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The Grenfell Tower inquiry is uncovering a major corporate scandal (spectator.co.uk)
464 points by VieEnCode 12 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 261 comments



There's significant political interest in finding a corporate scandal here. This was a building full of poor people in one of the richest areas in the world. The local government pushed the installation of the cladding for aesthetic reasons and ignored serious safety complaints from the residents. The national government voted against banning this cladding - and many of the MPs who voted against are landlords who had a financial interest.


Ex council resident here.

This block was clad as part of the "warm safe and dry" initiative. This was funding provided by central government to make sure that council housing was energy efficient, resistant to both criminal and antisocial damage.

Also fixing roofs. You'd be surprised how many time roofs fail on council houses.

> The national government voted against banning this cladding

This isn't really true. They voted against a specific amendment that demanded that rented accommodation be fit for purpose. (Local councils have had the power to condemn accommodation, but they then have to re-house the tenants. its really complex.)

The scandal here is in three parts:

1) The people that inspect building regulations are paid for by the developers, and not by councils. So there is lots of "optionality" in an otherwise good set of rules

2) The fire ratings of materials appears to not be independently vetted. I'm not sure how they are vetted, but this is a massive failure in the entire system.

3) The firebrigade having shit kit, also failed to learn from larkenhall.

> ignored serious safety complaints from the residents

Local residents always complain about everything. I know because I used to be the vice chair of the Tenants and residents association. 25% of the time they are correct.

Grenfell has some interesting features:

1) it wasn't being managed by the local council. It was owned and run by a "TMO" this is quite common.

2) they appear to have added new flats, which subsidised the works, again quite common.

3) leaseholders were not billed for the repairs. This is very unusual. Normally they'd be liable for a pro-rated proportion of the total bill (ie if the building has 100 flats of the same size and 10million pounds spent, they would be liable for 100k) I was stung for 50 grand, others in my estate had bills of 70k+

This is not the first time that a block of flats has killed people because of shoddy work. What is unusual in this case is that according to the paper work, the work was done to the correct standard.

I felt this tragedy closely. As a fellow council resident, I know how easily it could have happened to me. Fortunately for us, we chose our house specifically with fire in mind (larkenhall fire having happened months before) I was lucky because I had a choice. If I had been a tenant, I'd have little choice.


> Local residents always complain about everything.

In this case there had been a previous fire that revealed that the cladding was dangerous.

The residents were complaining not about the same kind of abstract risk that we deal with in IT, like "what if Microsoft Azure ceases to exist overnight", but a real risk of death with a recurring proximal cause.

The flat members had spent serious time and effort trying to bring attention to their plight, and they were ignored.


This was the worst part for me. You could literally see the words online of the resident who said that if nothing was done this would end with charred bodies.

It's not such an exaggeration to say that corporate manslaughter was legalized here.


> The residents were complaining not about the same kind of abstract risk that we deal with in IT,

No, I agree. I should have been more nuanced in my point. during renovations the sheer number of complaints are enormous.

They range from (and this is based on personal history):

o We don't want a flat roof, they leak

o the scaffolding is allowing people to climb into my bedroom

o the builders are swearing

o the builders are dropping rubble on the walk way

o we are being charged to much for item x, look here's a quote from supplier z

o I don't like that the builders are speaking language y

o they are using flammable hole filler

I was lucky that on my estate we had a number of people who both had the ability to get the council to do things, and run multi-million pound public procurement contracts. we had the expertise to tackle both the council , the Quantity surveyor, the main contractor, the sub contractors and the site team.

our estate was just under a thousand homes. Grenfell was < 200. Whats more there were less people in grenfell that had grown up with the council house system. We were lucky that we had a number of residents that moved into the place originally, so knew all the tricks.

Again, I'm trying to get across that its not as clear cut in hindsight.(apart from the corruption, that is clear cut.) The residents would be complaining about safety because thats often the _only_ way to get people to listen.

This should not however lessen the tragedy, and more importantly the motive to change. None of this is acceptable. Residents should be listened to. Standards should never be corrupted.


It seems there wasn't collective agreement with residents about safety concerns of the cladding, since if there was, surely residents wouldn't have rejected the installation of an adequate sprinkler system? The council leader has publicly said residents (collectively) didn't want the added disruption during the refurbishment.


> surely residents wouldn't have rejected the installation of an adequate sprinkler system

Possibly their idea was that if they allowed the sprinkler system they would have to give up on preventing the cladding.


The people that inspect building regulations are paid for by the developers, and not by councils. So there is lots of "optionality" in an otherwise good set of rules.

Please let's say this part quietly. Somehow we haven't started doing this in USA yet.


Maybe not for buildings. But Boing controlling Boing with the 737 max does sound similar?


Yes that sounds familiar. Due to that and so much more, it wouldn't be surprising to see this phenomenon in USA building inspection as well. Only, I've built several buildings in the last decade, and I can confirm that the building inspectors (who in every case worked for the relevant local fire department) are very professional and very opposed to letting unsafe shit be built for the use of the public.


It would be very hard to privatize building inspections in the US for two reasons.

1) It’s controlled locally, which means it would have to be privatized city by city or county by county.

2) Building code varies by city and county, which makes it much easier for the county to enforce directly.


That isn't as good a firewall as one might imagine. Organizations like ALEC push through lots of abusive crap at state and municipal levels. They've got their fingers in hundreds of pies at the same time. If locals aren't paying attention, they can have the laws in force and be on to the next town before anyone realizes what happened.


apples to oranges. The USA isn't willing to invest in a branch of the FAA that can actually go through every aspect of the engineering of the 737-max in order to understand if it's working effectively.

Even with the MAX disaster, aviation standards are significantly better than the 70s/80s.

Boeing + Airbus have a very very very vested interest in making sure that aviation is safe, and appears very safe (which is why Airbus did NOT go on the attack on Boeing's safety. It would hurt the entire industry).

Building codes and fire safety are something that should damn well be simple / codified enough that it's inspectable by a reasonable person.

Boeing did lie about shit. Middle management pushed some real bullshit with the max.


1. "Boeing + Airbus have a very very very vested interest in making sure that aviation is safe, and appears very safe"

2. "Boeing did lie about shit. Middle management pushed some real bullshit with the max."

So how are these two things squared? I'd say clearly Boeing has other interests which compete with safety, like profit. The difference between "appears safe" and "is safe" can be profitably "arbitraged", until you mess up and get caught.

It doesn't seem their very very very vested interest in making sure aviation is safe was sufficient to replace outside supervision after all.


Well you have conflicting stereotypes in this area: the other being that you're heavy on building regulations and 'codes'.

In my (British) conception of America, that way trumps privatisation/corporate empowerment.

'An Englishman's home is his castle.'


In Houston Texas the developer does their own inspections.


No a city inspector goes by before a CO is issued.


> The people that inspect building regulations are paid for by the developers, and not by councils. So there is lots of "optionality" in an otherwise good set of rules

As an American, this is wild to me. I’m not sure how it works for our public houses, but as a private citizen I actually have to pay the local city to bring a government inspector out and double check any electrical, plumbing, etc. work that I do. The people that built my home decades ago likewise had to pay a percentage of the home’s value to the city for inspection.

The idea that a developer anywhere can decide who gets to inspect their building seems like an obviously bad idea.


What is "resistant to both criminal and antisocial damage" ?

Why would people make major repairs to be resistant to 'criminal' damage? And what is 'anti-social' damage?

I think there is some lingo lost in the transatlantic here.


The idea is that the cladding won't be stolen off the side of the building to be sold (criminal) or torn off by bored vandals (antisocial).


Wow, the thought never crossed my mind. My family works in construction, one of my family members owns a myriad of mostly low income properties, and I wouldn't have fathomed this was an issue to the extent that it affected actual construction materials. The world is indeed diverse.


Pretty common in some areas in the US for lower income properties, especially in very rural but poor areas. I considered starting in the business until I helped do maintenance for a friend who owned in some "rough" spots.

While somewhat rare, you'd eventually end up doing silly things like having to run PEX plumbing because some tenant ripped out the copper pipes as they got evicted.

Air conditioner condenser units are also stolen quite a bit for some reason as well, so you get to box those in a locked cage.

Any large property with common areas (e.g. a large multistory apartment tower) is much worse, and has to be designed with damage resistance in mind. In fact it got so bad here we abandoned even trying to develop that sort of public housing arrangement as the living conditions became unbearable.

Just items like easy-to-paint-over materials due to graffiti matter when you are sending a crew around once a week to paint over the last round of tags.


> Local residents always complain about everything.

Only true because the UK has a horribly regressive stance on renters rights.


Can you expand on this?

To my knowledge - as a one-time lettings paralegal - we have some of the best tenancy rights in the world.


That would be in comparison to some mainland European countries, such as Germany, where tenants are more like a leasor, in that they can decorate, improve, etc.


> 3) leaseholders were not billed for the repairs.

I would assume that most, if not all, of the Grenfell residents were renting. I don't think they'd be liable for repairs?


Right to buy will mean that most of the flats will have been bought. The buyers would then become leaseholders, and most leasehold agreements make you liable for the cost of repairs to common areas. Those buyers may have then sub-let their flats (and those renters won’t normally be liable for repairs), but it’s no uncommon for families to buy their council homes and continue living in them.

In theory reserve funds etc should prevent surprise bills, but that isn’t always a guarantee.

For those not familiar with how flat purchases work in the U.K. We have a crazy system where people purchase “long-leases” for their flats, you don’t own the flat, your just renting it for a long period of time (normally 99 or 999 years depending on your landlord). When you sell your flat, you’re just selling the remaining period on your lease (the 99 years doesn’t reset). And yes this does mean that once the lease expires you no longer own your flat anymore, there are ways of purchasing extensions etc but it’s a bit much to put into a HN comment.


> For those not familiar with how flat purchases work in the U.K. We have a crazy system where people purchase “long-leases” for their flats, you don’t own the flat, your just renting it for a long period of time (normally 99 or 999 years depending on your landlord). When you sell your flat, you’re just selling the remaining period on your lease (the 99 years doesn’t reset). And yes this does mean that once the lease expires you no longer own your flat anymore, there are ways of purchasing extensions etc but it’s a bit much to put into a HN comment.

