NEWS
20/06/2017 16:21 BST

Council Chief 'Backed To Remain' Despite Grenfell Disaster Criticism

The leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council said he has received "overwhelming" backing to remain in the post in the face of widespread criticism of his administration over the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Nick Paget-Brown said that fellow councillors had shown their support in the wake of reports that he had offered to resign from the post.

Mr Paget-Brown and his administration has been heavily criticised by residents of the tower, where at least 79 people died after fire broke out in the early hours of June 14.

He has faced questions over materials used in the council's £8.6 million refurbishment of the tower, with suggestions cheap cladding could have played a role.

Other London boroughs and central Government officials were also drafted in to help with relief efforts in the wake of the inferno as residents claimed that Kensington and Chelsea Council staff were nowhere to be seen.

Mr Paget-Brown, a Tory who has been leader of the council since 2013 and a councillor since 1986, said: "In the circumstances it has of course been appropriate to ensure that as leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council I continue to have the support of my colleagues.

"They have said overwhelmingly that they back me and are behind my key priority at the moment, which is to work with government, charities, volunteer and resident groups and the emergency services to re-house and assist all those affected.

"This is absolutely rightly the focus of all of our attention and efforts."

Protesters tried to storm the council's offices on Friday, demanding answers from Mr Paget-Brown and his team.

Earlier on Tuesday Labour demanded answers from the Government after leaked letters appeared to show ministers were repeatedly warned that fire regulations were not keeping people safe in high-rise blocks like Grenfell Tower.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey wrote to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid demanding a formal response after the BBC said the letters show ministers were warned that people living in high rises were "at risk".

The dozen letters, sent by the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group in the aftermath of a 2009 fatal fire in Lakanal House, south London, warned the Government "could not afford to wait for another tragedy", according to Panorama.

The first firefighters at Grenfell Tower may not have expected the outside of the building to be flammable, a senior union official said following the programme.

Dave Green, national officer at the Fire Brigades Union, spoke after claims were raised by Panorama that the first crews to arrive believed the blaze was contained and extinguished within the flat where it started.

The programme on Monday night quoted sources as alleging it was only as those firefighters left the building that they saw the blaze was still burning on the outside of the 24-storey tower in north Kensington.

Mr Green said the claim was "speculation" but that 1970s buildings like Grenfell Tower were designed so that each flat was a box which contained fire within itself, with a non-flammable concrete exterior.

There has been speculation that cladding applied to the outside of the building during an £8.6 million renovation project finished in May 2016 may have played a role in the spread of the fire.

Mr Green said: "Clearly it was a hot night and if the (fire) was fairly close to an open window then potentially the flames could have got outside - if there were net curtains, something like that, it could have got up.

"Then the cladding might well have been smouldering.

"As a firefighter you wouldn't have thought to look outside. We would assume that the outside of the building would not be compromised."

Claims that survivors of the disaster who refuse to be rehoused hundreds of miles from London risk being classed as "intentionally homeless" have been branded untrue by the official Grenfell response team, which acts for local and central government, and various charities and organisations.

Labour Tottenham MP David Lammy tweeted he had "heard" survivors are being "threatened" with such a sanction, which he branded "absolutely despicable".

A spokesman for the Grenfell response team told the Press Association: "This is simply not true. No-one is being forced to move out of London, or being threatened with being made homeless."