British Prime Minister Theresa May is under growing pressure to entirely replace the local authority in charge of Grenfell Tower, the residential block here that went up in flames earlier this month. London mayor Sadiq Khan called on May to replace the council with independent commissioners after the leader of the council, Nick Paget-Brown, and his deputy, Rock Feilding-Mellen, both announced on Friday that they would be stepping down over “perceived failings” by the council after the fire on June 14 that claimed at least 80 lives and displaced hundreds.
In a letter to May on Friday evening, Khan said that while the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council’s leader and deputy leader have resigned, choosing new leadership from the existing members may aggravate the situation. His comments followed criticism of the council’s decision to adjourn a meeting over the presence of the press and public.
He said: “Following yesterday evening’s [Thursday] shambolic council cabinet meeting, it is self-evident that the leadership of the council has lost the trust of local residents. “Therefore, I believe the government has no option but to immediately appoint commissioners to take over the running of the council.
“It is also clear that a change in leadership from amongst the existing councillors will not address this situation – in fact, it may aggravate it further, as it fails to address the fundamental breakdown in trust that has taken place.”
He called on the prime minister to appoint “untainted” commissioners with “a genuine empathy for local people and the situation they face” to take over the running of the council until the next local council elections.
Announcing his resignation on Friday, Paget-Brown had said: “This council has been criticised for failing to answer all the questions that people have.
That is properly a matter for the public inquiry. “As council leader, I have to accept my share of responsibility for these perceived failings.”
Last month, Robert Black, chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which ran Grenfell Tower, had agreed to resign to “concentrate on assisting with the investigation and inquiry”.
Meanwhile, Catherine Faulks, Conservative party councillor for Kensington and Chelsea Council, said a new council leader will be elected next week. “Of course we weren’t immediately quick off the ground, it was an enormous tragedy…I challenge any borough in the whole country to immediately have had an action plan that they could put into place,” she said.
The fire at the 24-storey block in North Kensington destroyed 151 homes, both in the tower and surrounding areas. Documents seen by the BBC indicate the cladding fitted to Grenfell Tower during its refurbishment was changed to a cheaper version, which was less fire resistant.
The tower’s cladding has been the focus of attention, amid suggestions it was why the flames spread so quickly. Since then hundreds of other tower blocks around the UK have also failed fire safety tests for their cladding, prompting the British PM to announce a wider inquiry into the use of material used on the exterior of housing blocks in the country.