Burnt-out Barking residents picket builders' sales day
Pete Mason, chair, Barking Reach Residents Association
Our protest outside the builder Bellway's sales event, at the Hilton Tower Bridge hotel next to City Hall in central London, was a huge success.
After the London Fire Brigade condemned the government for doing nothing to get flammable cladding removed from over 100 high-rise buildings which still have it, the BBC recognised the importance of the protest and filmed it (see video below), interviewing residents of Samuel Garside House. This block on the Barking Riverside estate in east London suffered a terrible fire which spread along the decorative wood cladding on the balconies.
We leafleted potential home buyers going in, explaining that Bellway and another firm, Mace, built the houses and flats on the estate, but have yet to respond to demands to remove wooden cladding from the houses. The latest promise, which arrived the day before the protest, is that we will hear something in November.
Bellway made £2.3 billion in revenue and £660 million in profit in the 12 months to July. Yet bosses ignored a recent fire risk assessment which suggested the simple measure of fitting fire boards to the balconies, for the cost of a few pounds each, until removal by Bellway next spring.
Residents have won this promised removal, and consultation on balcony replacement - as well as continual extensions of their insurance-funded alternative accommodation. Almost every week since the fire, various agencies acting for the landlord and insurers have told residents they must go back!
But the changes are nowhere near complete. As recently as 18 October the fire alarm showed a fault. This has led to huge anger.
Residents have pushed the council to investigate the building, and the insurance company to withdraw from forcing them back until the council's report. This was released the day before our protest.
The report states the balconies "remain a significant risk to the spread of fire." Why should they be forced back in the face of this? There is a 24/7 waking watch, but there is no confidence this will impede a fire in the way that fire boards could.
Will the builders and landlords implement suggested changes before trying again to force residents back? Their current record suggests not.
That's why one of our banners calls for resident control over our estate. This means democratic election of residents to majority control over the 'community interest company' that, in theory, runs it.
But in the end, you can't control what you don't own. The big landlords, builders and insurers should be nationalised under democratic workers' control and management, to build homes for the benefit of all, not for profit.
In The Socialist 23 October 2019:
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