Editor’s comment: Correct lesson must be learnt from Grenfell

The Woodberry Down estate.

The Woodberry Down estate. - Credit: Archant

It’s a great thing, though it comes at a terrible cost, that social housing has at last been pushed up the national agenda.

For too long, the voices of those on council estates have not been heard loudly enough – by local authorities, by Whitehall, by their wealthier neighbours and by the press (though I’m proud of the work local papers do every week to amplify those voices). Whether that neglect is a product of stretched resources or simply not caring varies from area to area.

But Hackney Council and Berkeley Homes’ decision to pull down decorative panels from a block on Woodberry Down “as a precaution” despite having identified them as safe suggests to me either that there is something else wrong that we aren’t being told, or that the drive to make blocks safer has already become as superficial as the cladding.

There are plenty of people whose housing is urgently in need of attention, many of whom have been complaining – to their councillors, to us, to anyone who will listen – for years. The lesson I thought we had learnt from Grenfell Tower is that people living in social housing need to be listened to, and their concerns acted upon – not “just in case”, but because they are intelligent, observant people who understand their own homes. Though we’ve spoken to leaseholders rather than council tenants, our stories this week about the Parkside Estate and Inglethorpe House are classic examples of people turning to the press because they feel ignored on the subject of repairs to council-run blocks.

While contractors and housing bosses may be able to identify problems that tenants themselves are not aware of, carrying out work they themselves have identified as unnecessary sends the wrong message and seems like a distraction. There’s not enough cash in the housing pot; it’s got to be spent wisely.