Exclusive: Deputy council leader Kim Taylor-Smith defends Grenfell rehousing efforts

Exclusive: Deputy council leader Kim Taylor-Smith defends Grenfell rehousing efforts

Kim Taylor-Smith. Image: talkRADIO

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council has defended its efforts in rehousing families after the Grenfell Tower tragedy

Shortly after the fire, former council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown and his deputy Rock Feilding-Mellen, who was in charge of ill-fated Grenfell refurbishment project that saw flammable cladding used to save money, resigned.

Locals had heavily criticised the council’s handling of the tragedy and inaction over housing issues raised before the fire.

Kim Taylor-Smith succeeded Feilding-Mellen, and Elizabeth Campbell took up the position of leader.

307 ‘good quality’ homes acquired

Since Taylor-Smith took up his position in July last year, the council has spent over £220 million on acquiring 307 homes. 82 families out of the 203 that lost their homes are now in permanent accommodation.

“We were spending about £800,000 per home because it was important to us to buy good quality homes,” Taylor-Smith says, adding that the council have accommodated requests from residents to remain close to their former home, or move out of the borough.

Read more: Theresa May 'did not consult council' over three-week rehoming promise

“Our priority has always been to get people into a good safe space in a permanent home of their choice,” he added.

The first council meeting after the fire

90% of survivors have chosen a home

“Temporary housing...gives them the ability to change their minds because it’s very difficult for people to make a decision on where they want to live for the rest of their lives.

We’re doing a lot of additional work to make sure it meets their needs, like taking gas out and putting sprinklers in. In total, over 90% of the survivors and bereaved families have selected a home.

“We only have 5 people in a hotel who are yet to make a decision.”

Earlier this week, housing secretary James Brokenshire said there were 43 families in total still in hotels.

Mixed-tenure estates ‘improve life chances’

Taylor-Smith said that more homes than needed were purchased to “increase the number of social houses in the borough. That’s something we’re working on at the moment.”

“Historically there has been a policy… to construct social and affordable housing off-site [from housing developments] rather than having it on-site,” he added.

“Personally I think that’s something we should change. I’m a great fan of mixed-tenure developments. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest mixed tenure housing is very beneficial in terms of improving people’s life chances or environment.”

No regeneration without residents’ consent

Piers Thompson

Piers Thompson, who campaigned to stop the Silchester estate near Grenfell Tower being developed, told talkRADIO he was “worried that once the tower’s down and everyone’s forgotten about it and moved on, they’ll be back and wanting to knock down our homes.”

But Taylor-Smith said “the council had given a “blanket commitment on all estates that there would be no regeneration without the veto of the local residents.”

Read more: Petition launched to ban combustible cladding

He also added that the council had handed 14 million documents relating to Grenfell to the police and the inquiry, and that no related documents were destroyed.

In March the council was admonished by the Information Commissioner for not responding in time to a freedom of information request on Grenfell-related documents.

Watch talkRADIO's Grenfell Tower: One Year On documentary above.