Grenfell: RBKC ‘could have used property sale millions to refurb tower’

30 May 19

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea made a series of multi-million pound property deals while cutting costs on Grenfell Tower’s refurbishments, research has found.

In the years leading up to the Grenfell disaster, RBKC, which owns the tower, made £129m through property sales, according to a joint investigation by HuffPost UK, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The council spend £10.3m on refurbishing the tower, where the blaze on 14 June 2017 took 72 lives, the research highlighted.  

A saving of £300,000 was also made on a decision to use cheaper, more combustible cladding, it added.

Grenfell United, a campaign group for survivors of the blaze, said on Twitter they “truly believe” no one would have died had the council prioritised refurbishment of the tower.



A joint release from the investigators said: “The council has previously said legal restrictions meant it could only use rental income from local authority housing to pay for the renovation works.

“However, the council’s own documents show a large part of the work was actually paid for with the proceeds from the sale of council property - basement flats in Elm Park Gardens, Chelsea.” “The council had far more proceeds from property sales available,” it added.

The local authority had turned to the property market to replace funding lost through government cuts, the investigators concluded.

As well as the Elm Park Gardens basements – which raised £7m, according to the FOI research – the council sold a former children’s home, a nursing home and a recycling depot – raising a total of £129m.

The council was also buying property in the run up to the blaze, the investigation found, including a dilapidated former undertaker’s site in Hewer Street for £8.5m.

RBKC bought £61m worth of property from September 2015 to March 2017 while the Grenfell Tower renovation work was taking place, according to the research.

In 2013, RBKC received a quote for the tower’s renovation totalling £11.3m but this was out of its £9.7m budget. It therefore put the contract out to tender and settled on a refurbishment project valued at £8.7m.

The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation were later granted a budget increase to £9.7m and a further 6% ‘contingency’ bringing the total to £10.3m.

An RBKC spokesperson said: “We have already openly acknowledged that the property agenda was too focused on commercial matters when there should have been more attention to other objectives, particularly affordable and social value.

“Whilst we must let the public inquiry and police investigations determine what went wrong, we can say that no-one at RBKC would have intentionally put lives at risk and no one at the council foresaw the tragedy that would unfold. To report anything to the contrary would be simply wrong.”

In October, the government handed out £284m to councils and housing associations to fund the removal of Grenfell-style cladding.

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