No-one can have failed to have been horrified by the death and destruction of the London tower block blaze. Now, questions are being asked as to why concerns already registered with the authorities, were not met. The tragedy naturally leads to questions elsewhere about similar buildings.
There are major problems with regulation, especially health and safety, and their enforcement. Too often, a culture develops which seeks to avoid responsibility rather than meeting the needs of people. I was an invited witness to a recent meeting concerning the Paramount flats complex in Liverpool. This involved the Fire and Rescue Authority, Liverpool Council Building Control, and building experts. The latter say that the building is unsafe, despite it already housing over 150 students. I was struck by the urgency of the experts in contrast to the nonchalance of the two regulatory bodies.
These concerns about the quality of buildings overlap with the question of due diligence of companies with no track record which are prominent in Liverpool. The Paramount building to which I have referred was in the hands of developers alleged to be involved in money laundering and sales scams. Yet these outfits still seem to prosper in Liverpool.
I noted another development in the Baltic Triangle, involving yet more flats. One partner is the Elliot Group – a firm much favoured by the Council, but which in a few years, has risen from nowhere to a multi-million pound organisation. The other partner is Ibrahim Seytanpir, a London-based Turk, who has gone from chef to contracts manager to property developer at an equally rapid pace. Who does due diligence on these firms and their principals?
It is not a new phenomenon. Signature Living has appeared to prosper via Liverpool Council in the last few years. Its principal, Laurence Kenwright, is a good friend of the Liverpool mayor. In Cardiff, he is a friend of the Tories, having attacked a local Cardiff MP and Jeremy Corbyn during the recent campaign whilst hobnobbing with what he presumably saw as Tory winners!
It stands to reason that on any new build, there should be responsible professional practice by reputable people with a proven track record. This means stringent regulation in building to ensure the health and safety of all. Otherwise, there will be more Grenfell Towers. In addition , developers should be more than mere property speculators.
For thirty years, there has been acquiescence by government after government to the pressure of business demanding less regulation. That became an end in itself, reflected in the decimation of the Health and Safety Executive, and the demoralisation of local regulators. For the health and wellbeing of our people, this must change – and dramatically.
In Liverpool, we could begin by re-instating due diligence on mickey mouse firms. Hopefully, this would minimise the proliferation of scam artists who damage the city’s reputation in the eyes of investors as well as raising building standards.