Exclusive: Theresa May 'did not consult council before promising to rehome Grenfell victims in three weeks'

Exclusive: Theresa May 'did not consult council before promising to rehome Grenfell victims in three weeks'

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The opposition leader of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council said that Theresa May made her pledge to rehouse Grenfell victims within three weeks without consulting the council first.

Three days after the fire, the Prime Minister announced a £5 million support fund and said survivors would be rehoused within three weeks at the latest.

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

82 are in permanent homes, but the council says that 90% of survivors have selected a permanent home to move into.

Previous council leader unaware of three-week plans

Robert Atkinson

“The great error the Prime Minister made was promising people would all be rehoused in three weeks, and that led to complete distrust of all numbers and all statistics, and she must have known that wasn’t possible,” says Labour councillor Robert Atkinson.

“When I heard the announcement that people would be housed within three weeks, I phoned the then-leader of the council [Nicholas Paget-Brown] and asked him, how could that possibly be achieved?

“He said, ‘I don’t know, they didn’t ask me’.

Read more: 1,694 people suffering from PTSD after Grenfell

“They made the announcement without checking at all. That was an example of government panic, and that was the government’s error, not the council’s error.”

307 homes acquired for survivors

Some 203 homes in total were needed, and the council’s deputy leader Kim Taylor-Smith told talkRADIO that 307 homes have been acquired.”

He said the number of people still in temporary or emergency (such as a hotel) accommodation was not down to a shortage of homes, but rather ensuring permanent homes met their needs.

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

Tributes outside the Notting Hill methodist church in the Grenfell Tower area

Read more: Petition launched to ban combustible cladding

“[Temporary homes] give them that 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 [homes] meet their needs, like taking gas out and putting sprinklers in. Over 90% of the survivors and bereaved families of Grenfell Tower have now selected a home.

“The rest are cases with specialist needs, we only have five people in a hotel who are yet to make a decision.”

Other boroughs 'paying the price' for lack of homes

Atkinson criticised the government for not doing more to help with the social housing situation in Kensington and Chelsea.

Current figures show around 2,700 people on the waiting list.

Kensington and Chelsea council meet to discuss the Grenfell fire. Leader Elizabeth Campbell stands, with deputy Kim Taylor-Smith to her right

Read more: Report finds 'stay put' fire policy failed

“One of the wishes of the Labour opposition from the beginning was that it should not be left to the poor or those already on the council waiting list to pay the price of the Grenfell tragedy.” he says.

“Now the council has used its reserves to buy more properties - in the long run that will increase the number of units available, but in the interim there did appear to be a complete cessation of the allocation of housing units.

“Not just in Kensington and Chelsea but in our neighbouring boroughs as well. People in Hammersmith and Westminster have also paid the price of trying to give priority to Grenfell.

Government have 'no idea' on social housing

“What we really need is a government policy on social housing, and a year after that was promised by Theresa May, there is no sign they have a clue what to do about public housing.”

He also said the contractors who installed the cladding on Grenfell were off to a “poor start” by not attending the opening weeks of the inquiry.

“I’ve got every confidence in the judge, but if the contractors are not going to answer questions… they start off on the wrong foot by refusing to answer and accept that they have some culpability.

“The Tenant Management Organisation is in the same order. Their attitude, frankly, is ‘that’s for us to know and you to find out’, and that’s a very, very poor start on behalf of the contractors.”

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