Kensington residents express dismay at Grenfell fire victims' nearby rehousing: 'I don't want them here'

Many were relieved to hear families were finally receiving some good news. But others were less compassionate, saying: 'north Kensington is not this Kensington'

Lucy Pasha-Robinson,Matt Murphy
Friday 23 June 2017 10:27 BST
Grenfell Tower fire: What do Kensington residents think of rehousing victims in luxury block?

Residents of Kensington’s luxury properties were divided after news survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire would be permanently rehoused in a new £2bn development in the area.

The Government announced 68 social homes would be made available at Kensington Row to families left homeless in the blaze that killed at least 79 people.

But reactions were mixed in the upmarket area. Many residents were relieved to hear that families who have lost so much were finally receiving some good news. But others were less compassionate.

Anna, who is in her 60s, has lived in her flat just a stone’s throw from the new development for 40 years. She said she would not be happy to see survivors rehoused in her area.

"North Kensington is not this Kensington. They should be in a place where they are happy, but not here. I don’t want them here,” she said.

“In the circumstances, they can't all expect to be rehoused in these parts of London. Someone has to pay that money, if they can afford to pay the rent there they should pay rent somewhere else.”

But her friend Margaret, who also lives locally, disagreed. She interrupted her to ask: “But where are they going to go? They can’t stay on the streets.”

One mother-of-two, who did not want to be named, said she was disgusted by the reaction of her neighbours.

“They are saying: 'Have you heard about how they are letting these people who don't work live in luxury apartments?' They are saying that they don't want these people here in their apartments, that they rely too much on the government. They are saying: ‘I pay £5,000 a month to live here’,” she said.

“I just thought oh my god. Haven't these people suffered enough?”

It comes following an announcement by communities secretary Sajid Javid on Wednesday that some residents would be offered “newly built social housing” at the site on Warwick Road, where private homes sell from £1,575,000 to £8.5m.

The homes were purchased by the City of London Corporation for around £10 million in a cut-down deal brokered by the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

The development will also include a 24-hour concierge and a private cinema, according to the website of developer St Edward, owned by Berkeley Group.

But social tenants will not have access to these amenities and will be housed in two separate purpose built “affordable housing” blocks at the site that will be different from the luxury apartments on sale.

A source from the Berkeley Group told The Independent that unlike the flats for sale the apartments would be modern but not luxury. They revealed the social housing apartments will be less high-spec and that fixtures and fittings will also be more basic.

Some of the luxury cars parked on nearby side roads
Some of the luxury cars parked on nearby side roads (Lucy Pasha-Robinson/Independent)

Social housing residents will also not have access to the gym or the pool in the development, which the source said was standard for any social housing scheme.

Nick, who lives in a nearby development, said he could not understand the negative reaction from some of the community’s residents.

“I don’t see what the problem is, we’re all humans. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion but I think a lot of people don’t like change but you’ve got to change, that’s how we grow, by meeting new people, different cultures,” he said.

“I feel for them, at the end of the day, they’ve got to have places to stay, you can’t have people on the street.”

Despite the good news for some of the survivors, many questions surrounding the development were left unanswered. A Government spokesperson confirmed that only social housing tenants from Grenfell Tower would be rehoused in the block, and private renters or homeowners who were left homeless in the blaze would not be eligible for support.

It was also not immediately clear how affordable the flats will really be. Planning documents suggest the flats will be rented out at social prices, which is roughly 50 per cent of market rates. But Kensington remains one of London's most exclusive and wealthy areas.

A source from Berkeley Group said all flats were designed to be “tenure blind” and that the flats will not be differentiable from street level.

But photographs of the development clearly show a more spartan-looking block to one side of the development, which will reportedly house the site's social tenants.

The building on the far left may be one of the blocks reserved for social housing tenants
The building on the far left may be one of the blocks reserved for social housing tenants (Lucy Pasha-Robinson/Independent)

Radical Housing Network, a campaign group fighting for housing equality, said: “We abhor the way developers of luxury blocks meet 'affordable' housing quotas by designing buildings in which those on low-incomes are kept out of sight from the rich."

A City of London Corporation spokesperson said: “We are ready to do everything we can to help the victims of the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower.

“We already provide council housing across seven London boroughs and are committed to delivering 3,700 new homes on sites across the capital.

“These plans have been agreed as matter of urgency as part of the response by councils across London to support the team working on recovery efforts.”

It comes after the Prime Minister apologised for the “failure of the state” over the Government’s response to the tragedy.

Theresa May admitted there had been failures “local and national” in the hours immediately following the fire.

“Let me be absolutely clear: the support for the families on the ground in the initial hours was not good enough,” she said.

“That was a failure of the state, local and national, to help people when they needed it most. As Prime Minister, I apologise for that failure. As Prime Minister I have taken responsibility for doing what we can to put things right.”

She also pledged that all families would be rehoused in under three weeks.

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