Grenfell Tower – Two years on, how should Wales respond?

By Paul Bevan

Today marks two years since the shocking and tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, in which 72 people died and more than 70 others were injured. The impact of the tragedy became even more alarming as, very quickly, we learnt that the fire’s colossal impact was largely avoidable, had different cladding and fire measures been in place.

The sense of despair and anger reminded us so vividly of the Aberfan disaster in 1966 in which 116 children and 28 adults died – a tragedy which, like Grenfell Tower, could have been avoided.

In Wales, following the events of two years ago, social housing providers instigated work to assess the fire resistance of their properties. On a wider scale, Welsh Government established a Building Safety Expert Group which reported on improving the safety of residential buildings across Wales in the report, ‘A Road Map to Safer Buildings in Wales’.

We welcomed the immediate response to the report by Julie James AM, Housing and Local Government Minister, when, in April this year, she announced, ‘I will reflect on the group’s recommendations but one recommendation I will accept here and now is that we promote the retro-fitting of sprinklers. Hard evidence supports sprinklers’ effectiveness in preventing fatalities so I am committed to looking at how we can further promote retro-fitting in high-rise buildings across sectors.’

Although this is a welcomed step towards improving safety, the Grenfell Tower fire has come to symbolise something much more deep-rooted than questions about fire safety and building regulations. For every high-rise tenant wondering whether a similar tragedy could happen to them, there are many more who simply cannot find a home in their community. There are those who are battling to keep a roof over their heads or are sleeping rough on our streets.

The Grenfell Tower fire has come to represent how we have failed people in most need in our society – those in need of the most basic of human requirements: the need for access to shelter, a place where we feel safe and which we can call home.

This terrible tragedy, if nothing else, should commit us to doing everything we can to ensure it never happens again. A big part of that process should be to embed into Welsh legislation the right to adequate housing.

We would urge the Minister and Welsh Government to be courageous and make a lasting difference for current and future generations. A right to adequate housing can bring safety and security to everyone in Wales – now is the time to ensure that we can all have affordable, good quality and safe housing.