For more than six years politicians have felt unable to commission the demolition of the structure that remains of Grenfell Tower after the June 2017 fire that caused 72 deaths.
Fire damage left the 24-storey tower structural unsafe. Millions of pounds have been, and continue to be, spent on keeping it safely propped up.
The sensitivities cannot be overstated. Rationally, it need to come down, say engineers. But to many people, including former residents, it serves as a valuable reminder of what happened; a monument to lives cut short by corporate greed, laziness and subterfuge.
In May 2021 structural engineering consultants from Atkins told the Ministry of Housing: “There is unanimous agreement and unambiguous advice from all the technical experts and engineers involved in the Grenfell project that the Tower should not be propped for the medium to long-term but should be deconstructed at the earliest possible opportunity, with deconstruction commencing no later than May 2022. This advice is based on protecting the safety of those working in and living around the tower.”
The Ministry got a second opinion from Jacobs. Jacobs agreed with Atkins.
But Grenfell Tower, and the lives that were lost on 14th June 2017, are monument to authoritarian disdain for the masses. The level of scandal – the cost-cutting, the lying, the obfuscation, the ignorance, the buck-passing involved in the refurbishment and recladding of the tower in 2015/16 have since been well-documented.
For a politician to order what remains of the tower to be demolished would be akin to ordering the whole scandal to be swept under the carpet. No one wants to be that politician.
Maybe after the final report of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s official inquiry is finally published next year, or maybe after some of the culprits have faced justice, will we finally be ready to make a rational decision about Grenfell Tower. If not demolition, then conversion into a permanent monument that is structurally sound, if that is what people want. But the current propped shell is not sustainable. And sustainability is all these days.
Since July 2021 Grenfell Tower has been looked after for the Ministry of Housing by Deconstruct UK, which had previously been looking after the tower as a subcontractor to Wates Property Services. Cutting out the middleman was a rational move. It has since installed more props and maintained 24/7 monitoring. And every year the shroud that is wrapped around the tower is renewed.
Deconstruct UK’s contract expires in July 2024 and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC), as the ministry is now called, has begun inviting bids from companies to carry out security and day-to-day maintenance works on the Grenfell Tower site. It is a three-year contract valued at £21.3m. [See contractsfinder for details.]
But as this is not any old building maintenance contract, the whole local community in that part of North Kensington is being invited to events and meetings, to attend bidders’ presentations, ask questions and make comments during the five-month selection process.
“The appointment of the contractor will follow the usual robust government processes and checks, including thorough due diligence, to ensure no previous relationship to the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower,” DLUHC promises.
“We know how important and sensitive a decision on Grenfell Tower is, and a decision about the future of the tower has not yet been taken. We are continuing to talk to bereaved families, survivors and residents to understand their views. The health and safety of the community is our priority. Carrying out our planned programme of maintenance will continue to maintain the tower until a decision is made on its future.”