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Last edited 28 Feb 2021
Private v social housing following the Grenfell Tower fire
What if the social demographic attached to your home meant the health and safety of you and your family was compromised? This article examines the difference between the construction of social and private housing, and whether the choice of building materials and construction methods can impact how safe we are in our homes.
On 14th June 2017, a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, a social housing high-rise block of flats in North Kensington, London. 72 people tragically lost their life with 70 more suffering injuries.
It is believed the fire spread so quickly due to the cladding on the building; the composite foam sandwiched within the cladding is thought to have helped the fire travel up the block. The cladding that was eventually installed on the block wasn’t the original cladding that was proposed. The initially proposed zinc cladding — which has been found to have greater fire retardant properties — was swapped for an aluminium alternative to reduce the cost of the renovation work.
As outlined in one planning document, the work was undertaken to ‘provide significant improvements to the physical appearance of the Tower, as well as the environmental performance and the amenity of its residents.’ It was intended to ‘improve its appearance especially when viewed from the surrounding area.’
A clear wealth divide is present within the borough of Kensington. Property prices in Kensington and Chelsea are the highest in the country, with the average home selling for £1.2 million. While social housing like Grenfell Tower is present, so too are their luxury apartment counterparts.
Situated close to Kensington Palace, Park Modern is a project by London developer Fenton Whelan which is underway in the borough of Kensington. It will create a 190,000 sq. ft. apartment block containing 57 homes. Apartments will be priced from £2 million up to £30 million.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy seems to have prompted the government, local councils and housing associations into action. BDO’s Social Housing Barometer 2018 shows the lasting impact of Grenfell. Almost half of housing associations now place health and safety as a top-five risk, jumping from the 29% recorded in the six months previous.
Whereas previously only 12 per cent of those surveyed placed health and safety as a strategic priority, it is now fifth on the agenda. 43% of housing associations have increased their overall investment in health and safety in the wake of Grenfell, while more than two thirds are increasing their investment in fire risk.
It’s pleasing to see housing associations making the health and safety of social housing residents a priority. If this momentum continues, could we see property type having little impact on the overall health and safety of its residents?
With 525,000 homes in Britain found failing to meet the Decent Homes Standard and over a million people estimated to be living below the minimum benchmark for human habitation in social housing, it seems we still have a long way to go in narrowing this gap.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- ACM cladding.
- Building a safer future: an implementation plan.
- Celotex RS5000 PIR insulation.
- Consultation on banning the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings.
- Evacuating vulnerable and dependent people from buildings in an emergency FB 52.
- Glasgow School of Art fire.
- Grenfell fire door investigation.
- Grenfell Tower.
- Grenfell Tower articles.
- Grenfell Tower independent expert advisory panel.
- Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
- Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report.
- Independent review of the building regulations and fire safety.
- Lakanal House fire.
- Ronan Point.
- Structural failures prompt recognition of complex management systems.
- Summerland disaster.
- Torre Windsor office building fire.
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