That sounds like real estate in China: the government owns all the land, but sells "land use rights" that last for a maximum of 70 years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_property_law#Procedure...


In Australia, the entire city of Canberra is leased from the federal government, with most blocks being on 99 year leases.

The original idea was a Georgism-inspired approach to capturing land value increases through rent to help fund the city's development, but nowadays it functions effectively like freehold, as most lessees do not have to pay anything other than nominal rent, and you can renew your lease effectively automatically every 99 years, with the added interesting complexity that the government uses additional lease clauses as a form of planning controls.


Singapore and the Middle East come to mind.

Imo, it's a good thing, since that mandates that the local municipalities have to keep maintaining the standards for the provision of services in areas with limited leases. On the other hand, areas with hands-off sales usually have very shoddy local services and shit maintenance.

My parents live in a relatively cheap area in a Middle Eastern city, where you can't buy the property, but only lease it for 99 years, yet the services there are far better than those in the more "glitzy" uptown areas with more expensive flats. It was the same story when I was flat-hunting in Singapore - locals prefer living in the HDBs while renting out the freeholds.


Singapore is also very similar.


The thing to point out here is that you must pay three things:

1) a one off fee for the actual lease, for a 125(typically but it can be 999 years for private leaseholds, and <10 for commerical property) year term. This is normally 10-70% of the going rate for a similar freehold property.

2) each year for the "ground rent" ie a "pepper corn" or nominal fee to the person who actually owns the building (this is nominally fixed at £1-100, but in some recent scams they are exponential)

3) "reasonable" maintenance. this is normally paid to either the council for a ex council house, or a management company. They may not be the same entity as the freeholder. You cannot be compelled to pay for "improvements" only reasonable upkeep.

Once you have a leasehold, it is tradeable like a freehold.


This isn't really the whole story. You have a defacto ownership of the property and the "landlord" has a legal obligation to renew your lease should it come close to expiry.


> "landlord" has a legal obligation to renew your lease should it come close to expiry.

This isn’t true. Your landlord has a legal obligation to offer a renew at a fair price (method of calculation is laid out in law). But they have no obligation to actually renew if the leaseholder doesn’t make them. Long leases can absolutely expire, doesn’t happen very often, but it’s certainly not impossible.


> But they have no obligation to actually renew if the leaseholder doesn’t make them.

I don't understand your point. My understanding is that if there is more than 21 years left on the lease the landlord has zero recourse to not give you a renewal of, I think,50 years, and if you apply for it and they fail to respond it renews automatically.

Most people facing this will engage long before 21 years as well


Your original comment suggested that renewal was in some way automatic. It isn’t, the leaseholder has to request it.

We’re not actually disagreeing here, I just found your original comment ambiguous.

> give you a renewal of, I think,50 years

Based on what my solicitor told me, I think you get a 999 year lease with peppercorn rent. But I could never find source for that.


You can take the freeholder to a tribunal to force them to renew the lease, but in addition to the lease, you have to pay their legal costs.

So if the leaseholder is bot cooperating it can get very expensive. If the lease goes below 80 years even more so.


> We have a crazy system where people purchase “long-leases” for their flats, you don’t own the flat, your just renting it for a long period of time

Who owns the flats then? A lease of 99 years with rent I would assume easily covers the outright cost of the flat. Seems crazy to me that this system continues to function.


> Who owns the flats then?

The building owner (freeholder), who is normally also the superior landlord.

> A lease of 99 years with rent I would assume easily covers the outright cost of the flat.

You pay annual ground rent, UK law means that this is pretty much capped to £250 per year outside of London, and £1000 per year in London. Most ground rents are below that (£30-£100 per year outside London, £200-£500 inside London).

So for most leases the ground rent over the lease period doesn’t even come close to the premium (the amount paid the purchase the lease, or what most people would call the cost of the flat).

If you do a statutory lease extension (which costs money), then the lease is extended to 999 years, and the ground rent drops to a peppercorn (another bit of crazy English law https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peppercorn_(legal) ).


Recent scan has been doubling ground rent every 10 years - effectively 7% increase a year


Usually real estate companies or the original developers. It creates all sort of opportunities for abuse. Most of these long term leaseholds have a symbolic rent (“peppercorn rent”) though unscrupulous developers started setting up contracts with an initially small rent but with a steep contractual step up over time (most people do not read the small print). The servicing of the property is also often a way to squeeze leaseholders. The landlord has control over the servicing company and can overcharge through the service charge.

There are some projects of laws to remediate this mess, but this requires to overwrite private contracts, something gvts have been reluctant to do so far.


Generally there's a management company. In some situations owning your flat automatically gives you a share in the management company. Other times the company and the freehold - as it's called - are owned by a third party.

You don't pay rent to the freeholder, but you do pay "management fees" which are supposed to cover insurance and "admin." You may also pay "ground rent" which is a small-ish fee to cover use of the land on which the building stands.

In reality freeholders often do a deal with insurance companies. They get insurance at a reduced rate and don't pass on the savings to leaseholders. There are various other scams that can make leaseholding a nightmare.

This is all completely unrelated to renting. As a leaseholder you're an owner, for varying values of "temporarily".

If your flat has a 999 year lease you can easily sell it on or if it has a share of the freehold.

If it's <99 years nd there's no share of the freehold it gets harder to sell. And by the time you get to <50 years you're going to have serious problems selling it, unless it has some outstanding features or benefits to compensate or you're in a market segment which is happy to treat the money as a simple rental (which does happen, especially at the high end).


Hawaii real estate has a similar dynamic.


How else would it function? In a multitenant property there's not any clean way for people to own the freehold to pieces of it.

I don't really see what the issue is, it's just another option. You can buy a freehold, a leasehold for typically a kiloyear new or whatever remains (which will be accordingly cheaper), or rent.


In Scotland and elsewhere in Europe you have “commonhold” where tenants own the freehold of their flats.

Edit: sorry, in Scotland it is called freehold or feuhold not commonhold but could be considered equivalent. I believe commonhold is also used in the US.


Yes, I just wouldn't call it a 'clean way'. It's not an easy thing to which there's an obvious solution making the freehold/leasehold split bonkers.


Never heard the phrase "commonhold" used in the US, but it seems similar to "condominium".


Huh, thanks for that - I honestly thought that was just what you (North Americans) called blocks of flats (resp. apartments) - I had no idea it was actually more specifically/correctly a particular (presumably commonplace) ownership structure for such buildings.


It’s really cheap. It certainly helps people stay housed. Contrast this to the system in the United States where renters can be evicted anytime. Most rental contracts are only for a year and rents can be increased at will.

In fact, I propose that we incorporate this system at a larger scale in the USA.


It is not really cheap at all. Freeholds do not trade at a significant premium compared to leaseholds. And for flats, outside of Scotland, there isn't really an option.


The same system works wells in Singapore but it’s for three tiers of income and over 75% of population lives in govt owned housing.

Housing obtained at subsidized rate shouldn’t be treated as a speculative asset as the people signing up will likely never qualify for housing loans, normal interest rates or even have the ability to put down down payments. Especially in desirable areas. The goal is to provide stable affordable housing for those who are housing insecure. The market place has been made accessible to them for habitat and not to get an unfair advantage as a speculative play.

Do you have any source where I can look at the numbers?

ETA: the same system here in the us is called BMR or below market rent apartments. It’s not social housing or section 8. There are also 55+ only senior communities to assure that seniors are not priced out due to housing insecurity/eviction threats.


I have no numbers, but that was my understanding of the market when I bought a flat.

The government does sell leaseholds of their home to council tenants through the right to buy scheme, but in general leaseholds are not a government scheme: they are sold and bought between private parties.

In the past I understand that a significant percentage of the UK population used to be council tenants but the through the right to buy scheme the government got rid of a lot of housing stock and it only replenished a fraction of it.


> We have a crazy system where people purchase “long-leases” for their flats

"Purchasing" one of these "long-leases" strikes me as doublespeak, a gimmick no different from prepaying 99 years of rent. Ownership doesn't expire.

Why on earth would one do this?


It's an historical artifact from a time when people lived and worked on the nobility's land as literal serfs. The UK is just dreadful at progress, especially when it doesn't serve the elite. The whole concept of a 99 year lease was actually a major victory for commoners / compromise with the nobility and landlord class. While that compromise is no longer part of living memory (1920s) it's certainly still viewed as the furthest acceptable limit by many hereditary and institutional landlords.


One would do this because there is legislation in place which can be used to force an extension of the lease, at a fair and controlled rate. https://www.lease-advice.org/advice-guide/lease-extension-ge...


This is I think generally (although not exclusively) used for "buying" an apartment (ie a "flat" in the UK), rather than a free-standing house -- what in the U.S. would be a condominium. Such as it would be in the case of Grenfell Tower.

Condominium ownership required specific legal authorization in the U.S., which only happened mid 20th century. Before that there was no way to have different people owning different units in a larger building. The closest thing to it was a cooperative, in which you also don't really own your unit as real estate, although it isn't quite the same thing as a UK leasehold, it overlaps.

So, the UK didn't even pass similar legislation to legalize a condoninium-like ownership structure ("commonhold") until the 21st century. And it's still not quite the same. And for whatever reasons hasn't taken off much, maybe because the leasehold system was already so developed at that point. Switching over ownership structures in existing properties is of course a big hassle (why are there so many more cooperatives than condominiums in NYC, even decades after condos were legally authorized? that's part of it)

So, people do it, because that's what evolved from the particular historical and political context to allow "ownership" of an apartment in a building. There's noting "natural" about condominiums, they needed specific legislation to make them possible in the USA too.

In the context of council estates specifically, well there's a bunch more historical and political context. Land ownership and tenure is a social and political construct, it isn't "naturally" any particular way, it turns out.


One reason it hasn't taken over is because the banks are reluctant to lend for such properties as there is less clarity on who's responsible for maintenance.


For some reason not a problem with US condominiums, I wonder if there are different legal factors involved. But yeah, ownership is it turns out built on a whole suite of legal structures and social practices built up over time, there's nothing surprising about a different configuration existing in the UK than the USA.


