A solution to the cladding crisis will not be easy but it is a nettle that politicians must grasp – and before the next building burns, write bishops Graham Tomlin and David Walker
Imagine you drive a particular model of car and one day you read that the driver and passengers in a similar vehicle were killed when one of four very similar components exploded.
You’re quite nervous but can’t afford to replace the car or the components, so you hope for the best.
A few months later, after extensive lobbying, the manufacturer agrees to pay for a replacement part.
But when full details emerge, it becomes clear that only that one specific part that failed is included.
The other three may share a very similar level of risk but they fall outside the offer. At least until another catastrophic failure has led to a further loss of life.
A few weeks ago, another tall building caught fire – this time in Bolton, Greater Manchester.
Fortunately, nobody was killed, and the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service had just recently undertaken training and changed its practices in the light of lessons learned after Grenfell.
The building was not clad in aluminium composite material (ACM), so it wasn’t eligible for money for remediation works under the government scheme. Moreover, as its height is just a fraction under 18m, it would have been excluded anyway. It’s just a pity nobody thought to tell the flames all of that.
“If you don’t live in a high-rise building, you might think there are other priorities for a tight budget in a frenzied election campaign. At least until the next building burns”
We don’t have an ACM crisis, we have a tall building crisis.
A range of construction methods and components have been found to be less safe than we previously thought.
Phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has already established that the building was non-compliant at the time of the fire. Some owners and builders may well be criminally or morally culpable for cutting corners on safety.
Time and an appropriately robust investigation are needed, but there is something much bigger and even more urgent than that.
We need a clear plan as to how we reach the point where we feel safe from fire in our homes.
Continuing to salami slice the problem into arguments about specific materials and methods used in construction is a neat way of minimising or delaying the costs of putting things right.
But until we look at the issue as being about how we build, maintain and make our homes in tall buildings safe in general, we won’t have grasped the nettle.
“A political party that gave a commitment to addressing this issue seriously would make a move that is not only courageous and compassionate but one that is rooted in basic justice”
This is where the politics gets messy. A general problem requires a general solution. A general solution will have to be funded substantially from general taxation.
It will be costly but there is no easy way round this.
A political party that gave a commitment to addressing this issue seriously would make a move that is not only courageous and compassionate but one that is rooted in basic justice – proper treatment for people who, through no fault of their own, are living with the fear of fire just round the corner.
If you don’t live in a high-rise building, you might think there are other priorities for a tight budget in a frenzied election campaign. At least until the next building burns.
Graham Tomlin, bishop of Kensington, and David Walker, bishop of Manchester
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The next government must: