OPINION: Community Links life-president Kevin Jenkins OBE does not think tower blocks are suitable for families

PUBLISHED: 08:00 28 June 2017

Kevin Jenkins

It’s nearly 50 years on from the first tragedy involving a tower block, when four people lost their lives in Ronan Point, a 22 storey tower block here in Newham, following an early morning gas explosion.

The Grenfell tragedy and the horrific loss of life, suggests that nearly 50 years on, individuals in tower blocks are no safer than they were nearly 50 years ago - a devastating indictment for success in governments.

I am no expert, but surely sprinkler systems, no gas, having more than one escape route, equipping our brilliant fire fighters with platforms that can reach higher and legislating that only non-combustible materials are used in construction are the basis for providing a minimum risk environment and should have been in place long ago.

We all have a responsibility now, to ensure that today’s decision makers, make and implement the decisions required, to minimise the risk of another tragedy ever happening again - whatever the cost, whatever the consequence - there is nothing more important than preserving life.

I would like to suggest to our decision makers, to go one step further and legislate that no longer will families with children under 14, be required to live in a tower block if they do not wish to do so.

I have worked with families for over 40 years now, including 28 years as a Newham councillor and I can honestly count on the fingers of one hand, the number of families who have told me that they are happy bringing up their family in a tower block and they are happy to stay there. Few blocks are designed for family living. The absence of a garden and other space cannot be underestimated and the enhanced safety risks for families - it’s not easy trying to get out of a block if you have two, three or four young children, however good the safety systems are.

Not too long ago, many local councils and social housing providers had policies not to put families into blocks, however, the vast pressure on the need for social housing over rode the need for appropriate social housing.

No doubt, the suggestion will fall on deaf ears and those in power will be thinking short term rather than long term and come up with reasons why it cannot be done. More from Kevin

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