The disaster at Grenfell Tower serves a sobering shot of realism that has rightly shifted political discourse, and should change political thought. Cries of “health and safety gone mad!” have been proven to be a fallacy of incalculable consequence. In fact, the reality is that the supposedly stringent safety rules adopted by many other local authorities were flouted by the Royal Borough, which has the greatest financial capability to provide for its residents. Bad decisions, prudence and complacency have resulted in a colossal tragedy that requires decision makers to overhaul their processes. Now is not the time for ideological platitudes.
Jacob Rees-Mogg’s contribution to this debate is a fantasy created in the fiefdom of his mind, offering no insight or solution:
“A programme of demolition of tower blocks ought to start. For decades opinion surveys have shown that people want to live in houses but the bureaucracy has given them towers. They were to be great engines of social engineering but instead are depressing hulks, vandalising the skylines and unpleasant to live in. The bien-pensants who favoured building these monstrosities never actually live in them. Mansion flats or simple terrace houses would be preferable and the density is in some cases higher.”
Ignoring for one moment the fantasy envisaged in which “those fortunate to live in the countryside” welcome with open arms downtrodden urbanites and homes in their back gardens, Jacob Rees-Mogg, like Kensington and Chelsea leader Elizabeth Campbell, have made errant assumptions on behalf of those of us who live in urban areas.
That assumption is that living in a high-rise block is the modern day equivalent of growing up in the Victorian workhouse. Elizabeth Campbell cried foul when she was criticised for having never set foot in a tower block. “I totally reject… the whole notion that, because we have people in the borough who are wealthy and people who are not wealthy, the wealthy don’t care.” Nobody has suggested that she doesn’t care. The issue is that she doesn’t understand. Granted, many of us don’t own £1 million second homes on the Isle of Wight – originally bought through a family trust and a company registered to an offshore tax haven – like Ms Campbell. Many of us don’t happen to be the son of a Lord and member of an established family of coal mine owners like Mr Rees-Mogg. We balance the practicalities of modern life with the desire for fulfilment. Many of us want to live in a city and enjoy all of the benefits that can bring. We would like to raise our families in a place like London and accept that London cannot and should not just have aspirations for suburbia.
London should celebrate its world-renowned skyline and strive hard to accommodate its residents in beautiful and safe communities. High-rise living is a practical solution to the practicalities of life. It is not the concept of towers we need to rethink, it is the politically motivated decisions we make about their creation which must be addressed.
This article was written by Mabel Ogundayo, Senior Account Executive at MPC.