Grenfell Tower stands, a shadow of its former self, but a stark reminder of a tragedy that struck a London community less than a week ago.
Services and memorials have been held across London to remember the victims of the inferno and to praise the efforts of the fire and rescue services. But as people mourn, questions are being raised about the local authorities’ response to the disaster.
Government staff have been assigned to work with Kensington and Chelsea Council personnel after residents criticised relief efforts as “absolute chaos.” They say support and information have been scarce.
’Not good enough’
Prime Minister Theresa May held an unprecedented meeting at number 10 Downing Street to discuss the situation with victims, residents, community leaders and volunteers. In a statement released after the two-hour-long talks, she acknowledged that support on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the blaze had not been good enough.
Meanwhile, questions have also been raised about the new cladding fitted onto the outside of Grenfell Tower some months before the disaster. Suggestions that it is the reason for the rapid spread of the fire are being investigated. Chancellor Philip Hammond says a criminal investigation is to examine whether or not building regulations were breached during the recent refurbishment of the tower. However, in an interview on Sunday (June 18), the chancellor said:
“My understanding is the cladding in question, this flammable cladding which is banned in Europe and the US, is also banned here.”
“So there are two separate questions. One: are our regulations correct, do they permit the right kind of materials and ban the wrong kind of materials? The second question is: were they correctly complied with?”
Calls for transparency
At least 58 people are believed to have died in the fire, and many people have been left homeless. According to new local MP for the opposition Labour Party, Emma Dent Coad, one survivor has been moved into different accommodation three times since Wednesday (June 14).
Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, whose friend Khadija Saye died in the fire, has called for transparency and urged the police to ensure that all records relating to the damned tower block are seized immediately.
“Within the community, trust in the authorities is falling through the floor and a suspicion of a cover up is rising,” he said.
“The prime minister needs to act immediately to ensure that all evidence is protected.”
May says she has ordered daily reports outlining the housing situation of former Grenfell residents and has promised to ensure the public inquiry into the tragedy is open and transparent.
Emergency house seizure laws
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is calling for emergency house seizure laws to be put into effect. He is urging the government to consider requisitioning empty properties across capital in order to house families made homeless because of the fire. In an interview on British television, he said: “Occupy it, compulsory purchase it, requisition it – there’s a lot of things you can do,” adding “In an emergency, you have to bring all assets to the table in order to deal with that crisis and that’s what I think we should be doing in this case.”
His Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell made a similar point and said that local councils have the right to appropriate housing through compulsory purchase orders.
Help is being offered from within the community with stories of people opening up their homes, or offering refreshments and clothing to survivors. And some of the UK’s rich and famous are also getting involved. In a project organized by music mogul Simon Cowell, musicians are collaborating on a charity single to raise funds for those affected by the inferno.
But residents say volunteers are stretched to the limit and claim government officials or civil servants are few and far between.