The recent fire at Grenfell Tower in west London was a tragedy that has devastated the lives of local residents and the wider community. It was a stark reminder that the campaign to ensure everyone has a safe place to call home is still a long way from being done.
There is now a palpable and justified mood of anger from people across the UK as to how and why this tragedy happened. There are many significant questions about the safety measures that were, or may not have been, in place in the tower block. These now need to be investigated professionally and answered swiftly.
The UK Government has ordered a full public inquiry into this issue, and here in Scotland the First Minister moved quickly to order a ministerial group be established to review safety regulations in Scotland’s tower block housing. These are both welcome steps.
At the time of writing, the Scottish Government has confirmed that no local authority or housing association high rise flats in Scotland have the same cladding used in Grenfell Tower and 24 out of 32 local authorities have reported that no privately-owned high rises have used the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding. The remaining councils are said to be investigating their outstanding properties as a matter of urgency. Just yesterday, however, it was confirmed that the same type of cladding material was found to be in use in some parts of Napier University’s Bainfield Halls of residence in Edinburgh. Efforts are now underway to replace this cladding.
It is important to note that if you are a tenant in a high rise property in Scotland, or in fact of any property type, and have any concerns at all about the safety standards in your building, the best way to get the most accurate advice and information about the safety measures in place in your property is to contact your housing provider directly. For more general information about your housing rights, you can find more information on a range of issues on the Get Advice pages of our Shelter Scotland website.
The tragic events at Grenfell have served as an important reminder that for all the recent and welcome political focus on the need for new home building, the vast majority of people in Scotland, and across the UK, live in our existing housing stock. Built over many decades and to varying standards, these homes, whether private or public, can vary hugely in quality and maintenance standards.
All too often the discussion around bulk home building and housing management, such as in tower blocks, is couched in the cold language of economies of scale, efficiencies and infrastructure. In these discussions, we must never lose sight that at the end of the day we are talking about homes. Homes where people and families should be able to feel safe and secure. Always.
At Shelter Scotland we believe that everyone has the right to a safe, secure and affordable home. If the inquiry in England and the review in Scotland identify areas where lives could have been, or could yet be, saved then we must make sure these are implemented immediately to avoid any repeat of this type of tragedy.