Grenfell Tower, by Ron Olden

Ron Olden

Thank God that the numbers dead in this incident are as low as they are. I got up in night to do something and turned the TV on. Given what I saw, I assumed that at least a hundred must have perished.

But at risk of being accused of bad taste I still intend to speak out about the likely cause of this.

I’ve had experience myself observing the ‘Management’ of these Social Housing Organisations, and I can confirm that every word of what appears in this Article (link below) which foresaw this incident is likely to be true.

Like the NHS, Social Housing in this country is a phenomenally mismanaged operation, which is run almost solely for the benefit of the staff, contractors, and various other wasters and parasites associated with it.

Even if the people running this organisation were interested in doing so properly, it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to do so, as they don’t have the skills to do it.

They’re usually failed politicians, and local bullies and busybodies, who’ve never managed anything, or even had a proper job in their lives.

If a private company were run like some of these, it would be shut down immediately.

I very much hope that if, and when, the grotesque negligence that appears to have happened here, is shown to have been the cause of this, the individuals concerned, right up to the Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council are put on trial for Murder, or at the very least Criminal Negligence.

But fat chance of that. We will in due course be told that ‘lessons have been learned’, and that it was all caused by some ‘institutional’ defect.

The worst that will happen is that the Council will be fined, creating the extraordinary situation that the victims themselves will have to pay the fine via the Council Tax they pay, whilst the individuals concerned will just carry on getting their annual increases on their already fat salaries, pensions, and expenses.

The Grenfell Tower fire may prompt memories in London of a tower block blaze in Camberwell in 2009.

Three women and three young children were killed in the 14 story Lakanal House, which started with a TV set on the 9th floor. Southwark Council admitted it failed to address fire risks and was fined more than £500,000 which the survivors had to pay through their Council Tax.


  1. Well, I agree any fines should fall personally on any councillors or bureaucrats found to be personally involved, but I’m not sure the council leader would have known about this. And it seems the environmental panic is partly to blame, as the insulated cladding recently installed on the building caught light quite quickly. Maybe a better avenue of complaint would be advice to tenants to stay in their flats if there is a fire. Actually, if you’re on floor 23 and the whole building catches fire, it is a bad idea to wait for the fire brigade in your flat. Personally, I’m against tower blocks for this reason, and I see them only as a way of packing ever larger numbers of people into our country. I don’t think we need a larger population at all.

  2. Whether or not we need tower blocks here in many parts of the world they ARE needed, and they do provide a way to house a lot of people – which we certainly do need. But obviously they must be inherently fire safe, which is achieved by at least two fireproof stairwells. Concrete does not burn.

    Attaching cladding to the outside seems likely to provide vertical gaps – aka “chimneys” – which promote strength and spread of fire.

    We could also provide automated abseiling escapes – though when I tried to buy one recently I was told they were no longer considered “safe”. That, IMHO, is a matter of degree!

  3. I believe it was socialism that massively expanded the use of tower blocks of “housing units”, even if it didn’t invent the idea, which is actually Roman (but the most they went up was about 4 floors – Sean will know. I defer to him on that one.)
    Personally, I regard it as inhumane and unfeeling to shove hundreds of people into cramped coops hundreds of feet up in the air, with not much in the way of escape. My Dear Wife, who is from Poland and was born in 1967, so she knows all about communism, dubbed them “Filing-Human Cabinets”…The word-order of qualifying-adjectives differs from ours, in Polish grammar.

    London to a very large extent, and other large British cites to a lesser one, had a problem after WW2. Much housing stock had been destroyed, and a lot of the rest was rather shabby and neglected because we as a nation were bankrupt. i remember thousands of acres of “pre-fabs” in London and around, but these might have been a less social-fabric-damaging solution as they were unattractive to socialist boroughs, being both cheap and also not being “large building projects”. And if there was a fire in yours, the neighbours could simply run away and get buckets of water or a garden hose.

    • I remember a campaign a couple of years ago in Lambeth (I think) to save a street of pre-fabs that were up for demolition, probably to pave the way for luxury developers. The homes had been constructed after WWII and were expected to last for 10 years; they were still standing, in good condition, seven decades later. That’s more than can be said for those repulsive brutalist blocks stuck up around the country since the 1960s, replacing beautiful, time-tested Victorian terraces, to become self-fomenting hubs of social disintegration, drug use, family breakdown, robbery, and death.

    • I’d give them TWO weeks.

      But what I want to see online THIS DAY (as WC used to say) is the fire safety case for the recent huge upgrade on the building.

      I hereby predict that it will be found that the cladding was not installed properly.

    • Indeed it was Sean who first informed me (in “The Column of Phocas” as advertised to the right) of “insulae” (islands) in Rome. If memory serves they could go up to 5 or 6 stories.

  4. Murder, no. Manslaughter, a possibility. I had some involvement in social housing for about 10 years (as an adviser). It was not mismanaged in my experience, which involved many different housing management schemes, including some in London. It’s a regulated service, but the author’s experiences may differ. Social housing has been a sinecure for the Enemy Class since the bulk council housing sell-offs began, and I wonder if that was a motivating factor behind all the rhetoric about ‘investment’.

    I quite agree with the comments about housing blocks: they are hideous places, as is all architectural brutalism, being a perfect example of political ideals made concrete, and if we are to be kind, an actualisation of Saint Bernard’s famous maxim. I think the worst in London is Trellick Tower.

