The beleaguered head of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea where at least 80 people died in a fire in a social housing tower block in north Kensington, west London resigned on Friday (30 June) after he was criticised for the organisation’s handling of the disaster.
“As council leader, I have to accept my share of responsibility for these perceived failings,” Nicholas Paget-Brown, the leader of Kensington & Chelsea council, said in a statement.
He acknowledged criticism of his decision to suspend a council meeting on the 14 June disaster at Grenfell Tower when media attempted to follow proceedings, something he said was necessary to avoid compromising a public inquiry. His deputy, Councillor Rock Fielding-Mellen who held the housing portfolio has also quit. The resignations follow the departure of chief executive Nicholas Holgate.
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May had earlier criticised the decision to try to hold the council meeting in private.
“It cannot be right that this should have become the focus of attention when so many are dead or are unaccounted for,” Paget-Brown, a member of May’s Conservative Party, said.
REACTIONS TO RESIGNATIONS
The government will continue to monitor developments at Kensington and Chelsea council after its leader quit over the Grenfell Tower fire, the communities secretary has promised.
Sajid Javid said it was “right” that Nicholas Paget-Brown stepped down and said the process to select a successor would be “independent of government”.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for commissioners to take over the council which elects a new leader next week.
Earlier, a victims’ group said one resident had had rent deducted from their bank account since the fire.
Mr Javid said: “It is right the council leader stepped down given the initial response to the Grenfell tragedy,” adding: “If we need to take further action, we won’t hesitate to do so.”
Reacting to the double resignations of Paget-Brown and his deputy Cllr Feilding-Mellen, cabinet member for housing, after leaked BBC documents revealed cladding fitted to Grenfell Tower during its refurbishment was changed to a cheaper version, which was less fire resistant, a Radical Housing Network—an umbrella body for local residents associations— spokesperson said: “We welcome Paget-Brown’s resignation as leader of Kensington and Chelsea council – it is inexcusable that he has spent this long clinging to power.
“His council’s response both before and after the tragedy has been incompetent and callous; the only concern has been to avoid scrutiny. His appalling resignation statement shows a dogged inability to understand the concerns of the community he is meant to represent. Residents are angry, let down, and yet all Mr Paget-Brown can do is pass the buck. He is without shame.
“Cllr Feilding-Mellen put profit ahead of people’s lives – his resignation is a small step toward justice. He and his colleagues have been hellbent on regeneration schemes in which profit was put before safety and which are seen across the borough as tantamount to ‘social cleansing’ and an attack on the working class North Kensington community.
“These resignations are just the beginning. Criminal charges must follow for those responsible, and the recently announced public inquiry into Grenfell must deliver real justice. It must be broad, and seek to understand how residents voices have been systematically ignored for so long. Prime Minister May must keep her increasingly empty sounding promise to ‘leave no stone unturned’.”
The PM has since named a former judge to lead a public inquiry into the inferno.
Residents of the block and victims’ families want to know why the fire spread so rapidly and whether proper fire safety measures had been in place. They also want explanations about why their concerns voiced by residents’ associations like Grenfell Action Group who predicted the looming catastrophe had been ignored.
May has also been widely criticised for her initial response to the blaze.
The government confirmed 149 high-rise buildings have since failed safety tests carried out after the fire at Grenfell Tower.
The Grenfell Tower Fire has been possibly the worst tragedy London has seen since the end of the second world war. Nobody will ever forget what they saw that day and the horror that ensued for people trapped inside. Many questions about the cause of the fire and why it spread so quickly will need to be answered by the public enquiry. There are clearly national issues to address around regulation.
The scale of this tragedy was always going to mean that one borough alone would never have sufficient resources to respond to all the needs of the survivors – and those made homeless – on its own. We have been very lucky to have the support of other London boroughs, the emergency services and the community associations based in North Kensington and I am very grateful to all of them. This Council has also been criticised for failing to answer all the questions that people have. That is properly a matter for the public enquiry.
As Council Leader I have to accept my share of responsibility for these perceived failings. In particular, my decision to accept legal advice that I should not compromise the public enquiry by having an open discussion in public yesterday has itself become a political story and it cannot be right that this should have become the focus of attention when so many are dead or still unaccounted for.
I have therefore decided to step down as Leader of the Council as soon as a successor is in place. They will appoint a new Deputy Leader and Cabinet.
As I said yesterday, this is a huge human tragedy for so many families. The task for my successor is to ensure that the strengths which also characterise this place, and North Kensington in particular, are seen to play their part in bringing the community together and ensuring that this borough, the most wonderful place, can start to move forward from this tragedy.