It didn’t take long after the Grenfell Tower tragedy for the wider repercussions to emerge. If there was a design flaw in the tower which contributed to the resulting inferno, then other buildings could have a similar problem. If this was established, these buildings would inevitably be deemed unsafe until such time as sufficient testing was cried out to establish that they were fit for habitation, or until the flaw was remedied. And in such circumstances, no local authority could take the risk of keeping residents in situ.
It is deeply unfortunate that tower blocks in the London borough of Camden were ruled to have serious safety concerns at a time when evacuation involved clearing the buildings on Friday evening and through the night into Saturday morning, but after the fire service said it could not guarantee the safety of those in the blocks, the council faced no option but to move residents out.
If the situation appears to be chaotic, that too is unfortunate, but that is the nature of any emergency or evacuation. Long-term tenants who are understandably upset at the upheaval in their lives state that there has never been a problem in the building before. Sadly, most devastating fires could be set against the same kind of history.
This is justified “panic”, if one of the possible consequences of failing to act is another disaster. Local authorities cannot fall back on the laws of probability to make a safety judgment on this scale.
“I know it’s difficult, but Grenfell changes everything,” said Camden Council leader Georgia Gould. She’s right.
The next step is to ensure that all buildings – not simply housing blocks – are tested. There will be upheaval, inconvenience and uncertainty, but it is work that must be done. There will be repercussions over how this crisis came about, but right now, immediate safety is the No 1 priority for all residents.