Nearly two years ago we marked the 10th anniversary of the Lakanal fire. This week we write that residents in its ‘sister block’, Marie Curie, will have to leave their homes for at least a year due to the severity of its fire safety problems.
Six lives, an inquest, criminal charges and more than a decade later, after tens of millions has been spent by Southwark Council on fire safety and several years after ‘similar’ work was completed on Lakanal but never on Marie Curie – how did we get here?
Three women and three children died in Lakanal waiting to be rescued, repeatedly being told to ‘stay put’. One victim was a 20-day-old baby.
More than 40 recommendations highlighting fire safety failures, made to the government in the aftermath of the tragedy, were essentially forgotten.
Government promises to tackle the issues that led to the tragedy, whether unsafe building materials or out of date advice from the emergency services, were shelved.
Had action been taken, would 72 people have lost their lives at Grenfell?
Both tragedies are horrific and have left permanent mental scars on those who witnessed them, as well as destroying families, homes, and livelihoods.
The impact is far reaching. The cladding and fire safety scandals have rippled out much further. Leaseholders are stuck in homes they cannot sell, and homeowners are being saddled with huge bills for remedial work for which they are in no way responsible.
Yet the tragedies at Lakanal and Grenfell, and the extent of the issues remaining in social housing blocks, remind us that those who are least able to exercise choice in where they live, and who have the least power over their homes and lack resources are still the most vulnerable.
Social housing should be a safe haven – not a death trap. No amount of new alarms or ‘waking watches’ can make a building feel safe. Why wasn’t this work prioritised sooner?