London fire: Cladding was added to help 'regenerate' Grenfell Tower, Kensington MP says

The material wrapped around the outside of the building has been blamed for speeding up the fire

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The Independent Online

The fire and deaths at Grenfell Tower are directly linked to attempts to regenerate and develop housing, according to Kensington’s MP.

Emma Dent Coad, who was elected only last week, said that attempts to make the block look prettier for wealthier residents had led to the fire and deaths in the tower.

“The council want to develop this area full of social housing, and in order to enable that they have prettified a building that they felt was ugly,” she told The Guardian. “The idea that that has led to this horrendous tragedy is just unthinkable.”

She pointed in particular to the recent refurbishment, which was according to planning documents aimed at making the building more efficient and improving the aesthetics of the tower block.

“People in Grenfell Tower have been complaining that the aesthetic refit hadn’t helped them at all. It was more about making it look better for the people who want to regenerate the estate,” she said.

As part of that £10 million refurbishment work, developers wrapped the building in cladding, which is a low-cost way of improving the outside of the building.

Heavy focus has turned on the cladding ever since the fire, when it seemed to help propel it up the building. The blaze seemed to sweep over the entire block far more quickly than would be expected – and fire experts have speculated that as well as acting as a flammable covering, it may also have created a chimney effect that amplified and sped up the burning.

The view that the cladding was a result of attempts to prettify the building has been echoed by other local residents.

Rapper Akala, who lives in the area, said that the panelling had been an attempt to stop the tower being an "eyesore" to nearby rich residents.

"It was an eyesore for the rich people who lived opposite," he told Channel 4 News.

"So they put panels, pretty panels on the outside, so the rich people who lived opposite wouldn't have to look at a horrendous block."

Writer and resident Ishamahil Blagrove said that the regeneration work amounted to "ethnic and class cleansing".

Though Latimer Road and North Kensington, where the tower is situated, aren't especially well off, the borough also includes some of the most expensive houses in the world.

Residents are now worried that they will be sent out to live far away from their homes, and that the council may now succeed in sending them as far afield as Peterborough or Hastings, Ms Dent Coad said.

Ms Dent Coad became Kensington’s MP last week, after winning the historically conservative seat by just 20 votes. Social housing provision was a central part of that campaign, coming after decades of campaigning work for social housing and against the poor quality of regeneration schemes.

She said that she thought she had won the election because even Conservative voters had become upset about how the council – which runs the most wealthy borough in the country – had been treating its poorer residents.

“We have a very rich council which spent £26m repaving Exhibition Road for tourists at the same time as it was closing nurseries, pruning youth clubs, closing older people’s lunch clubs, not investing in social care,” she told the paper. “I found that absolutely sickening. We have very large reserves, of around £300m.”

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