image via Flickr / Ben Sutherland: Missing people posters outside Grenfell Tower, west London
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017 which took the lives of so many and left a whole community deeply wounded, the media was full of stories expressing shock and disbelief. Reports were thick with confusion that such a massive humanitarian disaster could occur in one of the wealthiest boroughs of London, moreover in such a wealthy country as the UK. 16 months on, the media is no longer awash with stories about the aftermath of the fire, but the struggle facing local residents and victims of the fire continues.
Long before the fire, the local community faced contempt from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) and also from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) who managed Grenfell Tower. Local residents had raised fire safety concerns and issued repeated, prophetic warnings which were categorically ignored. The RBKC council went one step further, and actually attempted to silence the Grenfell Action Group by threatening them with legal action.
The local community had to organise themselves to ensure that basic housing needs were met in the aftermath of the fire. Nonetheless, in many cases the temporary housing was and is still not adequate. Residents had to deal with this issue, whilst also suffering from the trauma of witnessing the fire, losing loved ones or having to escape from the burning tower itself.
In the days, weeks and months following the fire the community had to tirelessly attend meeting upon meeting in order to fight for their voices to be heard. They faced neglect from the local authorities who clearly failed in their duty of care to the residents, and the lack of adequate local or central government response after the fire occurred is common knowledge. Some residents had hoped that the government inquiry would provide some answers and hold the KCTMO and RKBC to account, but this long and drawn out process has yet to deliver justice.
Residents hoped that KCTMO would have learnt a lesson from their mistakes prior to the fire, but recent developments show that unfortunately this is not the case. A statement from the Borough Wide Residents’ Association (BWRA) recent press release explains that KCTMO faces closure unless resident members agree to “radical changes” to its current constitution and structure, “allowing the current Board complete and permanent control of the organisation, including how it responds to any criminal investigation, the public inquiry or civil action.”
The statement continues to explain:
“At last year’s KCTMO AGM held after the fire, residents used their voting power to block an attempt by RBKC [backed by the KCTMO Board] to seize control of the organisation. This proposal would have succeeded unless resident members had turned out in force to vote against the controversial proposal.
Under the new KCTMO’s proposals, such actions would no longer be possible – the voting power of resident members would be removed and the Board reduced to five members who have the sole power to make any rule changes or other decisions they see fit without any scrutiny, oversight or fear of veto from residents.”
The BWRA has been working on alternative proposals and recognises that changes to KCTMO’s constitution are necessary. However, now more than ever, the need for resident representation on the board is vital. However, at the time of writing, the BWRA’s proposals have been rejected by KCTMO.
The rejection of the BWRA’s proposals is a highly controversial matter itself, considering that the BWRA played a crucial role in bringing about RKBC’s decision to end its management contract with the KCTMO after the fire had occurred.
The KCTMO’s proposals signify a move to eradicate external scrutiny, granting power to a Board whose decisions are currently under criminal investigation. The BWRA state in their press release that they feel this clearly demonstrates that KCTMO’s only aim is “to insulate itself and its employees from proper scrutiny whilst also frustrating the police and public inquiries.”
Joe Delaney, a displaced local resident, said: “In order for there to be any kind of justice for the tragedy of Grenfell we need to be sure that [KCTMO] act in an open, honest and transparent manner with the police and public inquiries along with any other civil investigations that there may be. Their staff cannot be trusted to do this without external oversight and scrutiny, so how dare they think that they have the right to remove what little outside scrutiny that exists.
The fact that residents see the need for an open and honest inquiry, whilst the KCTMO only see the importance of protecting their own interests and the interests of their former staff, demonstrates what difference there is between these two groups and also shows why the KCTMO can never be trusted to act independently.”
The local community quite understandably wants justice and is asking for those who were responsible for this humanitarian disaster to be held to account. Nothing can reverse the pain and trauma that both the displaced residents of Grenfell Tower, many of whom lost loved ones in the fire, and the wider local community have suffered over the last 16 months. However if lessons can be learnt from this tragedy, especially by KCTMO and RBKC, which can take steps towards potentially transforming the future of social housing in the UK, then respite may be achievable for those who have suffered great loss.
To keep abreast of further developments regarding the Grenfell Tower tragedy, see the links below: