Why i wrote this book
I have always been motivated to make sure my academic work is aligned with the pursuit of social justice. When I began to research housing regeneration back in 2006 I could see how residents were routinely locked into David and Goliath battles, sometimes winning against the odds, but far too often being steam-rollered by powerful financial interests seeking to profit from grabbing land and urban space. That's what drew me to researching council housing regeneration schemes with a focus on residents lived experiences. While I wasn't surprised at what I found, I was still shocked at how bad some of the work was, how negligent the various contractors, regulators and landlords were, and how profit always trumped safety and treating residents as human beings deserving to live in decent homes. Yet, until the Grenfell Tower Disaster, I had struggled to write up that research - it was too daunting. But as so many people have said, Grenfell changed everything. I realised I was sitting on damning evidence from ‘other Grenfells in waiting’ that pointed to exactly why this had happened, evidence that could help campaigners in their struggles to prevent another Grenfell happening again. So the book was ultimately motivated by my need to respect the memory of the 72 people who needlessly died in the Grenfell fire and all those they left behind to fight for justice, by making sure what I had found made its way onto the public record.
I hope to achieve many things from writing this book but I suppose three stand out.
The first and most important aim is to contribute to the excellent and inspiring work being done by Grenfell survivors and other residents to raise greater awareness that the factors behind the Grenfell Tower disaster were not unique to that refurbishment scheme or the local authority but are present in social and private housing up and down the country. I want to put forward the clearest possible account of why unsafe regeneration happens, who or what is to blame, and who profits. It's vital to get across that the next Grenfell could just be around the corner because of the destructive impact of decades of privatisation, outsourcing and deregulation policies in construction, safety and housing management and maintenance. Thanks to policies like PFI, we, in a collective, regulatory sense, have lost control of the built environment to self-regulating, profit-maximising corporate actors. Just like at Grenfell, residents up and down the country are also routinely ignored, deflected and even silenced by their landlords and their contractors - the institutional indifference is deeply-rooted.
Secondly, I want to do justice to the immense human suffering and yet dignified resistance of all those residents I encountered in my research on housing regeneration. Each of those painful human stories deserves their own book to really deal properly with how they - as both individuals and as members of households, families and communities - were treated, how their lives were put on hold, ruined and sometimes devastated by the self-regulating cowboy builders and landlords that had contracted them. So I deliberately focus on a handful of individual stories that for me best exemplified the kinds of dehumanisation that residents were subjected to.
Thirdly, as well as supporting the many brilliant proposals already out about how to change policy course, I really want to contribute some new ideas for reform in three key areas: the need to restore accountability and power to residents; the need to re-regulate construction and housing provision in the interests of safety; and the need to end the privatisation disaster through a programme of gradual reforms that will gradually phase out PFI and outsourcing, push back the financialisation of housing and land, and restore a reinvented public housing model based on the Bevanite principle of treating housing as ‘a social service’ and not a commodity that is democratically accountable to its residents.