON’S CARRY OUT THE INTERNAL WORKS TO OUR HOMES IN A PROFESSIONAL MANNER AND TO A HIGH STANDARD.
In 2013, a series of power surges led residents to collectively descend on the estate office to demand emergency work. Shah Ahmed, Chair of the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association, wrote to Robert Black TMO and various RBKC councillors and TMO officers at the time:
There have been two weeks of power surges in the building, most notably in the early hours of the morning and throughout the evening and night time. Electronic apparatus are seriously affected by these surges. Computers are turned on and off, lights continually flicker becoming very dim and extremely bright in the space of a few seconds.
On 11th May 2013 at 9:05pm we had numerous power surges in the space of a minute, and in that process my computer and monitor literally exploded with smoke seeping out from the back and the smell of burnt electronics filled our entire computer. My monitor also fused at the same time. When I called the TMO out of hours service the standard textbook response was given to us that I was the first one to report such a problem and I was made to feel like a fool reporting such an issue, which resulted in years of data being lost forever.
Please note if the power surges continue at Grenfell Tower, it would be very dangerous and costly because it is interfering with electric and electronic items in the household, including the telephone line, television, fridge, washing machine, computer etc”.
This year, Southwark Council pleaded guilty to four counts of breaking fire safety regulations over a blaze in a 14-storey tower block that killed six people at Lakanal House in 2009.
Basil Street fire station in Knightsbridge and Greycoat Place fire station in Westminster were both closed as part of a series of fire station closures in 2014.
Six deaths had been confirmed by 11:40 am on Wednesday with police saying the death toll is expected to rise.
In January 2016, parliament voted down legislation requiring privately rented housing to be fit for human habitation.
The current police and fire minister Nick Hurd - himself a landlord - was one of those who voted against the measure. The then local government minister Marcus Jones said it "would result in unnecessary regulation and cost to landlords".
For social housing, The Mirror is reporting that former housing minister Gavin Barwell - Prime Minister May's new Chief of Staff - "sat on" a report warning that tower blocks like Grenfell were at risk of fire.
Update 12:10pm June 15th 2017
24 hours after the start of the fire, Grenfell Tower was still burning internally across eleven floors with more than seventeen people confirmed dead and over one hundred residents still unaccounted for.
The community response to the fire has been overwhelming. People have been traveling to the area from all over London with donations, filling community centres to capacity with food, water, hygiene products and clothes. Displays of social solidarity like this are common after disasters. Disaster communities develop both due to the absence of intervention by the state beyond "keeping order" as has been seen most brutally in large scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina, as well as the tendency of people towards self-organisation when faced with horrific loss of life and displacement.
Residents in another (unnamed) dilapidated tower block had called an emergency mass meeting and organised a night watch last night.
Tragedies like the Grenfell Tower are not 'accidents' nor 'natural disasters' but the all to frequent consequence of property relations and their enforcement, whether the social cleansing of public housing in London or the public subsidy of 'regenerating' housing by cladding it in a fire hazard primarily to increase its visual appeal to wealthy neighbours.
While we must ruthlessly analyse the political and economic causes of the fire, we must also unhesitatingly politicise the response.
A demonstration has been called for 6pm tomorrow at the Department for Communities and Local Government, 2 Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF.
In addition to the immediate mobilisation, there must be a concerted campaign to permanently rehouse the residents of Grenfell Tower who have survived the fire. There has been a decade of estate demolitions in London resulting in new housing far beyond the means of the original occupants, and there is no indication that Kensington and Chelsea council will do anything different in this case.
Residents groups and solidarity networks should be strengthened and linked together so that the repeated warnings and resistance to the negligent maintenance of blocks like Grenfell Tower can be successfully resisted. These are not hypothetical issues for the future but real potential disasters latent in housing across the UK and internationally now.