The week that was: 26 June – 2 July

During the week, these three resigned: the leader of the RBKC council, Nick Paget-Brown, the head of KCTMO, Robert Black, and the deputy leader on the council, Rock Feilding-Mellen. The council’s chief executive, Nicholas Holgate, resigned 21 June. The picture is from the May 2016 issue of KCTMO’s Grenfell Tower Regeneration Newsletter.

The second full week after the Grenfell Tower fire saw the resignation of the KCTMO head, the leader of the council and the deputy leader. The week also saw the appointment of the judge who will lead the public inquiry, and it was revealed that the refurbishment plans for Grenfell Tower originally specified fire-resistant zinc cladding, but in a cost-saving exercise before the refurbishment began, this cladding was replaced with the much cheaper aluminium cladding with plastic core.

Monday 26 June:

It was announced that the panels of 75 tower blocks around the country had been fire tested, and all failed. Arconic, the American manufacturer of the Reybond PE panels used on Grenfell Tower, announced that it had stopped global sales of those panels for tall buildings over concerns about the “inconsistency of building codes across the world”. However, the Building Research Establishment (the former Building Research Board, that was privatised by John Major’s government in 1997), which is involved in setting the British building codes and has been handling all the emergency testing after the Grenfell fire, continued to insist that “there is currently no evidence from these investigations to suggest that the current recommendations are failing in their purpose”.

Tuesday 27 June:

It was revealed that the Lancaster West Resident’s Association, which represents the people living in and around Grenfell Tower, had written to Theresa May, asking that the residents are consulted on the terms of reference of the upcoming public inquiry, the choice of its chair, the counsel to the inquiry, and composition of the advisory panel. No 10 responded that the residents could only be consulted on the terms of reference of the inquiry, while the rules for setting up a public inquiry require the appointment of the inquiry chair to be made by the prime minister on recommendations from the lord chief justice.

The number of panel tests from around the country had by now increased to 95, all of them failing, and Theresa May ordered a national investigation into how cladding that is failing the tests can have been fitted on buildings for several decades. This investigation could be a second phase of the public inquiry.

Wednesday 28 June:

The number of residents presumed dead increased to 80, and the police warned that the death toll could rise further, and that it could take another 6-8 months before the total death toll is known. Many survivors are convinced the total death toll is much higher, some believing it to be over 120. There have been no survivors found from 23 of the flats.

It was announced that appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been chosen to preside over the public inquiry.

The number of finished panel tests from around the country had now increased to 120, all of them failing.

Thursday 29 June:

At a meeting with residents and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, the newly appointed inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, was told that they wanted the inquiry to not only cover the fire, but also decisions taken before it and the very slow relief response afterwards from the council and the government. Speaking to the press after the meeting, Moore-Bick warned that the inquiry perhaps wouldn’t be as wide-ranging as people hoped: “I’ve been asked to undertake this inquiry on the basis that it would be pretty well limited to the problems surrounding the start of the fire and its rapid development, in order to make recommendations as to how this sort of thing can be prevented in the future. I’m well aware that residents want a much broader investigation. Whether my inquiry is the right way in which to achieve that I’m more doubtful.

In the evening, the RBKC cabinet was going to a private meeting from which the media would be barred. However, 30 minutes before it began a court order was issued which stated that the press should be allowed to cover it. Once reporters were allowed in, the session quickly descended into uproar as the council leader, Nicholas Paget-Brown, read out a brief statement and ended the meeting, saying he could not proceed with journalists present as this might prejudice the public inquiry. Invited opposition councillors objected loudly.

Friday 30 June:

The cancellation of the RBKC cabinet meeting the previous evening caused Downing Street to comment: “The high court ruled that the meeting should be open, and we would have expected the council to respect that.” The communities secretary, Sajid Javid, added: “Access to the democratic process should always be open and transparent. I would urge all levels of government to always favour this approach so people can retain confidence in the system.”

The board of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), which manages Grenfell Tower and some 10,000 more homes on behalf of the borough, announced that it had agreed with its chief executive, Robert Black, that he “should step aside from his role as chief executive of KCTMO in order that he can concentrate on assisting with the investigation and inquiry.” The board statement added that an interim chief executive would be appointed.

It was revealed that fire-resistant zinc cladding, approved by residents of Grenfell Tower, had been replaced in the refurbishment contract with cheaper aluminium panels to save £293,368. In 2012, the architects had specified zinc cladding with a mineral-rich “fire-retardant polyethylene core”, a choice approved by residents. However, a leaked 2014 email from the KCTMO’s project manager to its cost consultant, indicated pressure from above to cut costs: “We need good costs for Cllr Feilding-Mellen and the planner tomorrow at 8.45am!” The cost consultant replied with three savings solutions. One was to switch from the fire-resistant cladding with zinc panels to “fully cassette-fixed cladding” with the cheaper Reybond

PE aluminium panels. The other savings were removal of all external landscaping works, which saved £428,000, and changing the new window surrounds from birchwood to MDF or softwood, which saved a further £117,000.

In the evening, council leader Nick Paget-Brown announced that he would step down. A few minutes later, the deputy leader, Rock Feilding-Mellen, who was ultimately responsible for the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, announced the same thing. Paget-Brown’s decision to go was welcomed by Greg Hands, the Conservative MP for Chelsea and Fulham, who is also minister for London. In a tweet, Hands wrote: “I will be working closely with Kensington & Chelsea councillors to ensure a new council leader who commands support within the group and the wider public and from government.”

Saturday 1 July:

Following the resignation of Nick Paget-Brown and Rock Feilding-Mellen, the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “It is right the council leader stepped down, given the initial response to the Grenfell tragedy. The process to select his successor will be independent of government, but we will be keeping a close eye on the situation. If we need to take further action, we won’t hesitate to do so.”

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, called for commissioners to be sent in to run the council, and he received backing in this demand from the shadow communities secretary, Andrew Gwynne.

Councillor Cathrine Faulks, who recently was made a member of the RBKC cabinet, raised a few eyebrows when she claimed in BBC’s Today programme that criticism that the council was slow to respond to the disaster was “a lot of noise”, and that the demonstrators at recent protests were not “local” but “people who like doing that sort of thing”. She also described the chaotic scenes when Paget-Brown decided to  cancel the Thursday evening cabinet meeting as “a clever stunt by the press”.

Sunday 2 July:

In an effort to find out how many were actually in Grenfell Tower when the fire began, Sajid Javid’s department announced that the director of public prosecutions, in consultation with the attorney general, had issued guidance not to prosecute anyone involved in illegal subletting in Grenfell Tower “given the public interest must be in being able to identify the victims of the fire.” The department hoped that this would encourage any residents unlawfully subletting to come forward and give information about those they had sublet to.

It was also announced that survivors from the tower and those evacuated from nearby houses (who are still living in temporary accommodation as the central boiler was destroyed in the fire) will not have to pay any rent until at least January 2018.

The government also announced that the number of tower blocks that have failed fire tests of their panels had risen to 181.  All panels tested so far have failed.

Published 2017-07-05