Six years on from Grenfell
"Still no justice," say survivors, the bereaved and campaigners
Morning — an emotional week for Grenfell survivors and families, with the sixth anniversary of the fire passing on Wednesday. Frustration is high in their campaign for justice — we take stock of the progress and obstacles after your Thursday briefing below.
Plus: a final three in the mayoral race, a London property mogul passes away, and outrage at a “tree massacre”.
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What we’ve spied
🗳️ The hunt for the Conservative candidate to take on Sadiq Khan for mayor next year is down to a final three. Now in the running is: Daniel Korski, a former advisor to David Cameron turned tech entrepreneur; Susan Hall, a London Assembly member and hair salon owner; and Mozammel Hossain, a criminal barrister who’s surprised everyone by making the shortlist without even announcing he’s running. All three want to scrap Khan’s ULEZ expansion, but Korski is floating a tax on tourists, Hall is running on the tagline “Safer with Susan” with a focus on stopping muggers and burglars, while “Mysterious Moz” wants to crack down on drill music knife crime. Spare a thought for Paul Scully, the minister for London who had been the bookies’ favourite but didn’t make the cut. There’s some speculation that, as a Boris Johnson appointee, he’s been purged by Rishi Sunak.
🏨 The owner of one of London’s biggest property empires, the 8th Earl Cadogan, has died at the age of 86. “If something doesn’t move in Chelsea, the family probably owns it” was once said of the Cadogan family, which presides over a 90-acre estate extending west from Sloane Street and Sloane Square and including some of Chelsea’s prime retail and residential properties. We featured Cadogan Estates in our recent London rich list, along with another blueblooded mega landlord, the Duke of Westminster.
🖌️ Artists living in a north London ‘warehouse district’ said to be one of the city’s last affordable creative communities are facing eviction. The Omega Works warehouses in Harringay are home to over 100 people, including artists, musicians, and other creatives. But redevelopment plans would see them being demolished and converted into luxury flats — none of which will be rented at affordable rates. A petition fighting the plans has reached over 6,500 signatures.
🚕 The Knowledge, the infamous 25,000-street qualifying exam for cabbies, could be dumbed down to encourage new recruits. The test, which involves learning every single road within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross, is now under review by TfL due to concerns it’s putting off the next generation of taxi drivers. The test currently takes about four years to pass and requires aspiring cabbies to learn a long list of landmarks as well as hundreds of specific routes. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, people have started making the point that drivers can use sat-navs these days. Officials of the taxi trade still think prospective drivers should have to study — but they’re now saying that just two years of gruelling road revision might be enough.
🌳 A man has been arrested over what has been described as "a tree massacre" in south London. The incident involved 131 trees being cut down in Cator Park in Bromley, despite the fact many of the trees were subject to tree protection orders, and that felling trees on the land was technically illegal. It’s unclear why the man, who is said to be in his 30s, wanted to cut the trees, but activists have described his actions as “utterly barbaric”.
👮 The Met Police has claimed Just Stop Oil’s protests in London over the past six weeks have cost the force £4.5m. Put another way, the Met says it’s taken “13,700 shifts” to police the climate group as its slow marched down the capital’s roads and disrupted traffic on a daily basis since April. This week MPs approved a new law to specifically stop slow-walking protests, with police expected to use the new powers by the end of the month.
💨 Extreme heat, flash floods, a pollution alert and a ‘pollen bomb’ have hit London all at once, triggering pandemic-level volumes of ambulance calls. It’s all gone a bit wonky with the weather in the capital:
On Monday, commuters were forced to wade through flash floods as thunderstorms overwhelmed some of north London’s drainage systems. Videos of the floods have circulated on social media, including one showing a string of cars driving part-submerged on North Circular Road.
That same day, the mayor issued a high air pollution alert for London, after forecasters spotted a cloud of pollution headed to the city from Europe. Those with lung or heart problems were told to reduce strenuous physical exertion outdoors. The alert was the second of its kind this year, and then extended to Wednesday too.