It is not a problem in most of the world. It is just good old inertia and I guess lack of legal precedents.


> Why on earth would one do this?

There’s no real alternatives (other than living on the street). Why would builders and landlords give up such an obvious advantageous arrangement?

People are pushing for change, common holds are slowly becoming a thing. But ultimately there’s a housing shortage in the U.K, and beggars can’t be choosers. It sucks, but you can’t argue with reality.

> "Purchasing" one of these "long-leases" strikes me as doublespeak, a gimmick no different from prepaying 99 years of rent. Ownership doesn't expire.

It’s just like purchasing a future, or any other time bounded asset. Your purchasing the opportunity in a manner of speaking, your ownership of the lease never expires, it just becomes worthless after 99 years.


99 years is pretty short, they're accordingly cheaper / harder to sell at the bottom end.

More typical might be you buy somewhere with a 550 year lease, and sell it ten years later with 540 remaining.

Clearly that barely had an impact on the value; probably it appreciated in value over that time, judt not quite as much as a comparable freehold.


Leasehold property rights/regulations in the UK:

https://www.gov.uk/leasehold-property


Many local authority run buildings do not have sinking funds, so large bills can happen.

An outcome from Grenfell is the government is considering mandatory sinking funds.


https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/how_many_tenants_at_g...

14 flats were "privately owned" which is code for "right to buy" leaseholds (normally 125 years)

You are correct the renters are not liable for the cost of repair directly. The council pays on their behalf. Through a huge bureaucratic process the council then gets a settlement from the government.

Council Tenants rent the flats/houses with basic furnishings (ie kitchen with cooker and bathroom) all of which can be (but not always) repaired by the council.

Council Residents have a long term leasehold, and only have the right to windows, doors and the walls. Everything else they have to look after.


Right to Buy - many of the council tenants will have bought their flats.


In the UK people have the right to buy their council housing, and many do.


> cladding for aesthetic reasons

Cladding is used primarily for insulation and energy conservation. I think the concept of "cladding" is more of a UK and European thing though.

> There's significant political interest in finding a corporate scandal here.

There are all sorts of unethical scandals with various forms of unethical social experimentation. It's everywhere within the corporate world, and there are also open source projects with unethical experiments going on. You just have to look and pay attention. A lot of these groups play it off like they have done proper due process, when they have not. Then they have their PR flacks take the reigns using distracting and emotive language to justify their unethical projects.

Everyone who works on projects should read this article. Pay attention to Table 3 in particular. I keep it on my desk as a reminder of what is ethical vs unethical.

An Ethical Framework for Evaluating Experimental Technology: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4912576/


> Cladding is used primarily for insulation and energy conservation. I think the concept of "cladding" is more of

You’re not wrong, but emails from Kensington council made it quite clear they considered Grenfell an eyesore, and cladding was seen as a method of improving the aesthetic appeal of the building.


Kensington council are certainly partly responsible for the loss of life. In particular, they set a low budget for the renovation - then rejected all the bidders who weren't using the cheap flammable materials for being too expensive.

But the council's intention in starting the project was insulate poor people's homes free of charge, while making the area look nicer. I don't see anything wrong with the intention - it's the budget and implementation where they screwed up.


They didn’t reject the bidders because of the materials, they were rejected due to the overall bid price. They had a budget (£8 million iirc), most came in at ~£11 million except the winning bid which was at ~£9 million. They then engaged in some shady pre negotiation with them to reduce their bid before accepting it.

After accepting it the contractor realised some of their values were wrong so in addition to attempting to find hundreds of thousands of pounds of saving from the council, they were also trying to save hundreds of thousands due to their own misestimates.

Part of this led them to select aluminium cladding over the originally specified zinc cladding which was much less flammable but much more expensive.


Right, but a company that wouldn't have switched to the ACM rainscreen cladding could never have won the bidding process - because they had to agree to do a bunch of cost cutting to have a chance of winning the bid.

So even if the average standards in the industry are high, and 95% of companies wouldn't have suggested the use of dangerous cheap materials, those companies wouldn't have won the bidding.

So any change in the rules needs to improve the bottom end of the industry - it can't be a mere voluntary scheme that improves only the conscientious and competent.


This is my reading of it too. I think a lot in government - and let's no forget Grenfell was government housing - would love for the blame to placed elsewhere.


This is the crux of it really, it wasn’t really government housing any more. It was owned and operated by a independent entity called a tenant management organisation, a nonprofit organisation constituted for the purpose of allowing the government to offload the responsibility of running social housing properly. Likewise the government also privatised the building inspection system which is now also much more vulnerable to corruption. So it was a government screw up, but not in the American sense that ‘the government screws up everything they run’, but in the sense that the government set up a flawed semi privatised system which is prone to corruption at lots of levels.


Agree. And that makes it worse. The government washed their hands of responsibility - in the name of their favourite mantra "shrinking the state" - and the results are horrific to see. If government, and those who profit from these schemes, can shirk responsibility and point their finger elsewhere, they'll suffer little electoral repercussions.


It’s an odd complaint to say government wants to shrink. That’s a political stance / opening for corruption, not a governmental goal.

It’s an endless cycle of people wanting less government oversight until they realize why it was there in the first place.


It was owned and run by a "TMO" not the government. It was subsided by the government but that no more makes it a government building than Amazon is a government organization because they get tax breaks.


The government decided to let the construction companies self-certify (yes, really) the safety of their own work! (To "cut red tape").


The government decided to let the construction companies self-certify (yes, really) the safety of their own work! (To "cut red tape").

You’ll find this happening everywhere. Such Boeing self-certifying the 737 Max.


And when the self-certification is fraudulent, presumably they will face few or no repercussions.


I don’t see how exposing a corporate scandal helps politicians whose job it is to pass laws to keep this kind of thing from happening. The article itself says that these companies sold their products in the UK because the regulations were lagging behind. Can’t it be both a government and a corporate scandal?


The regulation is fine. Its the policing.

Companies were allowed to change fire tests to make their products look better. I honestly can't see how on earth this is was allowed.

It was always my understanding that you had to submit your product to a third party for testing, and that third party was vetted.

Then there is the low grade corruption endemic in construction in the UK.

The fact that large councils have Quantity surveyors on a percentage fee, rather than a fixed fee, is a big problem.


I fail to see how this is any different that Boeing 737 Max which killed even more people. Everyone looked the other way and ignored real engineering, just to make more bucks (or pounds). Sadly I think that even is the company CEOs had their heads chopped off (as was common in England centuries ago) would change the behavior of cheating to make more money.


If they can make it so the companies that produced the cladding have to pay for refitting the various buildings, it's a pretty huge win for government(s).

Those companies have deep pockets too, so the government may feel like they're a good target in this instance.


Attention is a limited resource, both on the individual level and the aggregate. If your investigation uncovers a corporate scandal, it limits the ability of the public to focus on the government failings.


That seems unlikely. If this blows up in the press, people will become more interested in both corporate and government failings - which are deeply intertwined in this case, anyway.


You seem pretty dismissive of the article, which does present significant evidence of corporate malfeasance.


Indeed this is particularly egregious:

> When retested in 2007 as part of a different system [the insulation] failed combustion tests dramatically. Kingspan has argued this was not a consequence of its product, but the firm's own internal report warned the new insulation had performed ‘very differently’ — burning on its own and continuing after the test fire was put out.

> But the market was not told of these findings, nor that the product had changed. In fact, when the country’s largest private building control firm, the National House Building Council (NHBC) threatened to reject the product due to fears over its combustibility in the mid 2010s, Kingspan called in the lawyers and threatened it with defamation. The NHBC backed down.

This doesn’t mean that the government gets off scot-free but obviously this is a major corporate scandal that deserves to be investigated regardless of perceived political motivations.


> for aesthetic reasons

It doesn't make much material difference, but I think it was more to do with insulation and saving energy, rather than aesthetics.


Wikipedia says all three.. It seems their priorities list were:

1/2/3. Insulation, Energy, Aesthetics

4. Cost

5. Material that doesn't burn up and torch people when it catches fire...

Since you're just guessing ("I think"), my guess is if the tower wasn't in the richest neighborhood of London, the council wouldn't give a shit about its insulation and energy savings. And my guess is they added these reasons to make themselves look benevolent instead of saying "We're adding cladding because the tower looks shit otherwise."


> Since you're just guessing ("I think"), my guess is if the tower wasn't in the richest neighborhood of London, the council wouldn't give a shit about its insulation and energy savings. And my guess is they added these reasons to make themselves look benevolent instead of saying "We're adding cladding because the tower looks shit otherwise."

Actually, one of the reasons for the beautification is that it was quite close to some expensive real estate.

Oh, actually we're agreeing. I read your comment wrong.


Building regulations in the Uk mandate a minimum standard of fabric energy efficiency regardless of location, both for renovations and for new builds. The Greater London Authority is quite strict on this for new build developments and I suspect that carries through to renovations. It’s more the other way round in that developers are required by local authorities to meet efficiency targets, but ending up cutting corners to achieve it on the cheap


> my guess is if the tower wasn't in the richest neighborhood of London, the council wouldn't give a shit about its insulation and energy savings

This seems backward to me - why do you think a council with more financial pressure care less about their bottom line, and a council with less financial pressure care more?


Maybe pressure from constituents to stop wasting money on projects for undesirable folk.

At least, that's what I would expect here in the USA.


As a resident of RBKC, I can tell you that this was literally never an issue in local elections before Grenfell. Issues people really cared about were things like people driving Ferraris/Lambourghinis with the silencers/mufflers removed down residential streets late at night.


> There's significant political interest in finding a corporate scandal here ..

The scandal being safety standards being diluted by previous governments and the use of inflammable material in the tiles. The tiles being installed to beautify the tower. So as the tower would not spoil the view of the more expensive nearby towers.


I believe the motivation is mostly energy saving (climate change), not aesthetics. In france there is also a programme to sponsor adding cladding on all houses, with similar abuse by small unscrupulous firms which install anything and collect the subsidy.


You just contradicted by main point. It was precisely aesthetics that Grenfell Tower was covered in inflammable tiles. Inflammable tiles being used instead of the more expensive ones, to make more money for the commercial companies.

