June 14, 2018
From rehousing and trauma to inquiries and cladding, how much has changed?
Where do we stand a year after the Grenfell Tower fire?
Rehousing
Theresa May rashly said in the days after the fire that all survivors would be rehoused within three weeks. That proved impossible and 15 households are still living in hotels. One family, the Rasouls, face staying in a hotel until November, a 17-month wait.
The original 138 households in the tower and Grenfell Walk split into 203 units, and there is a shortage of affordable housing in the borough. In 2016 the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea sold off two council homes in the affluent south of the borough for £4.5m, more than it spent on the whole cladding system for Grenfell. RBKC has since bought 307 homes for £235m, mostly in north Kensington, Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill, but 69 households remain in temporary accommodation.
The housing secretary, James Brokenshire, said this week that “the pace has been too slow” and he is deeply concerned. Only 82 of the 203 households are in permanent new homes. The government blames the delays on the need to repair or adapt properties.

The future of the tower
Relations with the council were so poor earlier this year that some of the bereaved and survivors feared the tower would be replaced with new housing. In March, however, the government agreed the community would decide on “a fitting memorial to remember those who lost their lives”. Brokenshire said no decision had yet been taken on whether the tower will be demolished. That appears the most likely outcome, but any work is unlikely to start until next year after the police finish their investigations. A memorial garden is one idea often mentioned, and Latimer Road tube station appears likely to be renamed Grenfell.

Mental health and trauma issues
Almost 1,000 adults have been screened for post-traumatic stress disorder and several hundred have been treated. Children at seven state schools were directly affected by the death of pupils or staff, and 10 more were significantly affected. The council now employs 10 specialist educational psychologists to help them. The task now is to “help them to think about what’s helped them to stay strong and to cope and encourage them to listen for the stories of hope and courage, notice the kindnesses and emerging signs of resilience or recovery within the community,” said Helen Kerslake, a senior member of the team.
Where do we stand a year after the Grenfell Tower fire?
Cladding nationwide
The country faces a £1bn bill for re-cladding at least 311 residential towers, including 159 social housing blocks, with combustible plastic-filled aluminium panels similar to those used on Grenfell. Government tests declared the materials broke building regulations. Only 11 of these blocks have so far been re-clad in safer materials, and work has started on 100 others. After 11 months of lobbying by cash-strapped councils, central government agreed to pay at least £400m toward the bill.
Legal disputes continue in the private sector over whether freeholders or leaseholders should pay and cladding remains in place on thousands of homes. The government has said it will take action if building owners do not step up.
Where do we stand a year after the Grenfell Tower fire?
Building regulations
Combustible cladding is still allowed on tall buildings in England and Wales. Arconic, the US company that made the Grenfell panels, withdrew them from the market two weeks after the fire, but others remain on sale. A government-commissioned review of building regulations that concluded last month triggered confusion. The reviewer, Dame Judith Hackitt, said there was no need to ban combustible materials, but ministers said they wanted to do just that.
A consultation is about to start, which means the expected ban is unlikely to be implemented until the second half of the year. Hackitt proposed a wholesale change of the building regulations which prioritises safety, as in the aviation or nuclear industries, with heavy fines and jail for those in charge of buildings if they transgress. This will take much longer.

Police investigations
Scotland Yard has already identified two organisations, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, as suspects in relation to potential charges of corporate manslaughter. The investigation, however, is not expected to outpace the inquiry. A memorandum of understanding governing relations between the public inquiry and the police investigation has been published promising “maximum assistance” but anticipating legal difficulties.
Met police revealed last week that the London fire brigade and its senior officers were facing investigation over the “stay put” policy that resulted in Grenfell Tower residents being told to remain in their homes as the fire spread.
Several people have been arrested and charged with fraud for having obtained money and hotel accommodation after falsely claiming to have been survivors.

Public inquiry
The public inquiry is under way and could run into 2020. After eight days of emotional commemorations to 69 of the victims, it has already received more than 2,000 pages of evidence about the immediate cause and spread of the fire and the delayed evacuation. There has, however, been criticism of the failure of some of the companies involved in the refurbishment to provide full statements. Survivors and the mayor of London also want the venue moved from Holborn to closer to Grenfell. A second phase, beginning next spring, will focus on the run-up to the refurbishment and how the tower became such a fire risk.
Where do we stand a year after the Grenfell Tower fire?
Under pressure from survivors, the prime minister agreed the inquiry should appoint two people to sit alongside the chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to help him examine social and housing issues during this phase. Some survivors have called for the inquiry to consider whether the fire service and official response were influenced by racial discrimination. Core participant status has so far been granted to 533 individuals and 29 organisations, making it the UK’s largest ever public inquiry.

Death toll
In the immediate aftermath of the fire there was speculation that as many as 500 people had died. Detailed forensic work since then established that there were 71 fatalities including one unborn baby. The Grenfell Tower inquiry increased the figure to 72 to take into account the death of Maria del Pilar Burton, known as Pily. A long-term resident, she was one of the last people to be evacuated from the building and sustained burns injuries. Burton, who had been suffering from a chronic illness, died in January. The Met police are sticking to the 71 figure, saying “there is no evidence to link Mrs Burton’s death to the fire”, citing a coroner’s finding that she eventually died of a stroke.
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