Grenfell firms linked to future RBKC estate management

HCLG committee wants clarification of council policy with any such connections unacceptable to disaster survivors.

 

 

 

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Organisations involved in the management of Grenfell Tower before the fire disaster were being linked to roles in the future management of properties housing survivors, a special session of the HCLG committee heard.

The committee wanted clarification over the management of estate stock in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC), having been told of ‘connections’ between previous tower management and options for the future.

To survivor representatives present any such connections were unacceptable.

Edward Daffarn, of Grenfell United, maintained there was still an element of “incompetence and indifference” towards survivor needs with improved interaction not driving changes of pace in service provision.

Daffern told the committee of his concern that re-housing policy was being undermined by senior Kensington & Chelsea councillors.

The committee heard residents’ representatives say some survivors were feeling pressured into accepting accommodation that may not be suitable for them, while others feared being moved on “down the line” from accommodation they had accepted.

RBKC chief executive Barry Quirk acknowledged Grenfell survivors as owed “enormous justice” with his council having to recognise the extent of their grief and despair.

Quirk told the committee that, while he stood by “impressive” council staff he had seen working in the face of unprecedented challenge, there was a need for on-going improvement.

“We’re looking to change the character of what we do day-by-day,” he said.

Council leader Cllr Elizabeth Campbell maintained responses to residents were improving – but from an admittedly low base.

Daffern told the committee of Quirk conceding to survivors in a private meeting that RBKC had behaved like “a property developer”.

“Think about that, they were property developers masquerading as a local authority. They failed to keep us safe because they had higher priorities – getting their hands on the land, this massive goldmine they had.”

The council said it accepted Daffarn’s remarks and agreed, indicated that strategy had changed since the fire.

Daffern also criticised the council’s evidence to the Grenfell public inquiry claiming a “cabal” of senior councillors and senior council officers from housing, from corporate property and from planning decided to asset strip the community.

Residents representatives maintained the relationship with the council was still riven with mistrust, even though – as Quirk confirmed – several of those senior executives have since been changed.

Sophie Earnshaw, of the North Kensington Law Centre, told the committee this level of mistrust is significant.

“In initial months there was a lot of pressure on survivors to make very important decisions about their housing and survivors felt under pressure to accept unsuitable offers – the council has improved to a certain extent but residents do still feel that pressure.”

Earnshaw said the council bought 100 properties soon after the fire that disregarded the needs of survivors – with some in high-rise blocks.

Jacqui Haynes, from the Lancaster West Residents’ Association, said residents were being one offer they had to take.

“Some of the policies that surround their tenancy effectively mean they feel they are being forced to move out when they are unsure or uncertain – this is years of disempowerment and years of being looked upon as if we don’t matter and it is something that has cascaded.

“We have been suffering this sort of treatment for years and decades and it has been OK.

“It was just the fact that this disaster happened that everything blew up into the air and we can see this cannot continue – we don’t trust them and possibly that won’t happen for years.”

Campbell spoke of the hope that Lancaster West residents would “return home” but, if they didn’t, she promised high priority in bidding for other homes.

The committee heard that of the 203 properties purchased post-Grenfell by RBKC, 83 had been occupied, with 101 accepted for occupation and 19 yet to be accepted.

A further special session on Grenfell support is due to be held by the committee next month – with government expected to attend for questioning.

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