Opinion: Grenfell Tower disaster has echoes of Cave Creek tragedy

Back in the early days of Britain’s punk rock explosion of the 1970s, a long-respected music journalist penned a scathing article rubbishing a London-based band from that tough and ready genre.

Charles Shaar Murray concluded his poisonous piece by suggesting the ensemble in question were the example of a garage band which was better left in the garage with the motor running and the doors shut tight.

It was a cruel, yet clever joke. It was one which ended up being at the scribe’s own expense, however.

Source: 1 NEWS

Punk swept all before it. The Clash — the band he had so brutally savaged — led the charge and went on to much bigger things.

Not before its members got revenge of sorts, however, by mocking Murray in “Garageland”, a song on their first album.

Some four decades on, another song in that collection has suddenly turned out to very prescient in a spooky kind of way.

Silence is really the only suitable soundtrack for the truly horrific images and sounds of death, destruction and despair which neither eye or ear could ignore as the flames consumed what is now the severely charred skeleton of Grenfell Tower in west London.

If a soundtrack was required, then “London’s Burning” has to be in the mix.

It is not in the category of what middle-of-the-road radio stations define as easy listening.

Amidst screeching guitars, the band’s front-man, the late Joe Strummer, garbles the lyrics in a voice of someone who gargles daily with a mixture of sandpaper and sulphuric acid.

But listen to the words and nothing else comes close as an expression of the alienation and awfulness of life on a rundown estate, where “community housing” amounts to housing without a community.

Strummer described his music as the “Sound of the Westway” in reference to the elevated motorway which straddles the Lancaster Estate in which Grenfell Tower stands.

Such high-rises tell a long, sad story of how what were supposed to be icons of a brave new world where architecture served a beneficial social purpose rapidly deteriorated into repositories of crime, violence and most other manifestations of urban decay.

In “London’s Burning”, Strummer sums up life in such concrete-sculpted hell-holes and all-look-the-same wastelands thus:
“Now I’m in the subway looking for the flat. This one leads to this block, this one leads to that.”

In the years since that song was released, the only thing that has changed for the estate’s downtrodden is that the lead weight of petty local body bureaucracy has been replaced by the equally unsympathetic cost-cutting mentality of a private company contracted to manage the services previously provided directly by the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council.

In such a penny-pinching environment, the revelation that highly-inflammable cladding was used to refurbish the facade of Grenfell Tower is not really a surprise.

That the decision saved all of £5000 — roughly NZ$8800 — in comparison to installing a fire-resistant alternative suggests it was not carelessness or incompetence at work here.

It was sheer callousness. It is inconceivable that no-one party to fitting the cladding was aware of the potentially extremely dangerous consequences.

The furore is rather reminiscent of the Cave Creek tragedy in 1995 in which 14 people plunged to their deaths following the collapse of a Conservation Department viewing platform on the West Coast.

There was no argument as to the immediate cause of this calamity — the use of nails to secure the platform.

Both disasters would seem to have been easy to prevent.

As prime minister at the time, Jim Bolger lamented that the platform at Cave Creek had failed for the lack of all of $20-worth of bolts which would have held the whole structure together.

Likewise, spending just a little more on the right product would have prevented the conflagration in west London.

But decisions are not made in isolation. Bolger’s bag of bolts was mythical. What was very real was a culture within the Conservation Department of cutting corners as a result of chronic underfunding by Bolger’s administration.

A not altogether different scenario applied pre-blaze in the workings of the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council.

The $NZ17 million-plus refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was tendered out to a private building contractor, Rymond Construction, on behalf of the council by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), the separate private company which manages the council’s extensive stock of social housing. It does not take much for such arrangements to blur lines of accountability.

Will those angry residents who marched on the offices of the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council following the Grenfell Tower inferno similarly get the justice for the dead that their placards have demanded?

Or will they be the losers as the politicians do their utmost to avoid accountability being laid at their door.

Determining exactly where and to whom responsibility for the blaze should be sheeted home is going to be far more difficult exercise for the pending public inquiry.

Will all the blame be laid at the feet of the company which won the contract for refurbishment? What about its sub-contractors? Or the council’s building inspectors monitoring the project?

Or the company which sold the panels presumably knowing full well they were banned from use on buildings of a certain height — or even banned altogether?

What about the council itself? Its slow and feeble response to last week’s disaster is very telling. It has effectively lost touch with its tenants.

Worse, that failure of leadership has been compounded by the toxic relationship between the KCTMO and various residents’ associations which have made it their mission to make the former fulfil its obligations as part of its management contract with council for which it receives a hefty annual fee.

