Grenfell Tower: Council leader rejects call to resign
The new leader of the council at the centre of the Grenfell Tower fire has rejected calls to resign, after a meeting heard traumatic accounts of survivors' experiences since the blaze.
Newly elected Elizabeth Campbell faced boos and heckling at a packed public meeting in Kensington Town Hall, but said she is stepping up to the challenge and pledged to rebuild trust among the community “brick by brick”.
The first full meeting of Kensington and Chelsea Council since the fire five weeks ago saw a public gallery filled with former Grenfell Tower residents and an over-spill room containing at least 150 community members and volunteers.
Outside, a group of demonstrators holding Justice for Grenfell placards were gathered.
Shouts of “shame on you” and yells of “resign” were heard as Ms Campbell addressed those present during a gathering which lasted around four hours.
Newly elected MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad, told the meeting she agreed with the demands of a petition, signed by more than 1,500 people, calling for the resignation of the entire elected leadership of the council.
But Ms Campbell said she had appointed a “fresh leadership”, adding: “We will not continue business as usual and we will rebuild trust, as I said, brick by brick.”
Asked after the meeting about calls for her resignation, she told reporters: “I think it’s quite understandable, as I said it comes down to a lack of trust, but I feel I’m stepping up to the challenge rather than stepping down and away from it.”
Asked if she had any plans to resign as she stepped away from the camera she replied: “No, not yet”.
The leader said the actions of the council and the Tenant Management Organisation would be investigated, and told the meeting current regeneration plans have been put on hold.
She said she wanted to make sure the community was consulted on any future developments in the borough.
Various councillors described survivors as “dignified” and “eloquent” as they reflected on the impassioned accounts they gave during the meeting.
A woman who said her teenage niece had died in the blaze said her brother and sister-in-law could not speak in public because “their pain is too huge”.
She told councillors: “I think you should be highly embarrassed by the response,” adding that it had been “totally inadequate”.
Another man who said he had been living in a hotel room with one double bed for him, his wife and three children since the tragedy, told how he felt “forgotten about”.
The meeting ended prematurely when a resident who had just finished speaking fell to the ground.
She was helped to her feet by medics and was assisted as she walked from the room, after lying prone on the floor for several minutes. A female companion said that she had collapsed multiple times since the fire.
At points, muffled crying and shouting could be heard from outside the chamber.
Four motions for debate proposed by councillors in response to the Grenfell tragedy last month were agreed unanimously by the 38 councillors present.
They included a motion on more consultation to reflect the diversity of the borough, and calls to urge the Government to grant undocumented residents a permanent right to remain in the UK.
They also urged the council to use some of its £250 million reserves to free up more housing for survivors, and for an education fund to support young people affected by the disaster.
The next meeting of the council is due to take place more than three months away on October 25.
The newly-elected deputy leader of the council, Kim Taylor-Smith, said sprinklers were not fitted to Grenfell Tower because residents would have had to vacate the building while asbestos was removed.
The councillor began serving on the housing and scrutiny committee a month before refurbishment work was completed on the high-rise building in June last year.
But he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I have had no involvement with regard to the work that was done and the work that was signed off.”
Asked why no sprinklers were fitted, he said: “I understand ... that sprinklers were looked at to put in, but because the building is an old building and has asbestos, to retrofit sprinklers they would have had to have drilled and take the asbestos out, which meant that all the residents would have had to vacate the building while all this work was going on.”