A dispute has broken out over where the government taskforce set up to support a long term recovery plan for Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) residents impacted by the Grenfell Tower fire should be located, with an experienced local councillor arguing that it should be based in a premises trusted by local people that is close to the scene of the tragedy in North Kensington rather than primarily at the Town Hall, which is in a different part of the borough.
Judith Blakeman, a long-serving Labour Party representative of the Notting Dale ward where the tower’s charred shell stands, has written to RBKC’s new leader Elizabeth Campbell advising her that the choice of the Town Hall is “going down very, very badly with all the people affected by the fire”.
In an email sent yesterday morning, Blakeman told Campbell that local residents are right to believe that the taskforce should be accommodated close to the scene because, “That way they will see every day the wreck of Grenfell Tower and experience every day what it is like to be living in the midst of a severely traumatised community”.
Initial duties of the taskforce, details of which were announced by communities secretary Sajid Javid on Wednesday, include looking at “whether RBKC has the proper arrangements in place to engage with the local community on their long-term recovery plans” and to “make sure the council develops, in partnership with the local community, a plan for the Grenfell Tower site”. These fall within a broader remit of supporting, advising and “where necessary” challenging the council as it develops and implements its recovery plans.
The four founding members of the taskforce are: Aftab Chughtai, chair of the West Midlands Police Independent Advisory Group; Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s; Baroness Jane Scott, Conservative leader of Wiltshire Council; and housing consultant Chris Wood, who is a former chief executive of Newham Council and has held senior housing positions at Greenwich and Ealing. The government says they will be “based alongside RBKC in the offices in Kensington” and supported by a communities department secretariat.
The purpose of the taskforce is to ensure what the department calls “a managed transition” from the existing Grenfell Response Team (also known as Gold Command), which assumed responsibility for the post-fire recovery phase, to “a council we are confident can deliver the longer term recovery for the community”.
Correspondence seen by On London suggests that the department considers it necessary for the taskforce to have a regular presence in the Town Hall in order to closely monitor the council’s efforts, but that it might also work from other locations. A council officer has indicated that space at The Curve in Bard Road, a council services premises close to the fire location and Latimer Road Underground station where the Grenfell Assistance Centre has recently taken up residence, will be offered to the taskforce.
However, Blakeman has questioned whether vulnerable local people would have confidence in the taskforce if it is ensconced in a formal council facility, such is the lack of trust some of them have in their local authority. She has suggested a nearby children’s services and adult social care centre as an alternative and believes it would be better if The Curve were managed by a non-Council organisation.