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Owners of empty homes near Grenfell Tower ‘cannot be forced to live in them’

At least 80 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire.

Owners of hundreds of unoccupied properties near the Grenfell Tower cannot be compelled to live in them, the local council has said following a newspaper report that oligarchs and foreign royalty were among the absentees.

A foreign billionaire, an American politician and a luxury property developer are said to own vacant properties within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the affluent London suburb where the devastated high-rise stands.

The unoccupied buildings reportedly include a mansion block and luxury properties identified as “long-term empty”, some of which lie within a few hundred metres of the Grenfell Tower where a deadly fire left scores of people homeless.

(PA Graphics)

According to a list seen by the Guardian there are 1,652 unoccupied properties in the borough, of which 603 – around a third – have been vacant for more than two years.

A further 1,010 are classed as unoccupied and substantially unfurnished, while the remaining 39 have been unoccupied for less than a year while building work takes place.

Cllr Kim Taylor-Smith, the council’s deputy leader, said: “If a property has been left unoccupied and unfurnished for two years or more, property owners will be charged an additional 50% of the full council tax charge.

“Unfortunately, we have no powers to compel owners to live in their properties but we can and do offer support and advice to help bring long-term empty properties back into use.”

Tributes left during a vigil on Bramley Road, London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

At least 80 people died in the tragedy, while hundreds more from living in the building and surrounding properties were forced from their homes.

Mr Taylor-Smith said the council is “committed” to helping the victims of the disaster and have secured 105 flats for survivors so far.

On Tuesday a two-year-old boy became the latest victim of the tragedy to be identified by police.

Jeremiah Deen is believed to have been one of the youngest people to die in the blaze, while the death of his mother Zainab Deen, 32, was confirmed at an inquest in July.

The fire’s rapid spread through the tower on June 14 has been blamed on external cladding that was installed as a means of modernising the 1970s high-rise.

Emergency tests commissioned in the wake of the disaster led to the evacuation of one estate in north London, while on Tuesday it was announced that a hospital trauma building will close for up to a year due to similar worries.

Some 52 inpatient beds will be moved from the trauma unit at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said.

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