The newly-appointed leader of Kensington Council - tasked with helping the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire - is already facing claims that she is “out of touch” after she admitted she has never been inside a high rise tower block.
Tory Elizabeth Campbell, who has been a councillor for 11 years, provoked a furious backlash after she revealed that she had never been inside one of the blocks, which are home to some of Kensington’s poorest residents - despite being responsible for family and children services for seven years.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Wednesday, Campbell defended her admission, saying she has experience “dealing with some of the most disadvantaged families in the most tricky situations in North Kensington”.
“Most of my experience over the last 11 years has been with family and children’s services, on the ground,” she said.
“The families that I have seen may not have been living in high rises, but they have all been in North Kensington, not in Sloane Square.”
Campbell, who represents the wealthy ward of Royal Hospital, home to Sloane Square, added: “I completely reject that just because I live in the south of the borough I have no idea what’s going on in the north of the borough.”
She also told the programme what while she may not have visited high rise council blocks in the past, she is “certainly” doing that now.
In a later interview with Adam Boulton on Sky News, Campbell attempted to clarify her comments, saying she had been inside tower blocks while canvassing, but not individual flats.
“Whether I have been on the 21st floor of a particular tower block - I don’t think is relevant,” she added.
In Kensington, the borough which is home to Grenfell Tower, there is a huge income disparity between residents.
A patchwork map of inequality shows the area immediately around the building, in the wealthy borough of Kensington and Chelsea, to be among the most deprived in the whole of England in 2015.
Campbell was elected to replace Nicholas Paget-Brown, who resigned after weeks of criticism over the council’s failure to prevent the fire that claimed at least 80 lives and its poor response in the aftermath.
But she faced further criticism when she refused to say on the programme how much of the council’s £274 million reserves would be used to buy properties for victims of the blaze.
The most recent figures available suggest that just 14 of the 158 families displaced by the fire had accepted offers to be rehoused.
Arguing that survivors have been “deeply disturbed” by the tragedy, Campbell said that properties that families want to live in do not exist.
Instead, she vowed that Kensington would become the first council in London to build more council homes.
The controversy comes a day after it was announced that the consultation period for the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower blaze would be extended.
Pilgrim Tucker, a community organiser at the Grenfell Action Group, welcomed the move.
Speaking on Radio 4′s Today programme, she said: “Residents were rushing. They have a great deal to deal with at the moment and they were rushing to submit their thoughts by the deadline on Friday.”