    When I was thinking about all this, J. G. Ballard’s novel, High-Rise, came to mind (I think Trellick Tower inspired it). That was about how social integration can result from the unfeeling environment of a brutalist tower block.

  5. I must say the normal advice to not use the lift to get out of a burning building is a total crock. It is true that fires and other disasters may affect the electrics, and you could be stuck in the lift, but then the stairs can be blocked by fire and smoke and you might simply be unable to descend that way. I would always think, “if the lift can be summoned, it is working, and it only has to stay working for 2 minutes for me to get to ground floor”. It is the quickest way to the ground, and much a better bet than walking down 24 flights of stairs. If the lift stops working, it is highly likely the fire has spread so far that the stairs will be impassable too or just filled with smoke.

    When I was in Chengdu in China during the earthquake that mainly hit just outside the city, I was in a 27-storey building that swayed in the quake, and most people in the building ran down the stairs. Chinese people yelled at me that there was an earthquake and not to use the lift. I got the lift down with no problem.

    • The lift has a high probability of a quick successful outcome at the price of a small risk of a serious adverse outcome. I would not want to be slowly cooked in a stuck lift. Earthquakes seem more “avoid lift” than fires as tracks could get distorted.

      High rise stairwells are designed to contain nothing flammable and to have self closing fireproof doors. And higher buildings will have two of them. Take the steps.

  6. I see the chimney effect that I suggested yesterday is now accepted fact – and blindingly obvious to many so why not building regulators?

    But what I find ASTONISHING is the use of Polyethylene sandwiched in thin Aluminium. Both these are eminently burnable.

    As most people will have had windows open there is nothing to stop fires rising.

    • I don’t understand Theresa May. As government spending is not her personal money, she can just spend on things designed to boost popularity. And if I were her, I would have announced a quick review (one week) of all high-rise blocks in the country, with central funding for any council removing the flammable cladding and installing sprinklers. Interminable reports on such things can take years, but we need to speed these things up, if it is possible to do so while acting rationally.

    • We live in a country where incompetence and blame-shifting have become an art. We shall now see how well-developed is the further art of the white-wash.

      • I see T May has referred to Grenfell as a tragedy. Actually, it’s not. A tragedy is like an act of God, something that couldn’t be prevented. This could have been. Saying “tragedy” seems to remove human agency entirely, conveniently for the government…

        • The OED supports Mrs May’s usage

          ” a. An event, series of events, or situation causing great suffering, destruction, or distress, and typically involving death (esp. on a large scale or when premature)”

          • No, the OED merely reports how words are used in a descriptive sense. It is not a prescriptive source.

            • You are of course free to use words however you wish to. You are in good company if you choose to do so

              “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. “It means just what I choose it to mean – neither more or less.

              But what you can’t sensibly do is object to other people’s usages just because they do not follow your own procsriptions. The idea that “A tragedy is like an act of God, something that couldn’t be prevented. ” is not one google has offered me evidence of.

              But plenty of sources to the contrary. If you don’t like the OED (and as a Cambridge man I see your point) let’s try the other one


              noun uk ​ /ˈtrædʒ.ə.di/ us ​ /ˈtrædʒ.ə.di/
              ​ a very sad event or situation, especially one involving death or suffering:

              “The pilot averted a tragedy when he succeeded in preventing the plane from crashing.
              “Hitler’s invasion of Poland led to the tragedy of the Second World War.
              “His life was touched by hardship and personal tragedy.
              “Not long after they moved, tragedy struck – their son was killed in an accident.

              Or Google

              an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.

              Or wiki

              A tragedy is an event of great loss, usually of human life. Such an event is said to be tragic. Traditionally the event would require “some element of moral failure, some flaw in character, or some extraordinary combination of elements”[1] to be tragic.

              Not all death is considered a tragedy. Rather it is a precise set of symptoms surrounding the loss that define it as such.[2] There are a variety of factors that define a death as tragic.

              In fact all these sources tend away from “an unpreventable act of God”

              • Para 3 for procsriptions read proscriptions.

                All hail the Great God Muphry and follow his omnipresent law

              • I think you’re struggling with the concept of a dictionary. You don’t know what one is. Good luck!

  7. Unless any corporate or local authority negligence is revealed, the blame ultimately lies with Government regulators (both in Europe and at home) who approved the cladding standard (if cladding indeed acted as an accelerant). You can’t condemn a company for trying to save a few pounds…

    The fact that councils were forced/incentivised to clad houses and flats around the country was also due to misguided Government policies of reducing carbon footprints etc. (…you can almost build a new property with the price of cladding one already build).

    One thing people might not be aware of is that many of the ‘new arrivals’ in multiple-occupancy properties are not supposed to officially be there – their official addresses being in another part of the county/country (and who knows how many ‘undocumented people’ could have perished?). That could be why many residents refused to be interviewed in the aftermath, and had also previously objected to sprinklers being fitted in their private rooms.

    From my own experience, it is very difficult to get ‘new arrivals’ to stick their necks out for better conditions in the community or even in the workplace; due to a combination of a complacent unquestioning mentality, cross-language barriers and illegal activity (usually involving benefit fraud). Those in authority, or on the make, would prefer us all to be of a similar disposition. It’s the perfect environment for privatising profits whilst socialising costs – the blueprint of the current future trajectory.

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