Who previously got the laws diluted to allow the use of inflammable tiles on the outsides of high-rise buildings. They got round the law, by sandwiching the inflammable material between two sheets of aluminum and then getting the sandwich certified as fire retardant.

"Grenfell cladding approved by residents was swapped for cheaper version"

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/30/grenfell-cla...


It also looks like the various government agencies mentioned in the article are either compromised or really phoned it in while certifying these products.


> many of the MPs who voted against are landlords who had a financial interest.

Unfortunately the same MPs who were trying to force us back to the office even though coronavirus was still spreading


Can you point out any proof that the government was trying to 'force' anyone back to the office. It doesn't ring any bells with me (someone who has been WFH in the UK since March)?


I assume the poster was referring to this kind of messaging:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-53942542

https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/boris-s-back-to-work-cam...

Which arguably doesn’t constitute being ‘forced’ but was followed up by the usual government outriders in the press.


Yes, back in August where, by my experience of living in London at the time, things were actually looking like they were going back to normal in terms of being able to socialise.

The pubs were back to normal except had to sign in when you entered and it was table service only. I have about 5 pub apps on my phone.


Yes, in August after a long period of lockdown, when schools were due to go back and when Whitty had warned that the UK was at the limits of lockdown easing: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/live/2020/jul/31/uk-coro...

It was at that point that the government (and the right wing press) were trying to get people to start going back into the office (and when YouGov were publishing polls that showed that the age group most in favour of people going back into the office were the retired).


Plus literally zero action has been taken about the same cladding on similar buildings in the 2.5 years since this happened...


This comment is entirely part of the problem. Insubstantial inferences and half truths are not useful


It seems to me, an outsider, that MPs in the UK can get away with pretty much anything and they know it. The whole pedophile scandal and it's essential disappearance comes to mind.


The "pedophile scandal" was the work one fantasist, himself a pedophile, making up lies. He is currently in jail serving an 18-year prison sentence for those lies. The real scandal is the way the police behaved, harassing very elderly people who had served their country for decades with no evidence other than the ravings of an easily discredited lunatic.


> The "pedophile scandal" was the work one fantasist,

Plus broken pattern-matching by people who see individual abusers as being part of some organised conspiracy and not as evidence of changing attitudes to child abuse over time.

Cyril Smith's offending was covered up by his colleagues. Jimmy Saville's offending was an open secret for years.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/westminster-...


Yes, plus changing attitudes to homosexuality. Unfortunately, closeted cottagers and people who frequent male prostitutes are stil mentioned alongside pedophiles as if it was the same phenomenon.


You mean the Establishment allowed its own police to investigate crimes by members of the Establishment and it turned out that accusers against the Establishment are the real bad ones and Establishment figures are all just innocent old war heroes?

My word, who could have predicted that twist?

It's the easiest, and most obvious, thing in the world for a regime to kill a scandal or exposure of a conspiracy by poisoning the well with outrageous and easily exposed claims by easily discredited accusers.


A masterful exhibition of reasoning! Let me see if I follow:

Premise 1) If there was a pedophile conspiracy, the conspirators would try to poison the well with easily discredited witnesses.

Premise 2) The only evidence of a pedophile conspiracy comes from a single completely discredited witness.

Conclusion) Therefore, the pedophile conspiracy definitely happened.


> Premise 2) The only evidence of a pedophile conspiracy comes from a single completely discredited witness.

This is an artifact of selective perception and contradicted by both evidence and the public record.


As I follow it, you're the one arguing it definitely didn't happen, based on one discredited witness, when there's evidence going back decades of abuse by political, military and intelligence figures in children's homes across Britain and Northern Ireland, and cover ups going all the way to the Prime Minister.

And what's the alternative to 1? That the Establishment commits suicide by allowing investigations capable of destroying (all public faith and confidence in) the Establishment? I'd love to know why that would ever happen.


You are wrong. Several went to prison in recent memory for small amounts of fraudulently claimed expenses: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_parliamentary...


You know that was basically the police jumping on one witness who turned out to be a fantasist? this is similar to the whole q annon fantasy about piza parlors and child sex rings in the US

MP's have gone to prison for 4/5 years for stuff (the cash for questions case) that would be considered normal practice in the US



key quotes:

> Arconic realised its polyethylene-cored cladding had a horrendous reaction to fire following French tests in 2005, where it burned fiercely and obtained a basement ranking of Class E. Despite this, Arconic continued to market it as the much safer Class B

> The Irish company Kingspan’s insulation passed one of these tests, which took place on a fake wall made with non-combustible cement. This test pass permitted its use on tall buildings, but only in an exact replica of the system tested. Despite this, the firm marketed its insulation as ‘suitable for use on high-rise buildings’. [...] After the test was passed in 2005, Kingspan altered the chemical composition of the insulation so that it was no longer the same product

> Celotex, a smaller firm [...] its insulation had also passed a test, also using a non-combustible cladding panel, and it too began to market its product as safe for use on high rises. But the test was not as it seemed: fire resisting boards were used around the temperature monitors that record the pass or fail, distorting the result.

> the Local Authority Building Control [...] appears to have written its certificate simply by copy and pasting an email written by Celotex's Jon Roper, even including the same typo on the certificate.

So, among Arconic, Kingspan, Celotex, LABC (or Spectator, if they're pulling a Bloomberg) - I wonder if anyone is going to jail...


I can't read the article to see if it's mentioned but a reminder that Arconic employees have refused to give evidence:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54792111


From the article:

> Three French and one German employee of Arconic say they might breach a law in France which prevents evidence being given to proceedings abroad.

> The law in question is known informally as the French Blocking Statute.

Maybe a French HN member can give us more info on this law.


French citizens and headquartered corporations cannot answer a foreign justice request concerning some things (pretty much everything as the wording is vague) without refering it first to the french government. Failing to do so exposes to fines and possibily jail.

https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/loda/id/JORFTEXT000000501326/...

"Loi n° 68-678 du 26 juillet 1968 relative à la communication de documents et renseignements d'ordre économique, commercial, industriel, financier ou technique à des personnes physiques ou morales étrangères"


The law mentions that it is forbidden to do so "sous réserve" (not sure how to translate that, "without prejudice" ?) of international treaties. I'd be surprised if there were no such treaty between France and the UK, or if it wasn't part of the EU treaty.


Thanks!


It was a way to fight industrial espionage from countries (well, mostly one) where judges were very enthusiastic about getting documents containing some industrial secrets from French companies.


I wonder if in the long run that will make them easier to prosecute &/or sue. Certainly hope so


In the US, refusing to give evidence (taking the fifth) can be used against you in a civil suit, but it cannot be used against you criminally. If you’re facing civil and criminal liability at the same time, this puts you in a tough situation, since protecting yourself from criminal liability might increase your civil exposure.

I believe in the UK refusing to give evidence might be worse, both because they have a whole different model of courts (inquisitive vs. adversarial), and because the underpinnings of US legal rights stem from a perceived short coming of the British court system.


Yes, the UK police caution is "You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence."

Adverse inferences can be made in court.


Our system of courts is at base very similar to the US, and is adversarial. The only significant parts which aren't are the coroner's courts which investigate deaths using an inquisitorial process.

[Edit: we also sometimes have public enquiries, sometimes headed by judges, but these aren't courts as such: there are no civil penalties or criminal punishments as a direct result of the enquiry]

Our procedural rights are mostly similar too (we have corrected most of the abuses since the 18th Century). Your right to silence is qualified, though, and has been since the 1990s. Basically, you can't remain silent during questioning and then run a 'surprise' defence: so if you're going to claim an alibi at trial, you can't wait until the trial has started to mention it. If you do, the magistrates or jury are allowed to draw adverse inferences from your earlier silence.

I don't much like this change. I don't know how much of a difference it makes in practice; there aren't ongoing campaigns by defence lawyers to have it overturned, for example.


Corporate witnesses who do testify are immune from having their own admissions used against them in a criminal proceeding. Though it’s worth noting things said about others can be used against said others.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/grenfell-towe...


> An unforgivably naive market of architects and contractors then began merrily specifying it for a wide range of uses well beyond its original test.

Architects are architects, Contractors are contractors, and neither are fire engineers. No one can be an expert on everything. This is why we have building codes, product certification, and engineering assurance process. The problem here appeared to be dishonest players. If certified independent labs were required to test products, and licensed engineers were required to approve the assembly and submit their letters of insurance for the permit, it seems like there would be a net benefit to the public (this is how it works in Canada). If there was a stronger regulatory system, the investigators would be able to look up the letters of assurance for this permit, obtain the project documentation from the responsible engineer, investigate and possible charge him with negligence if he failed to spec a certified fire assembly. It appears that in the UK, there is no clear hierarchy of responsibility. When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.

As an aside, Fire rating generally involves more than just a single product - it requires an 'assembly'. That assembly must be recreated every time the product is used to achieve the fire rating. If the testing assembly required 1/2" non-combustible cement backing board, the installation also requires it. It sounds like the fire rated assemblies were not being followed in this case.


> It sounds like the fire rated assemblies were not being followed in this case.

The fraud by Celotex and Kingspan is more literal, in this case.

The only assemblies that managed to pass the large scale fire test cheated by using a bunch of nonstandard parts, materials that weren't available on the market, and even put kiln insulation material blocking the temperature sensors on the test rig.

They then truncated any test reports sent to customers, omitting mention of the cheats. It was literally impossible for any customer to build the assembly that had passed fire testing, as they were never told about the cheats.

They then took the reports from these cheated "third party tests" and converted them into certificates from further authorities.

And their manufacturers' marketing departments "misunderstood" the test reports and put out marketing material claiming the material was of limited combustibility - which it was not.


The BBC has been reporting on the Grenfell enquiry and has so far published 138 episodes of its podcast.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p066rd9t


I would highly highly recommend this podcast. I've listened to every single episode from phase 2 (from episode 114), and a large majority of those from phase 1. I believe listening to this podcast should almost be mandatory for any engineer involved with any form of safety system.

