POLITICS

Grenfell Protest To Demand Snap Local Election At Kensington Town Hall

Local Labour leader tells HuffPost UK council risks being 'headless'.

18/07/2017 09:09 BST | Updated 19/07/2017 13:11 BST
Marko Djurica / Reuters
Demonstrators march during a protest about the Grenfell Tower fire, in London

Fears are mounting that the first council meeting since the Grenfell Tower disaster could be abandoned because of protests.

All members of Kensington and Chelsea Council will meet on Wednesday for the first time since the disaster claimed the lives of more than 80 people.

But councillors who presided over the blaze and its aftermath will face crowds of protesters calling on them to resign and trigger a snap local election.

A peaceful protest is planned by the Justice 4 Grenfell group but social media is awash with calls for anarchists to storm the civic centre.  

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Class War has shared this picture online calling on people to occupy Kensington Town Hall 

The Tory-led council has come in for fierce criticism over how its leadership handled the fallout of the blaze and for choosing cheaper, more combustible cladding for the tower block’s cladding.

Labour group leader, Robert Atkinson, believes protests could derail the meeting completely and, with Parliament set to go into recess the next day, leave the authority “headless” for the summer. 

He told HuffPost UK: “The worry is that the council meeting is disrupted and we aren’t able to get any business through. I know there are some who want the council to stop functioning.

“We could go into the summer headless and then what do we do?

“There is also the risk that this story falls off the radar and these people are forgotten about. That can’t happen.”

Councillors had previously tried to ban journalists and the public from a cabinet meeting. When a court ordered the council to hold the meeting in public, proceedings were cut short and public anger has continued to grow. 

PA Wire/PA Images
Councillor Elizabeth Campbell faces calls to resign and trigger a local election

The Justice 4 Grenfell group is demanding the entire cabinet stands down and will have representatives inside the building. 

Moyra Samuels, from the campaign, said: “We feel the council has fundamentally failed to offer the support survivors and the local community so badly needs.

“Despite the resignation of former council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown, the neglect continues. The community wants to express its frustration and to support those who will be going into the council meeting as part of delegations.”

Leader Nicholas Paget-Brown was forced to resign and he has been replaced by Elizabeth Campbell, who will appoint a fresh cabinet at the meeting, but anger continues to flare. 

Campbell’s appointment was due to be officially confirmed at the meeting.

PA Wire/PA Images
Protesters outside Kensington town hall in west London, the headquarters of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, demanding answers over the Grenfell Tower disaster.

An outside taskforce has taken responsibility for the west London council’s housing, regeneration, community engagement and governance.  

Staff from neighbouring local authorities have been drafted in to help but council functions could “collapse completely”, Atkinson added.

He said: “It remains touch and go as to whether the government sweeps aside the pretence that the leader and the council are running even part of the council.”

He went on: “There is growing frustration and we have got to get back to running our own local authority.”

It is unclear whether ministers or the council’s cabinet were calling the shots, Atkinson said. 

“The collapse of services in Kensington and Chelsea is far greater than is being admitted,” he said. 

“We need commissioners to be brought in and the people need to know who the commissioners are.

“At the minute we have advisors from DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government] but we don’t know who is really taking the decisions.

“Is it still the council? Is it DCLG? It seems decisions are being made at a ministerial level in Whitehall. We need people here that we can talk to.

“At the minute, the council has been nationalised – and, quite honestly, the priority of the ministers is to make the Prime Minister look good.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Grenfell Tower 

Members will also debate a petition led by the Justice 4 Grenfell group.

It calls for all demolition, regeneration and planning decision managed by the council to be halted or urgently reviewed. The cabinet should also resign, it said.

Local housing masterplans should also be scrapped and replaced with schemes “co-designed” with the community.

Separately, opposition councillors have put forward a motion for the borough’s social housing stock to be expanded.  

Barry Quirke, the council’s chief executive, said Campbell would change the cabinet, and the authority was in discussions with government over resources. 

He said: “The recently announced Government taskforce will help the council in four key areas. They are housing, regeneration, community engagement and governance. Early discussions are being held about resources required and a transition of the response from London Gold (a hierarchy put in place by the Government to organise the emergency response), to Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. 

“The council’s management is therefore currently working very closely alongside government to listen intently to local community voices and respond swiftly and appropriately to the needs of victims and survivors of this dreadful tragedy. 

“The causes of the fire are the subject of a massive criminal investigation. The investigation in parallel with the recently-announced public inquiry demands the council’s fullest participation and involvement, which the council will provide.”