Displaced Londoners will be housed in empty upscale apartments for the first time since the Blitz during World War II, after 68 social homes in the upmarket part of Kensington have been made permanently available for homeless survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The news comes after what has been called Britain’s worst fire for a generation revealed a shocking disregard for prevention and security procedures by authorities in a borough – Kensington and Chelsea – which is considered to have one of the highest property prices in the United Kingdom.
At least 79 people perished in the blaze. The 250 survivors – around half of the tower block’s residents – are due to move into their new homes in Kensington Row at the end of next month. The resolution arrives on the waves of public outrage at not only the conditions that led to the disaster but at what was perceived as an extremely chaotic and irresponsible response by authorities. Prime Minister Theresa May has already apologized for the failures by the local and national government in responding to the fire.
The flats in the $2.5 billion luxury development located just 1.5 miles from Grenfell Tower that will go to the displaced families were purchased by the City of London Corporation which will run them as part of its social housing stock. The developer, St. Edward, sold the flats at ‘cost’ price (around $13 million) even though their estimated market value stands around the $203 million mark. Individual apartments in the elite housing estate which boasts a swimming pool and gym reportedly go for $10 million.
A blue Lamborghini Gallardo passes the development in Kensington which is set to become the new home to the 250 survivors of the Grenfell blaze
Most of the 250 surviving Grenfell residents – around half of its population – are currently housed in hotels, but some are believed to be sleeping in parks or in their cars. The local and national government have been heavily criticized for their reaction to the disaster and what started as shock and sadness after the fire soon turned into anger and protests after revelations about negligence were followed up by a lukewarm response to the needs of the beleaguered residents.
Now, it has been revealed by the end of July they will be permanently settled in the development on Kensington High Street lauded as ‘one of London’s most sought after new addresses’, after the shortcomings in health & safety procedures in one of the most affluent parts of the capital opened questions about application of different standards when it comes to the rich and the poor.
The apartments have large rooms and balconies with panoramic views of London as well as a swimming pool, sauna, cinema and gym
The homes are currently being prepared for their new residents
The deal to buy the flats is thought to have cost the government tens of millions of pounds
The City of London Corporation immediately handed the flats to the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, who have carried the brunt of the public’s criticism in the aftermath of the fire. The Corporation is a wealthy local authority responsible for London’s financial center the Square Mile which reportedly has £1.32billion in the bank
The 68 flats for the Grenfell survivors were announced just before Prime Minister Theresa May apologized for the failures by local and national government in responding to the catastrophe.
Grenfell, built in 1974, was refurbished only last year. The rampant blaze that burned during the night and the early morning started after a fridge exploded on its fourth floor. It is believed everyone on the top three floors perished including dozens who cowered together in one room during their final moments. Others died trying to escape or even threw themselves and their children out of windows to avoid burning alive.
In the aftermath of the fire, reports about survivors sleeping under open skies and being denied cash because of confusing forms surfaced. In the days following the infernal fire, protests were held over the treatment of survivors and outrage over the absence of sprinklers or fire alarms in Grenfell – despite constant warnings from residents – engulfed the country. It was under the pressure of the public that promises were made by authorities that the survivors would be housed either in Kensington or in a neighboring borough.
Authorities had promised to house the survivors either in Kensington or in a neighboring borough
The response of the affluent area surrounding the new development that’s due to house the fire survivors next month has been mixed. The Independent interviewed tenants about the news and although many have been relieved and happy to hear homes for the people affected have finally been found, some were less pleased with the solution.
Anna, now in her 60s, has lived in the immediate vicinity of the new development for four decades. She said she would not be happy to see survivors rehoused in her area.
“North Kensington is not this Kensington. They should be in a place where they are happy, but not here. I don’t want them here,” she said.
“In the circumstances, they can’t all expect to be rehoused in these parts of London. Someone has to pay that money, if they can afford to pay the rent there they should pay rent somewhere else.”
But her friend and neighbor Margaret doesn’t share that sentiment. “But where are they going to go? They can’t stay on the streets,” she quipped rhetorically.
A mother-of-two who wanted to remain anonymous said she was appalled by the lack of compassion shown by some of her neighbors.
“They are saying: ‘Have you heard about how they are letting these people who don’t work live in luxury apartments?’ They are saying that they don’t want these people here in their apartments, that they rely too much on the government. They are saying: ‘I pay £5,000 a month to live here’,” she said.
“I just thought oh my god. Haven’t these people suffered enough?”
Demonstrators hold a banner demanding justice for the victims of Grenfell Tower, who many people believe have been failed badly by authorities
Most residents have been staying in hotels since the fire but some claim to have been forced to sleep in parks and cars
Queen Elizabeth II inspects donations of clothes, shoes and other items including food to help those affected by the Grenfell disaster
Queen Elizabeth II, who has visited survivors, announced there would be a public inquiry into the June 14th fire, which prompted a mass outpouring of grief and anger.
“My government will initiate a full public inquiry into the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, to ascertain the causes and ensure the appropriate lessons are learned,” the Queen said during a parliamentary session.
“To support victims, my government will take forward measures to introduce an independent public advocate, who will act for bereaved families after a public disaster and support them at public inquests.”
Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy, who is leading the team of more than 250 criminal investigators working on the disaster, said: “We will continue to do everything we can to find answers to those who are missing loved ones. I know that for those who are suffering, those answers cannot come quickly enough.”