For those interested in the engineering side of the scandal, phase 2 is amazing listening. The amount of detail the enquiry goes into is incredible. The number of failings across the construction industry with this project from architecture to fire consultants to insulation providers is shocking, but despite this you can also see why those failings occured at the time. The enquirers are knowledgeable and ask extremely probing questions, you can almost hear witnesses squirm.

Phase 1 is worth listening to part of, it's all about what happened on the night, the fire service response and failings, call center communication, broken lifts, inadequate equipment and more. However, it is very heavy and depressing listening, and quite repetitive (Phase 1 the podcast was done each day of the enquiry, phase 2 is done weekly).


Do you remember whether there's much coverage of the vendor selection and evaluation process that led to the choice of cladding?

One suspicion I have is that these companies may rebrand and continue to operate under different names.

What I wonder as a result is: when future evaluation processes take place, would decision-makers make the connection to formerly-operating-as company names?

I think and hope that the processes are thorough enough to uncover simple avoidance techniques like that, but I also think it's wise not to assume that the process is foolproof.

(I'd also wonder whether many web search engines currently perform this kind of second-order entity name resolution automatically)


There certainly is! Initial architecture selections were based around appearance and price, and in fact specified a zinc fire-resistant cladding. But due to ‘value engineering’ (read: cost cutting) this was switched to aluminium (flammable) cladding. The architects didn’t specify exact materials, they thought this would be done by the design and build contractors, who knew nothing about cladding and outsourced. The facades contractor got a heavily discounted price from the cladding suppliers, but didn’t believe it was their responsibility to check it met fire regulations, especially considering the cladding promotional literature said it was suitable. Then, pet way through the building process there was a shortage of the original insulation, and so another insulation was substituted in. At no point were the engineers/designers informed, and the on site surveyor from building control did not realise. In addition to this the installers were installing things the wrong way round, upside down, improperly cut and attached etc. The failings go on and on...

Re rebranding I think the industry would be aware enough. Despite the tests having been frauded previously, they would need to be redone under new company names at great expense, fraudulently or not. The more likely course I suspect is companies rebranding existing products and claiming new chemical formulas. (As was already done by Celotex: https://www.bdonline.co.uk/insulation-used-on-grenfell-refur...)


Thanks, very informative! It sounds like the kind of environment where blame-shifting was easy and no-one felt responsible. I'll try to catch up on some of the podcast episodes.

The rebranding question is still a bit of a question to me, even if industry will remember and if there are dis-incentives around it (i.e. the product line re-testing you mention, which might be still be a worthwhile dodge depending on the expected reputation cost - it probably affects hiring and job retention and various other things as well as industry perception and sales).


I suppose the $64,000 question is this: how many other Grenfell Towers are out there, and how can they be identified? The scope would probably be pretty clear if it were just a matter of one negligent construction company, but it seems like this is a problem that spans the whole chain of approving, selecting, selling, and installing this product category.


A news report from June of this year suggests a figure of 2,000 other UK buildings affected:

https://metro.co.uk/2020/06/12/2000-buildings-still-have-gre...

Edited to add:

The UK government publishes "ACM [aluminium composite material] remediation data" every month. This is "being collected to help the Building Safety Programme make buildings safe and to make people feel safe from the risk of fire, now and in the future".

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/aluminium-composite-material-cla...


They are being identified. It's causing problems for some home-owners. https://bylinetimes.com/2020/08/28/the-cladding-trap-thousan...


I haven't been following what's happening in the UK but here in the Australian state of Victoria (we had a couple of cladding fires too) the government established an organisation called Cladding Safety Victoria. They're identifying all buildings with this sort of cladding and coordinating replacement. They just started on my apartment building this week (there's only a small section around the main entry).


Lots in my local town there was a new development where a lot of flats and a new hotel have had to have cladding replaced.


Anyone know the status of the legality of similar cladding and insulation in the US?


It's important to realize even if there was specific malfeasance in the companies involved in this particular event the problems are systemic.

We are part of an economic system that values profits for a small number of people above safety or quality.

While it's important to punish those who behave unethically a better response would be to change the system so that ethical behavior and the pursuits of safety and quality are valued above the pursuit of wealth.


Fire related deaths have been falling for decades in the UK so that system must be working.


Nicely phrased, agree. Ethics is key.


I'll take the bait:

How do you propose we do that, if all currently known systems of government are insufficient?


Not OP, but I don’t read it as bait, and I don’t think having a solution in mind is a prerequisite for noting a problem.

As for your question, ideas like UBI, post-growth capitalism, etc seem to move towards relaxing the ethics vs profit dilemmas that systematically drive these disasters (as well as most of the other slow-motion disasters like climate change, biodiversity loss, etc).


Perhaps rather than focusing on very broad systems of government, we could look at changing the system of fire regulation and inspection. There's ground in between "blame individuals" and "blame capitalism".


You’re just repeating Tyler Cowen’s libertarian fallacy of assuming the quality of government is constant. A far more interesting question would be testing that belief, which could then lead to you learning which countries do better and why.


It's funny to think "obviously polyethylene is flammable, how did nobody notice" then realize my own house has expanded polystyrene and polyester fiber batts insulation under the floor. I wondered about fire risk but saw some vague claims by the manufacturers and that the local authority approved them, and just trusted that, despite these local authorities having a history of approving bad products. Decades ago, my dad was very critical of all polymer building insulation because of the fire danger. I thought he was just out of touch and obviously it wouldn't be allowed if it wasn't safe. This isn't the olden days! We're more strictly regulated now!


Your home is presumably only 2-4 stories. So in the event of a bad fire you just evacuate. Probably the fire can be extinguished, but maybe it can't, either way you aren't inside, your insurer is on the hook for any increase in costs from products that did not perform. Maybe "the invisible hand" will fix that, maybe it won't, but nobody dies.

In a high rise residential building it's a nightmare to evacuate, so until that becomes necessary (as it did at Grenfell and one of the other phases looked at whether emergency services were wrong to delay so long and why that happened) the preference is to compartmentalize as you would on a ship (can't evacuate those either). As a result of this approach to fire fighting it's critical that fire cannot spread between compartments. Flat #1 is on fire, a team comes out, they fight the fire, maybe Flat #1 is completely ruined, but the people in Flat #2 are just annoyed by the smell of smoke and the debris, they aren't actually in danger. At Grenfell this cladding meant the fire was able to spread outside the building defeating compartmentalization, in hindsight once that happened it would be impossible to contain it.

So the height of the building isn't just why this is news, it's also why it was a problem.


According to Civil Defense documents, construction post-1945 was considered to be more vulnerable to the thermal and shock effects of nuclear weapons than pre-1945 construction.

Plastic materials were a villain. A black polyurethane couch could catch the rays of a H-Bomb fireball 100 kilometers array and within 15 seconds create a fireball in the room. Details like that create a lot of uncertainty about causalities.

Closer to home your Fire Marshall could demonstrate for you why you should not smoke in bed or what happens to a car when you light the passenger seat with a Zippo.

Common natural materials have safety properties against fire. For instance, if I got too close to a fire, a wool sweater would form a char, "ablating" like the Apollo spacecraft heat shield. An acrylic sweater would melt and probably transfer more heat to my skin and make it more likely that I get burned, if it doesn't ignite itself.


There's a reason polystyrene is used as the waveguide between the two stages in a thermonuclear bomb :\


I don't know of anywhere that allows "polyester fiber batts" as a component of insulation. You probably have fiberglass batts, which melt eventually but don't burn.

If the EPS (expanded polystyrene) is covered by fiberglass insulation and/or drywall, it will last sufficiently long for you to escape from a fire.


It's not glass wool. It's essentially the same stuff duvets are made from. Very comfortable actually! But maybe has some special fire retarding additive or something - I don't know.

Just looking up the product now, the brochure says "Please consult a fire engineer when specifying GreenStuf insulation ". That certainly didn't happen. Oops. But as another replyer said, it doesn't really matter for a normal house. It might burn down but you'd have escaped because of smoke alarms and just walking out the door.

The polystyrene is exposed to the outside with no covering.

You probably don't live in the same country as me so the rules are different.


... it really is polyester fiber. They say it's 100% polyester. Hope your wires are in conduit. And the EPS is just on the side of your house with no cladding? It'll get beat up just from wind-blown debris. Your construction ideas are very odd.


> If the EPS (expanded polystyrene) is covered by fiberglass insulation and/or drywall, it will last sufficiently long for you to escape from a fire.

No. EPS offgasses badly when heated. It also assumes that your coverage is 100% in drywall.

If you have fibreglass, then you are sunk. Rockwool/mineralwool then you are much better.


In the case of skyscrapers it breaks the basic safety concept.

Fires won't propagate up or down a properly built skyscraper except by the flames lapping up from floor 14 starting a fire on a floor 15.


I got my place insulated when i moved in, so every room is now a Celotex box. I remember wondering how they made it fireproof, but never looking into it.

Mind you, it's a garret in a mansard roof, so before the Celotex it was just wood and bitumen, not exactly fireproof either.


Highly recommend checking out "Well There's Your Problem" which is a podcast/YouTube series on engineering disasters. They have an episode on Grenfell, specifically, and give some engineering details on how the fire got so bad so quickly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epkCrB8aKXA


That podcast is fun, but it's only really superficially about engineering disasters.

They even admit this in one of the early episodes, something like "surprise! This isn't about engineering, we're really doing a personality-driven conversational play!"

Most topics are only superficially researched and even more thinly presented. Having 5-10 minutes of information in a two hour episode is usually too little for my tastes.


Skip forward to 44:00 for the discussion of the design of the cladding, then the discussion proper on direct cause & effect starts about 52:00.

The first 3/4 hour is mostly history with a political bent, which although it is interesting, it is a bit waffling.

At one point they allude to the Estonia Agreement 1995 which has nothing to do with the fire but is interesting: https://www.newstatesman.com/node/195304


I’m dealing with my own fire safety related conflict at the moment. Maybe I am the asshole in the story but my building recently announced its annual fire inspection to all residents of the ~350 apartments, by email, the day before it was to happen. They said there was no choice. They provided no information about the pandemic response plan of the contractor or the infection control measures they would be taking.

