Leaked Grenfell Towers papers: Tory politicians rejected fireproof cladding proposal for a 5.7% savings

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/05/10/discardable-proles.html


This has been clarifying in so many ways.Particularly in the call for an official inquiry run by a “qualified candidate” - aka a reliably sympathetic judge. The approach has allowed these kinds of details to be buried for a period to allow the public mood to cool down. That way, whoever is finally fingered wont be required to spend 20 years at her Majesty’s leisure.


I wonder whether this story is in part an attempt to “firestop” the blame a the low level of the local council. Because it should not have been POSSIBLE for them to put such a manifestly unsafe cladding on a tall building. Not to mention the fact that the building had only one stairwell. It’s probably been 100 years since that has been permitted on high-rise buildings in the US. It seems to me that the approval, permitting, and fire safety laws are horribly broken.

edited to add. It looks like I was wrong, multiple stairways has only been a rule since the 1956 edition of the NFPA 101: Life Safety Code.



It had £235m in usable reserves and had underspent its budget for services by £23m.

A triumph of conservative values! Except the part about the fire. Regrettable, that.


Still, look on the bright side. Think of the savings on deportations. These Tories are much smarter than they look.


Add to this the fact that the purpose of the cladding was – at least in part – to make the Grenfell Tower look prettier when seen from the nicer parts of the borough.

“… [the] cladding … was chosen in part so that the tower would look better when seen from the conservation areas and luxury flats that surround north Kensington, according to planning documents.” [The Independent]

So to make the tower look nice for the people they probably think of as their real constituents, they added a cosmetic feature, then low-balled the costs and turned the whole thing into a firetrap. Nice.

Somehow I doubt that the people living in the adjacent ‘conservation areas and luxury flats’ are much enjoying the sight of a blackened ruin looming up on the skyline. But happily for them, the block is now going to be demolished, so it won’t spoil their view for much longer.


Really? Color me shocked, as I thought generally the UK had much broader and stricter safety laws. Maybe there was a loop hole.

Related to the topic:

This song off of the new Grendel album has the song (and title track) Age of the Disposable Body which is a tribute to the Grenfall Towers.

Its a slower song, but good. The rest of the album is great, especially Fall Like Rome and Dead Inside.

My best pic from the show:


the Conservative councillors from Kensington and Chelsea (whose financial footing was “robust”) rejected that proposal in order to save £200,000 on a total bill of £3.5 million.

Now, now, regulations are artifacts of society, and British people were told decades ago by a prominent Tory that there’s no such thing as society.


I was shocked as well. I initially assumed that reports to that effect were due to confusion on the part of reporters, but no, when you look at the plans, there was only one stairwell.

edited to add. I initially assumed that the press were referring to “scissor stairs” where two different stairwells wrap around each other. On even numbered floors the door to stairway “A” would be on the left and the door to stairway “B” would be on the right. On odd numbered floors, that would be reversed, so that in effect the two stairways would be coiled around each other. It is a somewhat more efficient use of space, but as it turns out, smoke would often get from one stair into the other despite the fact that they were theoretically isolated from each other. Which is why in the US, they are no longer permitted in new construction. Nope, in the UK you are actually allowed to build a high-rise with only one stairwell.


If we’re doing Grenfell related music, I find this one particularly powerful:

Not so much loop holes as deliberately left gaps.


This article sets out some of the history and nicely lists the main failures with Grenfell’s design.

You’ll notice all of them apart from the cladding are deliberately permitted by regulation.

The cladding should have been more fire-resistant but wasn’t.

Yes, there’s definitely a feeling of trying to pin this at as low a level as possible.

The contractor ended up supplying cladding that does not meet even the low standard required by regulations.

That would seem to put the contractor and whoever signed off on the cladding on the hook:

Everyone else can say, we required them to comply. They didn’t.

The fact that the fire would still have been a disaster but might just not have been as bad without the extremely flammable cladding may get swept under the carpet.

It has before.


I shared this disbelief. I recall checking more than one news source to confirm this when I heard initial reports. Then I started checking building laws in other jurisdictions. It was built in 1972. The fact that there was only one stairwell is jawdropping.


I can’t find the source now but in the last week I read that the covering over the scaffolding was to be white but survivors wanted it green, but contractors started putting it up before anyone told them, and now £400,000 later with work on it not completed (less than half done?) it is on hold while discussions take place about whether to take it off and start again with green. Everything about it is just one big fuck-up.

The only ‘source’ I can find is the Daily Mail,

so, usual containership-load of salt required.

Everywhere else it’s mentioned just seem to be parroting the Daily Mail story.

It does have all the classic Daily Mail story elements. Property, foreigners, outrage over the government, outrage over political correctness, outrage over the cost to taxpayers, etc. etc.

As always - don’t anyone read the comments if you want to keep any hope for humanity.


Current UK fire regulations are complicated to read, but it looks like as long as the stairs are protected by fire doors (and go directly to an exit), and there is sprinklers, you only need one staircase in tall buildings (>7.5m).
I guess the thinking is that a fire door will last at least twenty minutes, so if there’s a fire in the staircase, you’ve got twenty minutes for the fire brigade to arrive, and/or the sprinklers to stop it, and if the fire is outside the staircase, it will be safe for use for that long.
(Source B1 Section 2 2.7)
None of this applies to existing buildings (unless new work is being done on them), because nobody wants to have to try and make medieval (or older) buildings fire safe.


From recollection, that’s about right.

I think the regs are supposed to ensure that the staircase itself is as fire-proof as reasonably possible so it won’t be on fire. Sprinklers will at least slow the spread of fire, if not put it out.

Then as long as you manage to do at least one of the following:

keep the fire contained in the flat where it started; or
keep everyone else contained in their flat and the fire out; or
keep everyone’s access to the stairs and then the outside open

everyone should be able to survive.

Assuming they don’t panic and crush each other trying to get down the stairs of course.

People being people of course, you tend to have people propping open fire doors, storing flammables in corridors and the stairwell, etc. which is why you need building management to be firm about that kind of stuff.

Ultimately, I don’t think there is a way to get buildings that tall to be ‘safe’. We can keep them ‘mostly safe’ for most people but they are just too tall.

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For the avoidance of doubt I did NOT read it in the Daily Mail. I am pretty sure I read it in The Guardian but a quick search online could not find it on their website.

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It makes me think of an interview that I saw with Trey Stone and Matt Parker, the creators of “South Park”.

INTERVIEWER: So, does Kenny have to die in every episode?

STONE: Yes, yes, he does.


PARKER: Because he’s poor.

It’s ok, I’m not judging…

That’s the thing I find really interesting about this. It is certainly the case that the people living in Grenfell were poor and that the decisions on budget, etc. were made on the basis of money but

there are lots of other tower blocks in Britain of similar height which use the same cladding.

A lot of those are also council owned and occupied mostly by ‘poor people’ but not all.

For reference, two-bed flat in that block:

sold for £240,000 in December 2013.

So not extortionate for (almost) London but not exactly somewhere that ‘poor’ people can afford.

They got the same cladding thanks to our general unwillingness to curb house prices in any way and developers’ desire to keep profit margins up.

In this case, property happens to be owned by the Tchenguiz family trust which has oodles of cash and I suspect threatened to sue the crap out of the developer who has now said they will fund the cost:

So, yes - money helps fix the problem but the fire could just as easily have happened in one of these blocks rather than Grenfell.

In a way it’s quite heartening. We’re prepared to let rich and poor live in unsafe properties (almost) as equally.

The rich-er of course tend to live in newer blocks which come with sprinklers, proper fire doors and so on.

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