OWNERSHIP of the site of the Grenfell Tower fire is to be handed to the bereaved families and survivors, the Government announced on Friday. It is most likely to be transformed into a fitting memorial for the victims.
Representatives of the community will be given the opportunity to decide on the future of the tower, where 72 people were confirmed to have died in a fire in June last year (News, 16 June, 23 June). The latest victim, Maria Del Pilar Burton, who was rescued from the 19th floor, died in hospital last week, aged 74.
The blackened shell of the building is currently being covered in white sheeting. It will be demolished before the end of the year, once forensics have finished their work.
A letter of principles of a governing consultation, signed by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP, states that this decision will not be led by the Government, nor influenced by Kensington and Chelsea Council, who, it says, have “no plans” to develop the site.
“The common assumption is that this consultation will lead towards agreement on a fitting memorial to remember those who lost their lives; and a request to Transport for London (TfL) for the renaming of Latimer Road Underground Station to commemorate Grenfell Tower.”
It continues: “If the bereaved, the survivors, and the local community do not want the site to be developed into housing, then the site will not be developed into housing.”
A commission involving council and community representatives will be formed, however, charged with agreeing in “good faith” a plan regarding the different possibilities, legalities, and practicalities of transferring ownership of and repurposing the site.
The bereaved will have a “veto” on all future decisions, the letter states, equivalent to a 50-per-cent representative vote.
The Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, has welcomed the move, which, he says, will allow the community, especially the bereaved and survivors, to implement ideas which they had first mooted in the early days after the fire.
“They have often felt left out of decision-making in the past, and it is a good sign that these decisions have been clearly given to them,” he said. “The ideas . . . would seem a very fitting way to ensure the memory of those who died is not lost.”
Churches in the area would provide a venue to discuss these ideas, and continue to be a presence for the community in their grief and remembrance, Dr Tomlin said. “We have to hope that a similar approach will be taken on the question of housing the survivors which continues to be painfully slow.”
The Vicar of St Clement’s, Notting Dale, the Revd Dr Alan Everett, said that the move was a “major step forward” for the residents of North Kensington, and the “right decision” by the Government. But the tower must be demolished first, he warned.
“We have seen recently just how difficult it can be to find the right forum for public meetings. Residents are still processing their grief and anger,” he said. “But working on the Grenfell site together, knowing that they are fully in control, will be a constructive, if painful, process.
“However complex the next stage will be, it is the only way of securing a fitting memorial. It is also right that discussions will extend to the possible renaming of nearby Latimer Road Underground Station, and the regeneration of the Lancaster West Estate.
“But before any of this can happen, Grenfell Tower must come down — and as soon as possible. Residents are confronted daily by the traumatising sight of the devastated tower. Dust from the tower is still being blown onto neighbouring balconies. No one should have to live in these conditions.”
Other signatories of the letter of principles were the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, Elizabeth Campbell; Shahin Sadafi, who chairs the survivors’ organisation Grenfell United; and Jacqui Haynes, who chairs the Lancaster West Residents’ Association, which represents a significant proportion of housing in the immediate vicinity of Grenfell Tower.