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Barking: protest brings pledge to remove dangerous decking
Pete Mason, chair, Barking Reach Residents Association, and East London Socialist Party
Following our protest last month (see 'Burnt-out Barking residents picket builders' sales day'), covered by BBC London news, estate residents have received a letter addressing the most prominent fire safety issue.
The Barking Reach Residents Association organised a peaceful protest outside building firm Bellway's big sales jamboree in the Hilton London Tower Bridge hotel on 19 October. We must have caused considerable discomfort and maybe even lost sales.
Residents have been forced back into their flats after fleeing the fire that spread across their block in June. Yet the balconies like those that caught fire and were destroyed in Samuel Garside House still remain in place and are still a danger to life.
An 8 November letter from property managers Residential Management Group (RMG) said the balcony decking of some 158 flats in two twin blocks will now be replaced, without delay, at no cost to residents.
This pledge contrasts with RMG's response to the council report the day before our protest. Bosses said they had fulfilled all their legal 'Category 1' responsibilities and that residents were safe to return!
The council emphasised the danger of the wooden balconies. But it told us it could do nothing, because the landlord had implemented a 24/7 waking watch.
In turn, we said a watch could do nothing but watch if a fire took hold, because it spread across the flats in minutes. Preventative measures were needed.
In a letter to council leader Darren Rodwell, we said the law is an ass. These companies are likely guilty of criminal negligence; a fire risk assessment in January had pointed to the danger.
Under decades of compliant capitalist governments, building companies have driven through deregulation and turned a blind eye to fire safety. Austerity has meant huge cuts to fire service and council resources. So existing laws are insufficient to ensure fire safety in countless buildings.
Let's hope the election of a Corbyn government will act to end this laissez-faire playing with lives. A Corbyn government should nationalise the big building firms like Bellway to provide the public housing promised.
Replacement should have happened before residents returned. But this is nevertheless a victory - assuming that Bellway carries out its promise, and with minimum disruption to the traumatised residents.
But there are 200 or more wood-fronted buildings in the surrounding area that are still a fire risk. We have yet to hear anything about this, despite repeated promises. So our protests are set to continue.
In The Socialist 13 November 2019:
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