There is currently a plan to build a series of 12 storey flats on the site of Pentavia Retail Park. Having had a tragic reminder of the importance of fire safety in regards to high rise dwellings, maybe we should have another look at this proposal. We have to ask whether or not the concept of high density accomodation in a place which is often gridlocked by traffic is really such a good idea. I daresay builders will say "they will be built to the highest standards", but they always do, don't they. I am sure that the Grenfell Tower refurbishment was done to the "highest standard" and I am sure that the companies that did the work "conformed with building regulations". The trouble with all of this is the unforseen. Sometimes it is only when such a tragedy occurs that anyone actually realises that there is more to safety than just "following the rules". How any of us are guilty of taking batteries out of fire alarms as they cheep at night and keep us awake? How many of us actually check the fire resistance of the sofa's we install in our homes or the fire safety of the clothes we wear? A few years ago, a friend asked us around for a fireworks party on November the 5th. Just before it started, he remembered he had 60 gallons of petrol in cans behind his shed. People do strange things. It may not be you, it may be your neighbour. The bloke in the flat below you might be constructing a bomb, may be depressed and delosional, may have left the gas on, who knows. What we do know is that if you are in the flat above this, then you are at danger.
The fire safety advice is to "stay where you are" until the Fire Brigade arrive. But what if all of the local roads are gridlocked? The two proposed accesses to the flats are the A1 and Bunns Lane. Both are gridlocked every day during rush hour. They say every second counts in a fire. When you have hundreds of people in a flat, the risks are huge. These incidents are always "unforeseeable" until they happen according to officials. There are usually a large swathe of people who say "we've been saying for years it's a death trap". The worst thing in the world is to see a disaster and be able to say "I told you so".
Last night, I was discussing the Grenfell fire with my bandmates during a gap in rehearsals. One said "It all comes down to Margaret Thatcher" and it is true. Thatcher ushered in the age of deregulation and ended the concept of joined up decision making. Her ethos was that the "market knows best". Her view was that rampant capitalism would raise all our living standards as competition would drive down the cost of good and we'd all have more stuff. One of the mantra's of the post Thatcher settlement is that "red tape and health and safety regulations add to business costs". Of course they do. But they also guarantee that we sleep safe and sound in our beds. To enusre maximum profits for property developers, wider issues cannot legally be considered as a reason for refusing a planning application. The council cannot turn down skyscrapers on the grounds that at certain times of day, traffic gridlock elsewhere means that the fire engines won't arrive in time. Dozens of engines from all over London arrived at the Grenfell Tower. How on earth could this happen at Pentavia in rush hour.
Someone somewhere will make a lot of money, should the high rise Pentavia development occur. Lets hope it isn't the residents who pay the ultimate price.