Separately, the Met Office sounded the alarm last week over ‘very high’ pollen count coming to the city. The problem isn’t restricted to London — dry weather has caused a UK-wide spike in pollen that some have quite ominously labelled a “pollen bomb”. And it’s not expected to end any time soon — the Met office’s website says pollen levels will remain high for the rest of the week.
🚇 South Kensington could get a new tube entrance for religious reasons. Some Orthodox Jews are currently unable to use the Exhibition Road entrance to the station because their religious beliefs forbid them from entering a building that holds human remains, and the station is attached to the Science Museum, which just so happens to contain human remains. But plans to build an outside archway could mean they can finally use the tube.
🏺 A Roman mausoleum — believed to be the most intact structure of its kind discovered in Britain — has been unearthed in London. It’s been discovered by archaeologists at the Liberty of Southwark site in Borough and work on creating a permanent display is planned.
⛸️ Two Olympic-sized ice rinks will be opening in east London as part of a £30m renovation. On Saturday, Lee Valley Ice Centre in Leyton will also be unveiling a new gym, dance studio and café alongside the ice-skating facilities.
Six years on from the Grenfell Tower fire
Yesterday marked six years since the fire at Grenfell Tower. Survivors, the bereaved and campaigners gathered in Kensington in the evening for a silent walk to remember the 72 people who died in the fire. They came with a clear message: “still no justice”.
That frustration is due to the lack of criminal prosecutions against those alleged responsible. The Metropolitan Police is waiting for the Grenfell public inquiry to conclude before launching any action, though the force has already interviewed 40 people under caution. Key figures in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, cladding manufacturers and architects are braced for a damning report. But the dishing out of blame is still a while off — the inquiry’s chair, former judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is not expected to deliver his findings until next year. He and his panel are making their way through the evidence of 1,500 witnesses and 300,000 documents, after hearings concluded in November.
But there’s also frustration with a lack of action on the wider lessons of Grenfell. The inquiry published its first report in 2019, detailing the fire's cause and spread while making dozens of recommendations for avoiding another catastrophe. A third of these still haven’t been implemented, such as legally requiring regular lift inspections in high-rises or providing disabled residents with a personal evacuation plan. Just this week Inside Housing revealed that of 771 towers in the capital owned by local authorities, only 43 had been fitted with fire alarms — just 6%. That’s despite the recommendation for alarm retrofitting in Sir Martin’s 2019 report.
Meanwhile, many tower blocks in London are still covered with the same cladding that fuelled the fire at Grenfell, despite the government ordering its removal. Sir Martin’s 2019 report was clear in its finding that the resident of the flat where the fire started was blameless and had, in theory, lowered the risk of the fire spreading. Behailu Kebede made the first 999 call at 1am when his smoke alarm woke him up and he saw the fire at the back of his fridge. In normal circumstances, the “compartmented” structure of Grenfell’s original design meant a minimal chance of fire spreading after Mr Kebede turned off the electricity and shut the door to the flat. But the cladding outside his window and covering the rest of the tower from refurbishment was highly flammable, as the first firefighters to the scene discovered when they blasted water with no effect. Today two-thirds of London boroughs have at least one tower block encased with that very same aluminium composite cladding. Hundreds more have separate fire safety issues that need addressing.
The government has at least started to rachet up pressure on developers this year. In March housing secretary Michael Gove named and shamed developers who had not signed a new post-Grenfell safety contract designed to help fund fixes. Indeed just a few months prior Gove had admitted that “faulty and ambiguous” government guidance was partly responsible for the tragedy — the first such public concession from a minister.
There’s one other issue with Grenfell yet to be settled though: the fate of the tower itself. Demolition has been discussed as far back as 2018, but no official decision so far. Right now it’s still covered in a protective wrap with a green heart and the words “forever in our hearts”. If the tower is demolished, there’s also the question of what goes in its place. Plans floated so far include a memorial garden, monument or museum. That too will take time, though. As survivor Edward Daffarn said yesterday when marking the sixth anniversary: “We have to respect that the bereaved families are moving at different paces around their ability to make decisions about the future of the tower, so we need to be patient.”
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