Response to Grenfell tragedy “so bad it was beyond belief”

By: Julia Gregory, Local Government Reporter

The leader of Kensington and Chelsea council has said the authority could and should have done more to prevent the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.

Councillor Elizabeth Campbell said at a full council meeting that building control failings will be listed, just days before the Grenfell Inquiry on Monday looks at the council’s role leading up to the disaster.

North Kensington resident and campaigner Melanie Wolfe detailed the mental and emotional toll of Grenfell and its aftermath. She said: “Our children in North Kensington saw their friends burn to death and had to go back to school.

“The response to the fire, I’m very sorry to have to say this, it was so bad as to be beyond belief, it was absolutely dreadful.

“We do want the truth, we do absolutely request that everybody does their very best and looks into their souls because what we’re living with is hideous.”

“Please understand the trauma, the heartache and all the lives that have been broken because of this.”

Inquiry chairman Martin Moore-Bick said building regulations at the 24-storey tower failed after it was covered with flammable cladding as part of the refurbishment which was finished in 2016, just a year before the fire.

Cllr Campbell, who became leader after the fire, said: “This council could have, and should have, done more to stop it happening.

“This is about honesty. It is about being clear and about being truthful.”

The second part of the inquiry will also investigate the part played by the council, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), which looked after thousands of council properties across the borough.

Cllr Campbell said “it will be a hugely difficult time” for the community, council staff and councillors.

She said the resumption of the inquiry will be “most difficult” for the bereaved and survivors who will hear “often slow and painful detail” leading up to the tragedy, which claimed the lives of 72 people two years ago.

She said the council has brought in measures to prevent such a tragedy ever happening again.

These include a new fire safety team, a fire door replacement programme, a restructure of the building control department and a review of every department.

It also reviewed its emergency and contingency planning and response.

“Just as we adopted the recommendations from phase one and started work on them the same day they were announced, we will move quickly and make sure this council leads on issues as they emerge,” said Cllr Campbell.

The leader of the Labour opposition, Pat Mason, said: “We have to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

“I don’t want to hear any more lesson-learning. I want you to make changes.”

He said nothing has really changed in government regulation, with 1,500 buildings with “Grenfell-style cladding”.

“This inquiry’s going to be punishing,” he added.

He outlined how concerns about safety raised by residents from the Grenfell Action Group were ignored.

And he said: “All of us in local government have failed.

“We need to change things for good.”

He described how residents were not listened to and said they were going to “go through hell” for the next two-and-a-half years while the inquiry and police investigation continued.

“They are already exhausted beyond the meaning of exhaustion,” he said.

“We can’t put any more families in the country anywhere else in the country through this disaster, and a disaster like this can happen anywhere else in the country if we don’t persuade the government to really take our recommendations, to really reform how our buildings are built.

“As a country we have to really change things and not just say we will change.”

 

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