Since both myself and my wife are quite serious immunocompromised I objected. I told them I couldn’t let them in with all this lacking and instead to call me when they reached my apartment and we could do it via phone or video call or I could separately take videos of what they need. Now I’ve seen these guys when they do this work before (having lived here for a number of years) and they just open the door step in and then slam it behind them. They don’t knock and wait. It’s absurd. I stuck a notice on my door telling them to call or video call first when arriving. They didn’t enter but didn’t call.

Fast forward a week. They’re now giving me notice they’ll come in against my objection. They won’t answer any questions about the pandemic response plan or what vetting they did of their contractor and it seems the contractor doesn’t have one (or it’s embarrassingly bad). They said for PPE they use cloth masks, which are quite inadequate for protecting us. They said they take their temperatures but as the UK’s Chochrane review showed that is next to useless in screening infected people.

I provided thorough videos of me testing every alarm in the apartment and showing every sprinkler head in detail. I captured a video of the building alarms sounding in every room on the day of the inspection. They will not view these and tell me what is inadequate about them. They simply say they must do a physical inspection but won’t tell me who says or what regulation says it must be physical.

Now by my very napkin math these inspectors - if they’re doing inspections like this day in day out - could comfortably enter up to a thousand homes in a week. In the middle of the worst peak yet in this pandemic. Without proper protection for both protecting themselves and if they are infected from protecting the occupants. And without any testing regime in place to catch them early if they are sick. No plan in place to notify buildings or residents they have visited if an employee does get sick. None of that. They don’t even ask the residents if they have any symptoms or are sick before barging in. It seems like a high risk job and a poorly controlled vector of transmission. Entirely because the corporate landlord is lazy and doesn’t care. And the fire inspection contractor company is lazy and doesn’t care. And they can all get away with being lazy and not caring.


since they announced coming in writing, you have the paperwork to get an injunction against them. get a lawyer and good luck!


Is this in the uk? Assuming the parent is renting I'm pretty sure the parent can just refuse and the landlord will need an injunction to get in. Good luck getting one in this period.

The right of quiet enjoyment of your home trumps any contractual provision of inspection.


Whilst it's true that even with contractual access rights landlords may not have an actual right to enter (absent an emergency), I'd be careful here... (1) if the landlord or agents turn up anyway and have keys then you'd be relying on calling police to turf them out - who may not side with you whatever the rights and wrongs, (2) it's actually not completely certain legally that quiet enjoyment trumps other rights - as I don't think there have been recent test cases (bear in mind that almost all tenancy agreements do include pretty broad access rights for the landlord to undertake maintenance these days) and (3) if you do refuse access unreasonably and despite a contractual right of the landlord then the landlord may be entitled to damages from you if that delay harms them financially.


Thanks for clarifying this!


"This chiefly means three products: the actual cladding panels (thin aluminium sheets bonded to a core of polyethylene, a plastic with similar properties to solid petrol) and two forms of combustible foam insulation which were fitted behind it."

Cough, cough, cough.

Does anyone know the state of liability laws in Britain? Here in the states, the companies involved would be going down in a hail of lawsuits and the industry would be scrambling to distance itself.

I wonder what the software development industry would look like under that kind of investigation.


> ...the companies involved would be going down in a hail of lawsuits and the industry would be scrambling to distance itself.

I think this is essentially what will happen here. One of the problems is that the remediation work to correct the dangerous cladding runs in to billions of pounds and is a bill none of the individual companies involved can afford, so working out exactly who to sue (with everyone denying liability, of course) is kinda tricky.


I’m not a legal expert but here’s my understanding of the process: If a person or group of people take civil action, liability will be determined in the specialist construction courts, typically in construction cases many entities are held jointly liable, so the liability could be shared between the client, architect, fire testing laboratories, fire engineers, contractors and the fire brigade. The court will determine the total damages to be paid. There is a generally agreed amount for loss of life, everything thing else is determined based on the actual cost e.g things like electric wheelchairs for life, temporary accommodation costs, the rebuilding costs etc. Unlike the US, there are no punitive damages in the UK the liability is purely the cost of putting things right. The plaintiff’s lawyers have to be careful not to ask for unreasonable damages as this can negatively affect their case. The court will then apportion the liability to each party. As you can imagine, these cases go into a lot of detail and take years to resolve.


Not a lawyer - think the main issue will be whether the companies are shown to have manipulated safety testing.

If not, then it will be a case of bad rules allowing a bad product to have been used.


Private Eye has been talking about this for over a year. The Page 94 podcast gives a very good account.


Absolutely. Like so many things, Private Eye is ahead of the curve in its reporting. Another podcast worth a mention is James O'Brien's recent Full Disclosure interview with Grenfell survivor Edward Daffern. Horrifying to hear how the residents were treated before, during and after the tragedy, and how predictable the whole thing was.


Worth remembering Private Eye are biased towards insinuating institutional corruption, leading to their support of Wakefield against the pharmas in the MMR scandal.

They are generally good, but they aren't immune from bias and it still pays to be critical.


Institutional corruption is such a powerful threat to humans that it pays to be suspicious.


Might be reading too much into this, but I think there are a few layers going on here politically. Grenfell has been held up as an example of the failure and incompetence of successive Conservative governments. The Spectator and The Times are both publications that would be seen as centre-right and more Tory-friendly than most, and they both have stories today very pointedly (and totally correctly) blaming the Irish company Kingspan and this French company. Things are especially tense between the French, the Irish, and the British (especially the Conservatives) because of the Brexit crunch talks.

They are completely right to point at these companies, and the Irish media has totally failed on this story:

https://www.irishtimes.com/business/construction/the-irish-t...

But I think there is an underlying reason why the national adjectives are sprinkled all through these articles.


An additional scandal is the extortionate costs for buildings over a certain height in obtaining an EWS1 Form to show to mortgage lenders. Without which, your appartment is effectively valued at zero, since you'll never be able to sell it.


Yea. The difficulty related to the fact the companies verifying the buildings had understandable difficulty finding insurers to underwrite their opinion.

There are plenty of other scandals with which I am familiar where buildings have had huge amounts of completely unjustified work done under bad advice


After reading TFA and this comment thread, that doesn't seem scandalous at all. It would be evil for lenders to underwrite deathtraps.


The scandal is that they shouldn't have been allowed to be built with the 'wrong' insulation in the first place. Also, people who have had surveys for properties they bought some years ago (pre-Grenfell) as in my case.

So, if the Government are going enforce new standards and impose the need for very costly surveys and 'forms' to show new safety standards (again, based on their own ineptitude that caused Grenfell), then they should be the ones who have to pay for any remediation. Not the Leasholders.


Does the government still recommend that people in highrises shelter in place when there is a fire in another apartment in the building? They did before, after this fire I found the cutesy animated videos they published explaining how you should shelter in place because fire is unlikely to spread in a highrise.

It seems like bullshit to me. At the first hint of fire in a building, I'll be flying down the nearest staircase that doesn't have smoke coming out of it. I'd not sit around in a burning building waiting to see if the fire gets worse, only to find out I no longer have any options for escape.


Shelter in place advice hasn’t changed.

In theory flats in the U.K. are built with fire barriers between each Flat, preventing the spread of fire. If you take my flat for example, we separated by concrete walls and fire doors from our neighbours on all sides.

Part of the reason why shelter in place still exists, is because the fire exits aren’t designed to handle every flat evacuating at the same time. It would result in people getting stuck on stairs and getting trampled. Almost certainly resulting in greater loss of life, than if everyone stayed put.

Places like Grenfell failed because the central premise of fire insulted flats was broken. Not just by flammable cladding, but also by faulty fire doors that failed to prevent the spread of smoke into common areas and the build up of flammable materials in what should have been fire sterile common areas.

Once again this is an engineering disaster caused by multiple failing over a long period of time. Rather than the failure of a singular policy. Although the cladding ensured that what should have been a small fire became and an inferno that quickly overwhelmed the other, already compromised, fire safety systems.


To be frank, if everybody else is sheltering in place, that means the staircases will be clear for me to run down. If everybody thinks as I do, maybe there will be problems. But, judging by my experience with staircases in America (namely them being fairly wide and numerous), I prefer my odds in the staircase. Even if I only manage to get a few floors down before becoming tangled in other humans, maybe those few floors are enough to put me below the fire, or below the floors now filled with toxic smoke.


> But, judging by my experience with staircases in America (namely them being fairly wide and numerous), I prefer my odds in the staircase.

Quite the opposite is true in the U.K.


Staircases often become choked with smoke. You have minutes, perhaps, before you are are risk for hypoxia and smoke inhalation.

Opening fire doors can undermine the safety of others if they don't get closed properly (or if you allow smoke or fire to start pouring into a floor.)

That said, it's been clearly demonstrated that developers are unwilling (or unable) to pay for proper fire safety, so all bets may be off.


I would not enter a stairwell that was filled with smoke. Smoke rises, so if there is smoke in the stairwell below me, it's probably also in the stairwell on my floor as well, though there may be a small window where I get mislead. Nevertheless, in America these stairwells are designed specifically to be used for evacuations, and in my city the official advice is to GTFO as quickly as you can using a stairwell the moment you hear the (building wide) alarm or if you see smoke. So this is certainly what I would do.


Having been a participant in the attempted evacuation of a 15 story building during multiple fire drills, I'm not looking forward to ever having to evacuate for real. After 2 hours under ideal conditions, the stairwells were still clogged with people, and nobody above around the 10th floor got out.


> It would result in people getting stuck on stairs and getting trampled

This logic is absurd. Who came up with this "advice" is a complete idiot, second after a person approving a highrise with a single staircase, and even no external escape stairs.

Even without a flammable cladding, you can get as short as minutes for how quick a fire can structurally compromise a even a very well fire proofed, and and better engineered highrise building.

I believe, immediate evacuation was a norm in pretty much every country I lived in.


The Station nightclub fire had people get trapped at the entrance by a stampede, so it can happen. Ideally buildings are now designed to mitigate that, and should have occupancy limits set low enough by the fire marshal to facilitate immediate evacuations. But if any of that isn't true, I think my best bet is making the decision to evacuate as early as possible, in hopes of beating the rush.


Panic is completely not a reason to not evacuate:

1. you do not panic in fire unless you want to die.