Much attention has focused on a prediction made by the Grenfell Action Group last November that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO”.

The action group’s complaints centred on such things as parked vehicles blocking emergency vehicles from gaining access to the tower, the failure to clear stairwells piled high with rubbish, checking whether fire extinguishers were still functional and so forth.

The residents might well want rid of KCTMO. But that company’s shortcomings may well turn out to be peripheral to the issue at the crux of the conflagration — the cladding.

As for heads rolling, so far the borough’s councillors have shown no great willingness to resign. The leader of the Conservative Party-dominated council Nicholas Paget-Brown, apparently offered to quit but was talked out of it by colleagues. That was a major failure of judgment.

The symbolism of resignations in such circumstances is a critical element in any healing process.

And as likely as not, they will happen. That was the lesson from Cave Creek.

Bolger refused to accept the resignation offered by his Conservation minister Denis Marshall. He instead tried to place all the blame for what happened on the Conservation Department’s West Coast conservancy.

By the time the dust had settled after the official inquiry, Marshall had gone from Conservation. Likewise the department’s chief executive. Likewise the head of the West Coast conservancy.

A similar clean-out is needed in west London. If that does not happen, the sick culture which puts the appearance of a building ahead of the basic needs of its inhabitants would only continue to fester.

If there is real change, then the deaths in the Grenfell Tower firestorm will not have been completely in vain.



Young NZ fur seal found with fishing line round neck is treated at Auckland Zoo

A young New Zealand fur seal is being treated for infection at Auckland Zoo after being found slumped on a rock ledge at Piha with discarded fishing line around its neck.

A young woman had spotted the injured seal and Department of Conservation rangers responded, DOC ranger Gabrielle Goodin told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp.

"Literally when we got out there I saw the seal and it was over this little rock ledge and I thought it was dead," Ms Goodin said.

Auckland Zoo vet Lydia Uddstrom said the fishing line has no give, so as the seal grows with it around the neck, the line cuts deeper and deeper.

"It's not a simple matter of cut the nylon off and just chuck him back out and good luck to you. It's really that follow up and making sure that we can control any infection," Ms Uddstrom said.

The vets work in silence, trying to keep the young seal as calm as possible while treating it at the zoo.

The case is a reminder of how a little piece of human waste can cause such pain to an innocent victim.

Fur seals are a conservation success story, with their numbers up.

But so is human interaction with them.

"We have a high population in Auckland, so it's managing that success. How can we make sure we still see a lot of seals, people are interacting with them properly and we can keep them from being injured from things like fishing lines," Ms Goodin said. 

Things are looking good for the young fur seal which has been showing improvement.

"We are hopeful that if we can get on top of this infection and everything else that's going on, he should be able to get out there where he belongs," Ms Uddstrom said.

Seven Sharp’s Lucas de Jong visited the mammal at the zoo. Source: Seven Sharp

TODAY'S
TOP STORIES

John Armstrong: As Labour fast loses the plot, Sunday's moment of coalition unity was priceless

There’s no show without punch, and although Winston Peters did not say much, he said enough. Unlike the Prime Minister who was something of a disappointment.

Last Sunday’s carefully stage-managed display of unity by Jacinda Ardern and her deputy was not so much a case of fake news as one of fabricated news.

It was somehow befitting of the barmy politics emanating daily from the Government benches in Parliament that the coalition Government should half-celebrate its 12-month birthday having been in the job for just on 11 months.

A carefully-chosen audience was corralled on Auckland’s AUT campus to hear — or rather endure — Ardern taking close to half-an-hour to spell out her Government’s 12 priorities.

1 NEWS' Jessica Mutch and Benedict Collins give their opinions of the Acting Prime Minister who ran the country during Jacinda Ardern’s maternity leave.
Winston Peters. Source: 1 NEWS

Admittedly, it is difficult to inject excitement into a discussion of the virtues of intended alterations to the structure of the various Cabinet committees which meet weekly in the Beehive.

But one further priority would be finding a new speech writer for the Prime Minister before someone falls asleep and drowns in the verbiage. Or simply dies of boredom.

The said wordsmith's job is probably safe, however. The strict instruction from upon high would have been not to include the merest morsel of anything that those listening might find interesting — and which would detract from the whole purpose of the occasion, specifically the need for the Government to project an image as rock solid unified.

The political pantomime had one overriding objective — convincing an increasingly sceptical public that although Ardern and Peters might not always be on the same page, they are still capable of trading smiles on the same platform after 11 months of jostling one another.

