Grenfell Tower Fire Five Years On: What Has Changed?

Today marks five years since the devastating Grenfell Tower Fire that claimed the lives of 72 residents. Half a decade later we investigate what has actually changed since then.

by Aaliyah Harry |

Five years ago, smoke engulfed the night sky as Grenfell Tower went up into flames. On the 14th of June 2017, the world watched on in horror at the heart-stopping images of the tower set ablaze. Tower residents hung out of their windows shouting and desperately waving white t-shirts. The devastating destruction of the 24-storey West London tower took the lives of 72 residents, whilst many people were left severely injured.

Although five years have passed, what is left is a community searching for answers. Grenfell United – a campaign group made up of survivors and bereaved family members of Grenfell - are still crying for change and justice. In a statement they said, ‘Five years on, as much as we try to move on, how can we with the knowledge that this can still happen? How can we move on when next to nothing has changed? We don’t want our 72 loved ones to be remembered for what happened but for what changed.’  Whilst the government has proposed widespread planning reforms to ensure that such a senseless tragedy will never be repeated. Half a decade later, little movement has been made – so what will it take for real change?

The long-running inquiry into the circumstances of that night has continued to be investigated since 2018. It has highlighted failures at every level. Cladding companies, risk assessments and the many failures to prevent the fire are being dissected. Yet some of the recommendations of the inquiry have already been rejected by the government, such as legal obligations for high-rise buildings to plan for a fire evacuation, particularly for disabled residents. In May 2022 the Home Office's report reinforced the ‘stay put policy,’ meaning residents should ‘stay put’ in the event of a fire and wait for emergency services. The government outlined their reasons in the report stating, '

The government outlined their reasons in the report stating, 'The "stay put” policy is in place for buildings which are “designed to give appropriate protection” from fire so it is “generally safer” for residents to wait for emergency services to rescue them. It is said this knowledge, combined with safety reforms in the building safety bill means “it would not be proportionate to mandate” the inquiry’s recommendation.'

This has caused outrage, knowing this was the same policy before the fire. The policy saw Grenfell residents remain in a burning building with no way of evacuation. According to Disability Rights UK, 41% of residents living with disabilities died in the blaze. It left the most vulnerable in society with no means of escape, giving them no chance of survival. The resurgence of the ‘stay put’ policy feels dangerously repetitive and again shows the governments refusal to act. This official government advice once again leaves the most vulnerable at risk.

In April, more than 35 housebuilders agreed to put £2 billion towards fixing unsafe cladding on high-rise buildings in England. Housing Secretary Michael Gove had asked 53 homebuilders to contribute towards fixing sites they had a role in developing. But even with two thirds on board, a further £3 billion is required to address fire safety problems in high-rise buildings across the country. Panels made from plastic and aluminium (Aluminium Composite Material, or ACM) were installed on the sides of Grenfell Tower to make it warmer and drier. However, this material (that has been found in many more buildings today) has been blamed for the Grenfell fire.

Mr Gove proposed a new building safety levy that would help raise the extra £3 billion over the next decade or so. The tax will be charged on each new development that seeks building control approval, but it will take an estimated 10 years to put together enough cash to address the crsis.

However, the problem is the changes to building regulations and guidance will only apply to future new builds rather than existing properties or projects currently under construction. So, what will become of the people who already live in these unsafe buildings? More than a million people across Britain are still stuck in towers like Grenfell. Their flats are currently unsellable, riddled with major fire safety flaws exposed in the aftermath of the blaze. For these residents, the threat of a similar fire hangs over them.

Olivia Hogman is one of hundreds of thousands of people who have since discovered their homes are also coated in flammable cladding (Aluminium Composite Material,)or have other fire hazards that make them unsafe – in her case, both. Olivia's flat in Redhill, Surrey has the same type of cladding as Grenfell Tower, which a recent survey found posed an ‘immediate combustible material risk’. She previously told Grazia, ‘I wanted to sell it last year to buy a house, but this meant I couldn’t,’ says Olivia, 34. ‘So I’m trapped in a flat I know is unsafe. The building essentially needs to be stripped back to its bare bones and rebuilt, and I’ll have to remain here while that happens over the course of two years.’

During the Jubilee celebrations, the community group Justice4Grenfell laid out a street party table in the shadow of the tower, inscribing the plates with the names of the 72 victims and the words, '72 dead. And still no arrests? How come?' It was a haunting reminder of the fact that full responsibility for the tragedy is still yet to be accounted for.

To this day, an oversized green heart hangs over Grenfell tower, with white wrapping masking a multitude of injustices. Underneath remains the memories of a once flourishing community lost needlessly due to careless building failures. The five year anniversary of the Grenfell fire today serves as a poignant reminder of lives senselessly lost, but it will also serve as desperate marker of how little is yet to change.

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