Belfast Telegraph

It's gratifying to know that, as the Grenfell fire inquiry begins, two of the 196 families have been rehoused

Inquiry time: overlooked by the shell of the tower, people take part in a silent march in memory of the victims of the Grenfell fire
Inquiry time: overlooked by the shell of the tower, people take part in a silent march in memory of the victims of the Grenfell fire

By Mark Steel

Whatever else the Grenfell Tower inquiry reveals, it ought to commend the efforts of the local council to rehouse the survivors; there are 196 families in need of accommodation and already permanent places have been found for two of them. At this rate, they'll get the whole lot sorted in only 24.5 years.

Government minister Sajid Javid explained: "We mustn't force families into snap decisions; we must work at the pace that suits the needs and circumstances of residents."

This considerate approach must be the reason for the gentle pace of rehousing, because the last thing a family needs after its home has burned down is having to make a snap decision about whether to move into a new home, or stay in a bed-and-breakfast with nowhere to cook, or eat or live.

Then they'll have to make more snap decisions, such as which cupboard to put their cups and saucers in. They don't need that after all they've been through, so it's heartening that the authorities have been so sensitive.

Theresa May did promise a slightly quicker rate of rehousing, originally promising that all would be "rehoused permanently within three weeks". But she clearly meant the three weeks at the start of March 2041, so we shouldn't be critical.

The council Press officer was reported as saying that "numbers of people moved to permanent accommodation is not a metric we are using". This is just as well, because you don't want to confuse how well you're doing in rehousing families by counting the number of families you've rehoused.

It's better to use a more reliable metric, such as how many different breeds of butterfly you can name in a minute.

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So, the Grenfell Tower residents are mostly dotted around the borough in an assortment of hotels. The local MP, Emma Dent Coad, said they have become especially frustrated, because at first they were told to address their requests through the council, then were passed on to a body called Gold Command, then a 'Grenfell Response Taskforce'.

So, I suppose it's only fair to let every group take a turn at not answering the families. Eventually, they'll become the responsibility of the Drains and Manholes Co-ordinating Forum, before they're passed on to the Kensington Water Polo Development Society, who will tell them their problems can now be ignored by an operatic society and then their forms can be lost by Ladbroke Grove WeightWatchers.

It must be reassuring to know that just because - through no fault of your own - you have suffered a life-threatening upheaval and been left homeless, you'll be treated with the same dismissive contempt by your local council as if you were ringing about an abandoned mattress you want them to take away.

It's these little moments of kindness that can make someone realise life will soon carry on as it did before.

But the issue that seems to anger the families more than any other is the nature of the inquiry that's just begun.

They were hoping that one of the residents would be on the panel, but this has been dismissed.

According to the chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, "to appoint someone as an assessor who has had direct involvement in the fire would risk undermining my impartiality in the eyes of others".

Maybe his point is anyone involved in the fire is likely to take a very one-sided anti-fire view, whereas the inquiry needs to keep an open mind and hear the fire's side of the story as well.

For the same reason, we should be thankful the good people of Kensington Council are in charge of rehousing the families - and not some idiot suggesting that, as there are 1,652 second homes left empty in the borough, it might be kinder and more economical to place the homeless families there, rather than in the lobby of a hotel.

Belfast Telegraph


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