While the Labour-New Zealand coalition has witnessed sporadic bouts of internal guerrilla warfare in recent times and principally on New Zealand First’s part, it is vastly over-dramatising things to suggest this so far occasional rebellion could become full-blown civil war.

So there was no chance of Peters going AWOL last Sunday. It would, however, have helped the coalition’s cause considerably had he uttered the immortal words "of course she's driving the car" during the earlier stages of the developing friction between the partners in Government. He was unwilling on Sunday to stretch the metaphor any further. But when it comes to back-seat driving or driving backwards, Peters is a master.

He has not taken on board any perceivable role as a back-room fixer for the coalition despite such a role having the capacity to alleviate some of the huge pressures weighing on Ardern’s shoulders.

He has instead exploited her inexperience as Labour’s leader and the fact that she spreads herself thin to bolster his party’s leverage within the coalition.

It is such game-play good that threatens the Government’s stability. It is not so much that the partners might clash over policy. As Ardern repeatedly notes, the coalition comprises three parties. There is always going to be disagreement over policy.

What matters is how such disputes are handled by the respective party leaderships - John Armstrong

What matters is how such disputes are handled by the respective party leaderships; whether, to use the parlance, they act on the basis of good faith and no surprises.

Ardern’s response to suggestions of disunity is to pretend there is none when she is so questioned. That is not credible.

She has now sought to brush off those claims made by her opponents by creating a distraction through repackaging her party’s priorities and relaunching them as a "coalition blueprint" under the title of Our Plan.

It would not have taken Labour’s spin-doctors long to dream up that title. It is the exact same one as used by National during the John Key-Bill English years in their similar quest to turn New Zealand into Utopia.

The only difference between Labour’s and National’s respective efforts was that Key was dismissive of such "vision documents". They might be useful in listing goals. They rarely provide detail of the means to be adopted to reach those goals. The day-to-day pressures of political life inevitably result in the prime minister of the day focusing heavily on short-term political management. Concentrating on the long-term can always be postponed to another day.

National’s various versions of vision have accordingly sunk without trace. That experience would have been a factor in Simon Bridges’ acidic observation that there was nothing in the long list of platitudes, banalities and truisms in Ardern’s blueprint which he would find hard to swallow. He isn’t wrong.

The producers of Ardern’s massive missive may have feared the same fate awaits their product as afflicted National’s equally turgid equivalent, creation.

That hurts. But Bridges is making the pertinent point that Ardern’s claim that her plan amounts to a "shared vision" of the three parties in her governing arrangement is utterly meaningless.

All it says is that the three-party grouping stretches so far across the political system that National can be accommodated with room to spare.

That makes it hard to keep the whole show on the road at the best of times.

With ministers falling like nine-pins, bureaucrats thinking nothing of splashing out $1.5 million on a justice policy summit and private consultants growing fat on the tidy sums to be made from servicing the plethora of working parties and task forces doing the work that career public servants are arguably better left to do, Labour is fast losing the plot.

But never mind. Ardern and her colleagues got what they wanted. That was a minute or two of coalition unity at the top of the six o’clock news. Given Labour’s growing malaise, that’s priceless.

The Prime Minister gave details of the Government plan during a speech in Auckland. Source: 1 NEWS

TODAY'S
FEATURED STORIES

Man arrested after fatal stabbing in Upper Hutt

A man has been arrested following a man's death in Upper Hutt this afternoon after being stabbed.

Police have launched a homicide investigation.

Emergency services were called a scene on Golders Road in Upper Hutt shortly after 4:30pm and despite their best efforts to revive the victim, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police arrested a male nearby the scene of the assault and are currently speaking with him.

"There is not thought to be any risk to the public at this time, however the Police investigation into what happened continues," Detective Senior Sergeant Martin said.

Police car Source: 1 NEWS


The Hastings' Four Square that sold four winning first division Lotto tickets

Hastings was the lucky home to four winning first division Lotto tickets last night.

Flaxmere's Scott Drive Four Square was the winning shop and TVNZ1's Seven Sharp meet with the owner.

"We have five first division winners in Flaxmere, and we have got four of them," owner Becky Gee said.

"Usually one shop gets one but one shop got four, unbelievable."

Last night there were 40 first division winners, who each get $25,000.

Ms Gee says she doesn’t know who the winners were yet, but says hopefully she’ll find out soon.

"Hopefully it’ll go to people who need it, to pay a lot of bills."

Lotto confirmed that one person purchased four of the winning tickets, which means they take home $100,000.

It turns out Scott Drive Four Square is where to buy a winning ticket. Source: Seven Sharp