2. building may have less than an hour, or even minutes of structural integrity left after first alarm is heard.

3. you may have single minutes until people are incapacitated, and cannot leave on their own, or already dead from poisoning.

4. you may have minutes until smoke penetrates stairwells, or fire gets the emergency ventilation, or smoke gets thick enough to block emergency lighting, and people are trapped, even if they have smoke hoods.


> you do not panic in fire unless you want to die.

This is not how panic works. Almost by definition no one chooses to panic, that’s why it’s so dangerous.

As for the rest of your comment. It’s also crap written by someone who clearly has never studied fire safety and has assumed that all fire safety experts are fools. Rather than experts who have studied and modelled plenty of different scenarios, resulting in modern fire standards that rarely fail.


> all fire safety experts

Here's the thing, not ALL fire safety experts will tell you the same thing. I just looked up the guidance for my city (Seattle) and it gives what I consider to be sane advice:

> Every alarm must be treated as a fire emergency. When you hear the fire alarm or if you encounter smoke or fire, take these steps to ensure a safe evacuation of the building.

> 1. Leave your unit as quickly as possible, closing the front door as you go. Pull the fire alarm next to the stairwell as you exit if fire alarm is not sounding.

> 2. Use the stairs, not the elevators, to evacuate the building.

[Point 3 concerns what to do after evacuation.]

> 4. If you encounter smoke or fire outside of your apartment and you are unable to exit using the stairs, stay in your unit. Keep your door and windows closed. Use towels or clothing to block openings around doors or vents where smoke might enter.

They also say on their website:

> If you hear the building fire alarm, take it seriously. Every second delayed wastes valuable time needed to escape. For this reason, developing and practicing a home escape plan with all residents is so important. If a fire starts in your building you must know how to get out quickly. Don't wait to find out the severity of the situation. Your home escape plan should include two ways to exit out of your apartment and a designated outside meeting place away from the building.

These experts are telling me to GTFO immediately, and only shelter in place if and only if I am unable to GTFO. It sounds like in London they give different advice either because their experts are fools, or because their buildings are death traps by Seattle standards...

Re-quoting for emphasis: "Every second delayed wastes valuable time needed to escape. [...] Don't wait to find out the severity of the situation. "


Not sure how you rectify

> all fire safety experts are fools. Rather than experts who have studied and modelled plenty of different scenarios, resulting in modern fire standards that rarely fail.

With the state of play in the UK, where something like 5% of homes need emergency remediation to make them actually firesafe. Or 2m people can't get a mortgage [1]. And that's with a cutoff of 54 feet of height! When all the insulation is retested, but for real, who knows how much will need remediation.

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/913cc2ab-7fd5-4d41-a097-df408b4fa...


At a certain point even experts need to assume that everyone else in their area is being above board, and not actively pushing for unsafe outcomes.

In this case there were a number of companies who actively obfuscated critical safety information. That doesn’t make the designs and safely precautions of others invalid, they ultimately have to trust someone.

You wouldn’t condemn the entire medical profession because one pharma company produce and sold a dangerous drug, obfuscating it’s risk and only highlighting its benefits. Doctors have to assume that manufactures are outright lying to them and regulators. The same applies to fire safety.

Grenfell happened in large part because cladding manufactures obfuscated the failings of their products, and government ignored the advice given by experts. Fire safety experts had issues numerous warnings about Grenfell specifically, before it caught fire.

So I reconcile to two points you bring up quite simply. Fire experts didn’t err, they highlighted the problems. Everyone else just ignored them, we’re the fools, not them.


> In this case there were a number of companies who actively obfuscated critical safety information

Did companies lie? Sure, but companies lie all the time. The so-called experts failed wildly too. From the article:

> Arconic realised its polyethylene-cored cladding had a horrendous reaction to fire following French tests in 2005, where it burned fiercely and obtained a basement ranking of Class E. Despite this, Arconic continued to market it as the much safer Class B (based on an earlier certification obtained using limited test data which had persuaded a respected British certification body, the British Board of Agrément, to produce the certificate apparently confirming this).

The BBA is chock full of these "experts". Who turn out to have been more of an industry-whitewashing exercise.

The costs to detect this would have been extremely low; for example, any "modeling" appears not to have been done based on reality (build a model, light a piece on fire) but rather on... who knows.

> You wouldn’t condemn the entire medical profession because one pharma company produce and sold a dangerous drug, obfuscating it’s risk and only highlighting its benefits.

The experts and the entire testing regime would, quite reasonably, be called wholly into question. Particularly when the experts proved susceptible to what sure looks like bribery. To wit, France managed to ban this stuff just fine.


> It’s also crap written by someone who clearly has never studied fire safety and has assumed that all fire safety experts are fools.

If those were "experts" who came with this advise, then they are indeed round morons who should be fired immediately, and people who appointed, and supervised them fired too.

People have a head on their shoulders to at least think about obvious life, or death decisions.

You do not jump in front of a truck, you do not eat rotten potatoes, and you do not stay in a burning house no matter what "genius" comes with an alternative opinion on that.

That is just mind boggling.


It calls to mind the "terrorism experts" who always told us to obey hijackers' every command, no matter how dangerous it seemed. After all, we could trust that those trustworthy folks wanted to safely arrive at some destination.

Until one day, the experts stopped making that recommendation.


I agree. Trampling is a real concern, but one that would have me running for the exits sooner, not waiting longer.


It’s not clear to me that this is bad advice if safety regulations were followed during construction. Like the 737 MAX, however, rampant unpunished corporate malfeasance has negated it.


It seems to me that if the high-rise building truly resists the spread of fire, then sheltering in place is probably the optimal solution. However I just can't trust my own life to that. Furthermore one of the hazards used to justify this advice was the possibility that hallways or stairs are already filled with smoke. Well if that's the case, doesn't that perhaps call into question the premise that fires stay contained in these buildings?

I found a local copy of the video, it was from the London Fire Brigade and links to the site knowtheplan.co.uk which is now defunct. I can't find the video still on the net, but it might be out there somewhere. Edit: found it: https://youtube.com/watch?v=Vy4L8B7KI9k


Only familiar with US building codes but stairway shafts in taller buildings are supposed to be built from thicker concrete, with fire-rated doors, so theoretically they should remain usable for some time (minutes) even if the floors they pass are engulfed. For larger buildings there must be two or more stairway shafts in case one is compromised. All is negated if doors are propped open, locks defeated, structure altered, building is wrapped in solidified napalm cladding, etc. So I’m with you, I’d also GTFO.


> Only familiar with US building codes but stairway shafts in taller buildings are supposed to be built from thicker concrete, with fire-rated doors, so theoretically they should remain usable for some time (minutes) even if the floors they pass are engulfed.

It should be more than minutes. I'm not at all familiar with residential codes, but have passing awareness of office codes in buildings with a few floors, and those (generally) require a two-hour rating for the materials of a stairwell.

Of course, as you mention, if the doors are propped open, locked or blocked shut, or the walls are improperly built or modified, or covered in napalm, the rating doesn't mean much. If a high rise building collapses, you're pretty much SOL too, although a smaller building would likely have the stairwells stay up.

Shelter in place makes sense if the unit is properly fire resistant for long enough for the fire to be controlled or if the exits are unsafe. However, if you're going to exit, you probably want to exit sooner than later. It's one of those things that you can't know the right answer without more information than you probably have.

If people panic on the exits, that's a recipie for disaster as well.


Generally speaking, US fire-safety regulations tend to be more stringent than in other countries. In particular, there is generally a requirement for two independent exit routes whereas many European regulations may permit only one, and the US tends to require wider fire stairwells. Evacuation in US fire-safety stairwells is likely to be quicker and less likely to interfere with firemen access (who have to move in the opposite direction from evacuating residents) to afflicted floors.


Yet, US still allows to build single family houses, and even lowrise condos from wood...


There are new wooden buildings in Europe too. I wonder if these are built to stricter codes, I mean to withstand fires for longer?

I agree the US focus seems to be on fast exit, multiple options (from buildings that seem to be made of matchsticks).


There's many different way to build with wood, some wood buildings will likely be safer than steel and concrete

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63HHsbFtDBo

"Fire Safety and Protection: Why Wood Construction Comes Out on Top"


Much lower potential loss of life, much shorter path to exit the building.


And windows low enough to jump from and (probably) not die.


Exactly. These buildings are specifically designed to be escapable, at least before the fire becomes horrendously bad, so I'll choose to take advantage of that as quick as I can.


> Furthermore one of the hazards used to justify this advice was the possibility that hallways or stairs are already filled with smoke.

A highrise building must have at least 2 stairwells, or emergency stairs, all with emergency lighting, and some firefighting equipment.

Internal stairwells must have battery backed smoke evacuation systems.

Buildings must have an untouchable reserve of water connected to its firefighting hoses, and sprinklers.

Regularly tested sprinklers, and CO detectors should be mandatory.

The amount of furniture people have in a highrise must be regulated.

Natural gas, or PG supply must by either extremely tightly regulated, or banned all together.

Residents of highrise building must have annual evacuation drills, and fire inspections.

Apartment owners must be mandated to have at least a regularly inspected flame extinguisher, and an escape hood/respirator/air pack.


Where are these regulations from? As in, which country?

> must have at least 2 stairwells, or emergency stairs

The tower in question did not:

https://www.google.com/search?q=grenfell+tower+floor+plan

So it was designed around a stay-where-you-are fire plan, not an immediate evacuation. And this may have been entirely sensible for the design as built -- concrete floors, concrete walls, and I presume serious doors onto the stairs. Then a fire would not spread.

But when you alter this design, then it doesn't work anymore. You can break any design with sufficient modifications; someone has to enforce that you don't.


> Where are these regulations from? As in, which country?

As an adult, I lived in Russia, Singapore, Canada, and China.

Russia for sure has at least half of that in the code.

Singapore, and Canada a bit more, but do not mandate fire extinguishers in residential buildings on national level.

And China has all of the above... on paper.


Can't say I know anything about those, unless Hong Kong counts -- it is certainly full of towers with barely space for one staircase.


From what I heard, HK indeed requires 2 stairs, just no necessary two separate staircases.


