The Grenfell Tower Blaze – BALKAN NEWS MAGAZINE


A Burning Block in Northern France

The French condemned the same building cladding used on the Grenfell Tower, on June 2013, when they had a partial fire in a similar tower block. This type of cladding has been banned in most countries, including the USA and Australia.

France’s top building fire safety adviser recently told Sky News, that France is planning a new law on cladding for tower blocks following the Grenfell disaster. Jean-Charles Du Bellay, who is the head of fire safety at the French Federation of Building, met with the country’s Interior Minister shortly to discuss what needs to be done to protect people in residential blocks and social housing. He said it is inevitable that French regulations will be updated to make things safer.

A critic of what he calls poor building regulation in the UK, Mr Du Bellay said- “The difference concerning the spread of fire in London was undoubtedly caused by the type of cladding on the exterior. In France, in the high-rise towers like Grenfell, we can only use non-flammable materials, which don’t burn, and don’t catch fire.”

He insisted that a fire like that at Grenfell could never happen in France because flammable cladding is banned in buildings over 50 meters high. Grenfell is 67 meters in height.

Each EU country has its own building regulations, building inspectorate, and very skilled fire departments. Manned by experts on any type of blaze, as onlookers, we only tend to see the red fire engines and the brave men and women who operate the hoses. But that is not the whole picture, and in the technical world we live in, there is plenty going on in the background, and especially the testing laboratories of the various EU countries. Had the London fire occurred in Bulgaria or Serbia, all the experts would have unanimously said, “well what do you expect?” But, it didn’t.

In this case, what is surprising, is why EU membership didn’t accomplish anything for the UK authorities, and how it was that lessons from other countries were either ignored, never discussed, or remained unnoticed. A further example of EU mismanagement, or one more example of UKs inability to coalesce in a unified Europe?

Grenfell Towers North Kensington

I think we are all fed up with the present British Government, for no other reason than it seems to find it hard to tell the truth, or stick to its principles, whilst trying to justify – or ignore – multiple ‘U’ turns. Reminding me of ex prime minister Gordon Browns famous remark, that the British were in need of  a new ‘Moral Compass,’ one imagines that the current Tory party probably thinks that he was referring to a horse running in the 4,30 race at Epsom.

Brussels is not frightened of the British, because the rest of Europe is enormously rich and powerful, and the UK is asking to leave the EU, not being kicked out. Although it might be true to say that many in the European Union might be quite pleased about this, and despite the drop in Brussels annual income, I am sure we all realize now, that the penalty for the UKs leaving will be more than adequate to compensate Brussels for their loss.

But did UK PLC ever really see the EU an any other terms than, ‘what is in it for us?’ Did the UK actually take the EU seriously enough – enough shall we say – to have the occasional chat with other countries fire services, and the building regulation experts of the EU? And, why not?


Oh yes, they do!

One might say that Great Britain has a different method of building  – cavity walls, damp proof courses, and wall tie’s – with higher quality and expensive components, especially copper tubing, electricity and the famous three pin plug. But, that is just a tiny difference, because, there are far more similarities to be found overall.  In civil engineering projects –  roads, rails and the demographic requirements of an ever expanding, and demanding EU general public- there are only similarities, that is until you get to the 3rd World.

Granted that historically the British may have been at the forefront of 18th, 19th and early 20th Century construction, they no longer had star status after WW2, and the reconstruction of Europe. Like so many things in Britain, much of the views we hold about ourselves are steeped in myth, and no longer represent our true position in the world –  especially in Europe – but, some nostalgic bygone age.

You might think from this article that I am knocking the UK, but I am not. So many things which the UK has to offer the world is top quality, including our skills in construction, but that should not be cause for us to ignore the rest of Europe, and turn our noses up at their combined expertise. Meanwhile, a public inquiry will shortly be carried out by an eminent judge, in order to ascertain the truth behind this tragic blaze, at Grenfell Tower, the unbelievable number of victims of the inferno, and unnecessary deaths.

I was doing flat conversions in North Kensington in the 70s, and often wandered up to the Westway, or drove along it, to buy building materials in Paddington, and I could easily see the distinct differences between gentrified Kensington, and its less fortunate neighbors.

In those days, it was local government policy to put all its problem families into one block, to better manage the tenants, to give the police a chance of controlling the drug trade, and to be in control of the general mayhem which often erupted. This was a similar block, which despite being recently built, was seen locally as a nuisance, and a blot on the landscape.

Today, similar multistory blocks are not only dangerous, both socially and as a fire hazard. There are currently 181 such blocks  within the UK, all of which are cause for concern. These and similar systems-built monstrosities should be knocked down, and replaced by modern low rise apartments.

Fit for decent, hardworking people to live in, from any culture or background, modern housing units are needed for those who work, pay their taxes, and bring up their children to be good British future citizens. They should not be regarded as problem families, who virtually don’t matter, and treated with respect. Because that; in the end, is the real problem, isn’t it?

The Editor