Some want the tower to remain covered and others want to turn it into a vertical garden
Seven months before the Grenfell Tower fire, its residents predicted that a “catastrophic” event would happen. No one in authority listened to their concerns during the refurbishment of the building and, as a result, 72 people died. The reports that emerged over the weekend in The Sunday Times that the tower could be set to be demolished next year following a recent structural engineering report are seemingly another example of those in power not listening to Grenfell’s community.
The reports say that the removal is for safety reasons. If so, why has it taken four years? At a series of public meetings following the fire the community repeatedly asked officials about the safety of the building and toxicity in the area. They were consistently told it was safe. Now a structural engineering report has reportedly stated the opposite.
In 2018, the Government set up a Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission “to ensure that the bereaved families, survivors and North Kensington residents lead decision-making on the long-term future of the Grenfell Tower site”.
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Shortly after the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire, reported to parliament on the progress towards the long-term future of the Grenfell site. He stated the Government was “committed to working with the community to create a fitting memorial” with then Prime Minister Theresa May giving her personal commitment that “the bereaved, survivors and community residents will decide what happens to the long-term future of the Grenfell tower site”.
However it feels that it was inevitable that the tower would be removed, regardless of the community’s thoughts. Only a few were consulted with many of the bereaved and former residents not aware that the demolition was planned to happen so soon – they were expecting to hear a decision later this month.
The Memorial Commission has not yet proposed a future for the tower or site; consultation events are still taking place in the community. There has been a strong consensus among the bereaved families that they are not yet emotionally ready to have the tower removed as they feel it will obliterate the memory of their loved ones too soon and cause further trauma. Some want the tower to remain covered, others want the cover removed and for the burnt husk to remain as shocking reminder of what happened. Another option suggested by bereaved families is a vertical garden tower based on an idea by Italian architect Stefan Boeri.
Ever since the fire happened, the Government has failed to listen to residents and the move to potentially demolish the tower without proper communication shows minimal consideration of the impact it could have on the people whose loved ones died there.
Government consultations with the Grenfell community are increasingly being accused of being a sham. There was the consultation on the terms of reference for the public inquiry – a diverse panel was requested by those impacted and we had to petition and campaign to have one. There have been continued requests for the inquiry to look at issues of race and class, this has been ignored; a much-welcomed Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee was set up by the local authority and then disbanded ignoring the community wishes for it to continue.
It appears the “consultations” are more intent on misleading the community into believing there is some merit in their voices when, in reality, what they seek is endorsement for Government decisions already made. This is not only vague and unworkable – it is also cruel.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has rebutted the weekend’s reports and said no decision has been made. I hope this is true – and brings an opportunity for the decision on what happens next with the tower to be fair, effective and compassionate. The process itself should be appropriate for the bereaved, but also those who were injured and still suffering as a result.
At the moment they are only listened to when in accord with government plans. This is not unique to Grenfell – look at the pandemic and the lack of PPE for those in care homes, or at the leaseholders impacted by the cladding scandal. Our thoughts, feelings and safety are not valued in an increasingly inequitable society. At Grenfell 72 innocent people paid the ultimate price for this attitude. When will those in power listen?
Yvette Williams is a co-ordinator of Justice4Grenfell