Ah, looking again at floorplans, some appear to be stacking two stair paths in one stairwell. So if you have a fire in one apartment, maybe the smoke only reaches (say) even-floor-number front doors.


As as said above, even much better fireproofed buildings may collapse quicky if the circumstances are bad enough.

Fireproofing alone is not a solution.

I think I have not seem a single highrise in my life without 2 staircases, or emergency staircase anywhere, even in very old buildings.


I take it you live in the US, since you're generally describing US fire code regulations, which are not the same as regulations in other countries, and are generally geared far more towards evacuate-first than compartmentalization.


A contributing hazard may be ubiquitous use of PVC and similar materials that produce toxic fumes. You do not want to breathe that even if it doesn't suffocate you immediately.

Smoke from wood and most "natural" materials - you'll usually be fine after a few days, if you manage not to suffocate.


Right, and we have had problems with a vaccine in the history as well. What next, never take covid vaccine because it? Because after all vaccine made in record pace makes you question... Unbelievable what Russian mis and disinformation actions are going on here.


What in the world does Russia have to do with any of this? Are they now presumed responsible every time anybody anywhere doubts anything a government official says?


Not a fire safety expert but yes, I understand it is still sound advice. Keep in mind it’s not “shelter until the fire is out,” it’s “shelter until a safety authority gives you clearance to leave or your life is at risk.”

a) the possibility of stampede is real, especially for children, the disabled, and the elderly

b) in a high rise, an evacuation stairwell might seem safe at the top but could be impassable much lower down. You would have no way of knowing ahead of time. So then evacuees have to backtrack and try to find a clear stairwell, which could be impossible if the stairs are too crowded.

In my experience with fire drills in high rises, “shelter in place” is really about staggered evacuation: first evacuate the floors surrounding the area where the fire was detected, then continue from there.


I'm not a civil engineer but from what I understand each apartment in a high rise is basically it's own fire resistant unit. This theory has been tested many times before.

The problem comes when 1% decided that these ugly old high-rises were ruining the view from their million pound townhouse.

The council respond to these perfectly reasonable complaints by cladding the ugly building in some nice cladding, sourced from the lowest bidder, with little consideration for how it would affect the safety of these properties.

The council gets to feel good about spending money improving low cost housing; the companies producing and fitting the cladding are happy to take the money; and the only people who suffer are mostly poor immigrants. Basically a win all around.


The American Society of Civil Engineers had a presentation from Dr. Angus Law, a UK lecturer in fire safety engineering. There are lots of engineering details covered about why it spread so quickly (approx. 30 minutes from a single room fire on the 3rd floor to reaching the top of the building)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6N6eeNjbVws


I and a huge amount of other people are living in a flat which currently has a value of £0 and am currently waiting to find out how much remediation works are going to cost to make the building I live in safe. As it is deemed unsafe by retrospective government fire and safety requirements, it is impossible to get a new mortgage for and therefore impossible to sell. The remediation costs are likely to be in the 10's of thousands of pounds.

The building may have been built to meet the requirements at the time (12 years ago) and then again it may not have. The guidelines have also obviously changed since Grenfell. But as it stands right now, all costs are to be passed onto the leaseholder i.e. the person who owns and lives in the flat i.e me. I moved in one year ago, had all the survey's done, used a solicitor and followed all procedure. Other people are in even worse positions, if they can't afford a bill of £50,000 their only option maybe bankruptcy, if they are in various legal professions or an accountant this means automatically losing their license to practice. Other people who have used the governments partial ownership scheme, where you buy 25% of a property and then rent (paying 25% less rent per month) are being asked to pay 100% of the remediation costs. For a lot of people the costs are more than the 25% stake in the property they own.

Some property developers followed the guidelines at the time so say it isn't their fault. The government says it followed the standards at the time so it isn't their fault. The building inspectors which failed to properly inspect properties (when there were actual issues outside of what has been changed retrospectively) seem to have immunity against legal action. The cladding companies who made unsafe cladding are trying to weasel their way out of responsibility by saying it is safe in the right circumstances. It feels like there are a few slices of blame to dish out. But one party who has had NO involvement in any of this is the people living in the flats.

The most sensible option I have heard suggested so far is that the government pays to clean up this entire scandal, and then puts a levy on property developers making flats so they get a percentage back on each new development to slowly recoup the money. But instead of that, the government is making various noises about wanting to protect leaseholders whilst simultaneously not doing anything concrete, even though as I write this people are already filing bankruptcy, giving up their flat which has all the money they have ever saved in, and on top of that, the remediation work in subject to VAT so the government brings in tax for all work done to fix up this mess. You can track huge sums (millions of pounds) being donated/pumped into the conservative party by property developers, and of course members of the conservative party also have shares or other stakes in property development companies.

It is a scandal of the highest order.


”Celotex even inquired about using the [Grenfell] tower as a case study for the suitability of its product for high rises. So it has turned out, although not in the way the company hoped.” To say the least... :(


At least none of the top level comments are claiming the invisible hand would solve this if only there were fewer regulations. Better enforcement and more regulations seem from experience to be the only way.


rich wealthy country corruption: the building gets built and (if)when disaster strikes, the corruption is revealed by broken safety regulations.

3rd world country corruption: the project gets started, maybe they put the first stone in a ceremony. nothing gets built and years later there's an empty lot sitting there.


The first case certainly also happens in China and numerous poorer countries.

Not just breaking safety regulations, but by literally swapping out concrete in structural support pillars for old oil cans.

Or just using a poor concrete mix for everything in the first place.


I'm not sure any of this is a surprise. It is surprising to see The Spectator call it out though!


RBKC are a really nasty bunch. Just recently they removed a cycle lane from their high street (only one in their borough) after complaints for a few right wing celebrities.


I live in an affected building in London. AMA.


I think it's funny that the "Spectator" was a conservative newspaper long before we had a Republican party in America... And they run articles like this!


While the Spectator is one of the more Conservative newspapers in the UK, in US they would be way to the left of the current Republican party. On the whole they're probably even to the left of many Conservative politicians in the UK.


The Spectator can be crazily right-wing (case in point: Toby Young) but it also publishes work that goes against type. It's not a monoculture.


Huh? Because conservatives don't like safety? Or they like dishonest business practices?


In the US it would be accurate to say that Republicans don't value safety or stopping dishonest business practices.


American conservatives tend to support freedom of contract and freedom of speech (including dishonest/incomplete speech) - and they consider monetary donations to politicians to be speech. They also tend to believe in supply-side economics (failures are met with “Well, you didn’t cut taxes on the rich enough!”), and the myth of the entrepreneur who singlehandedly builds a business empire (ignoring the myriad ways government supports these activities).

So... yes, American conservatives tend to dislike safety (people should be responsible for their own safety, regulation will slow down business and make everyone worse off), and they tend to support dishonest business practices (let the market handle punishment, it’s not the government’s job to decide what truth is and to make sure people are honest).


I get the sense that you're applying your feelings to a group you don't like.

As a conservative, I can say that I am interested in safety as much as anyone. I certainly don't want to become a victim of an avoidable incident, and I don't want anyone else to become a victim either.

> American conservatives tend to dislike safety (people should be responsible for their own safety, regulation will slow down business and make everyone worse off)

People being responsible for their own well-being certainly doesn't imply a dislike of safety. It's acknowledging a reality that ultimately we are responsible for our own fates. And it certainly doesn't rubber-stamp fraud, as is the case here where companies literally lied about the leveling of their product. In addition, it does not allow the government to shirk responsibility for requiring the use of the dangerous product in this case.

> it’s not the government’s job to decide what truth is

Allowing governments free reign to determine truth has historically led to immense suffering and hundreds of millions of documented deaths.


> People being responsible for their own well-being

It's literally impossible for a consumer to evaluate all the materials, labor, and external effects involved in all the products they encounter or are effected by. Even then, if they identify something they find unacceptable, how do they avoid it if it's related to a necessity and it's an industry standard?

How do you propose the consumer has any realistic chance of having a say in these matters other than collectively empowering a group of people to look into it and enact recommendations and rules?


This is the literally fatal flaw in this variety of thinking.


It's acknowledging a reality that ultimately we are responsible for our own fates

Do you really mean "ultimately"? That means "in the end". At the last. Ultimately, we all die and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

None of us chose when or where to be born. None of chose how rich the family we were born into would be (the number one indicator of success in life).

People might have chosen to move into Grenfell Tower but they didn't know they were choosing to die horribly in a fire, and making choices without knowledge carries as much responsibility as saying that a lottery winner was responsible for their winnings - not untrue but hardly a maxim for life.

To say that there is a reality that ultimately we are responsible for our own fate just seems to disagree with reality.


Allowing companies to self-certify their products' safety is the same thing as rubber stamping fraud. Issues can only be caught after some disaster, as we see with Grenfell and the preventable tragedies behind every other regulation and certification board. Individual renters can't conduct independent fire safety tests on the cladding and insulation of their (low income) housing, that's absurd. Government regulation and testing for product safety is necessary for society to function, and there are many examples to this effect.


> People being responsible for their own well-being certainly doesn't imply a dislike of safety.

Totally agree, and yeah I think "conservatives on the street" aren't really advocating for Mad Max levels of safety.

But businesses spend billions (trillions?) of dollars lobbying against regulations--regulations designed explicitly to prevent tragedies like this--and their argument largely is "the market will decide". Another way to phrase this is "people should be free to choose to live in a skyscraper clad in highly flammable material if they so choose", which is classic right to contract. So, I think it's fair to remind everyone that opposing regulations and supporting "market will decide" dynamics is core conservatism.

But beyond that, how was anyone living there supposed to know this was a problem? I'm a pretty smart software engineer and I guess I would... google around for building permits? It feels like a tall ask. Like, quick show of hands, who here knows what the wires in their walls are insulated with? Is that something we think people should know? Perfect information is just... a mythical creature.

> Allowing governments free reign to determine truth has historically led to immense suffering and hundreds of millions of documented deaths.

I think there's a middle ground here between "state propaganda machine" and "free for all". It's not censorship or propaganda to require companies to meet building codes, or to punish companies for saying they meet building codes by pointing to results of rigged tests.


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