Grenfell Tower fire: Council confirms it received complaints over refurbishment
The cause of the huge blaze which killed at least 12 people
The council has admitted receiving complaints over the refurbishment of a west London tower block which has been ravaged by a deadly fire after an action group said its warnings fell on “deaf ears” when it highlighted safety concerns.
The cause of the huge blaze which killed at least 12 people at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington is not yet known.
But residents had been concerned about safety, and Grenfell Action Group said in a blog post in November “only a catastrophic event” would expose the issues.
The group said there was only one entry and exit to the tower during improvement works at the block in Latimer Road and it had issues with evacuation procedures.
After the fire tore through the 24-storey building on Wednesday, the group posted: “All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”
The group claimed access to the building was “severely restricted” for emergency services and other vehicles and that residents were advised to stay in their flats in case of fire.
Asked whether the council had received complaints and was acting on them, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Borough, Nick Paget-Brown, said: “I think that’s going to have to be looked at in even more detail during the investigation behind this.
“But it is perfectly true that Grenfell Tower underwent a major refurbishment programme starting about two and a half years ago to improve the hot water system, to improve the heating, to improve insulation, put in new windows, new external cladding, to improve the quality of life for people who were living there.
“Now clearly when you do that there are difficulties, problems, complaints, logistics to resolve and it is undoubtedly the case that the council received some complaints about the way the work was being conducted.
“But we will need to look much more closely at how much of that corresponds to the cause of today’s fire.”
The tower block was recently refurbished at a cost of £8.7 million, with work completed in May last year.
Council staff sorting donated items many thanks to everyone who has given so generously. We can't accept any more for the present pic.twitter.com/nYVuAPb2Zl— RBKC (@RBKC) June 14, 2017
The exterior of the 1970s-built tower was modernised with cladding and replacement windows, while additional homes were added using vacant space in the building.
On its website, Rydon Construction said: “Externally, rain screen cladding, curtain wall facade and replacement windows were fitted, improving thermal insulation and modernising the exterior of the building.”
But a resident of the 17th floor of the block, identified as Methrob, told LBC Radio the “real issue was when it caught fire to the cladding outside”.
He added: “That’s when I noticed the fire from outside when I looked out the window.
“By the time that we got downstairs, the fire had gone all the way up and it was just about reaching our windows on the 17th floor.
“The whole one side of the building was on fire. The cladding went up like a matchstick.”
Methrob said residents had been concerned about safety, adding there had been warnings “for over a year”.
He said one man was “trying to get everyone to get together to do something before it was too late”.
Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick – chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group – said the Government has resisted calls to install sprinkler systems in high-rise blocks in the wake of the Lakanal House tragedy.
Mr Fitzpatrick, who was a firefighter for 20 years, told LBC: “We’ve been pressing for fire sprinkler systems in buildings where we think it’s appropriate – certainly over a height level and in places where there is vulnerability, care homes and in schools – and Government has been resisting that for some time.”
But the MP for Poplar and Limehouse added: “There’s obviously a huge number of questions going to have to be asked about what happened to Latimer Road but it’s very early in the situation.
“It’s a bit early to start pointing fingers, I would have thought.”
Kensington’s new Labour MP Emma Dent Coad, who is a local councillor and a member of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said she had raised concerns with the authority about fire safety at tower blocks in the area.
Following tragic events of last night and this morning, I'm continuing to work closely with emergency services and local council teams (1/3)— Emma Dent Coad (@emmadentcoad) June 14, 2017
Priority is now to ensure local residents are getting all necessary support. Emergency help line for those affected is 0800 0961 233 (2/3)— Emma Dent Coad (@emmadentcoad) June 14, 2017
We will continue to support those affected by this tragic event, and our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones. (3/3)— Emma Dent Coad (@emmadentcoad) June 14, 2017
“There have been a lot of concerns over the past few years on various fire issues,” Ms Dent Coad told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I have brought it up quite a few times. The blocks are of a certain age.
“Some of them have been refurbished, some haven’t, and we have an ageing population.”
She added: “In my ward, we have three tower blocks and all of them have had fires recently.
“The biggest concern is getting old people out because we have an ageing population and a lot of them live in tower blocks and it is a huge concern trying to get old people out of tower blocks who may not be very mobile.”