A passionate piece about Grenfell Tower
In between the minutiae of daily life, everybody I know has been talking and thinking about the Grenfell Tower disaster. Experts and non-experts have given their opinions. Some things are startlingly obvious, others almost entirely unknown. What can one say that is coherent and new?
One person who has had a good attempt is Hugh Pearman. He is editor of the RIBA Journal but this is what he posted, and has been widely shared, on his Facebook page: I think it deserves to be seen even more widely.
'There is more than one kind of terrorism. One that is seldom mentioned is the kind that led to the tragedy of Grenfell House. It has been described as being like London’s 9/11 and it’s obvious why. You only have to imagine what it must have been like in there, and think of yourself, your family, faced with that horror, helpless. Yet of course no planes were aimed at Grenfell House. Something else was. No intentional act of evil. But an accumulation of actions – not specific to that building - that, eventually, culminated in those images of a tower block engulfed in flames as many people died horribly. This is money terrorism.
None of those involved in money terrorism get up in the morning intending to kill people. I’m now moving away from Grenfell House to the general malaise. These people are, let’s say, those who set bracingly tight budgets. Value engineers, looking to achieve all-round savings on a project to justify their fees. Companies happy to sell products banned for this purpose in other countries, and those happy to specify them through ignorance or optimism or while crossing their fingers or just because the regulations appear to allow it. Those who negotiate waivers with fire officials, horsetrading this against that. Contractors who underbid for contracts. Clients who set unrealistic deadlines with penalties attached. Builders under pressure, in a rush. The overall culture of corner-cutting, profit-maximising. The attitude that, following rail privatisation, led to a spate of disasters.
Then there are those who sneer at Health and Safety, who talk of the “nanny state”, who boast of wanting to light a “bonfire of red tape and regulations”, a singularly unfortunate metaphor now. Those who resist updating regulations – despite other, smaller disasters flashing warning lights - lest this add to costs.
And something else, something still worse. This is the never-stated understanding that some people are worth less than others. That there are people who can safely be ignored, and fobbed off with the cheapest possible everything. Who are tacitly regarded as being a bit of a nuisance by their very existence.
Nobody with a hand in all this ever says it doesn’t matter if they die. They don’t think this themselves. They never do anything illegal, on the face of it. But their individual actions accumulate. Of course, it's generally OK. No consequences, no blame. And then this happens. This is money terrorism.'
Do I agree with everything he says? No, I don't. But as a first effort to unpick a horrifying, complex and dirty story, it is a great piece of writing.