Residents local to Grenfell have been ignored by Kensington for years – here’s why I’m putting a stop to it

As the prospective parliamentary candidate for Kensington, I know what these people want: more support and respect. And that includes their wish to remain in the EU

Rabina Khan
Thursday 12 September 2019 13:29 BST
Kensington and Chelsea's new chief admits she had never visited a high-rise council housing block

There are huge disparities in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea between the wealthy and those whose lives are affected by deprivation. The close proximity of extreme wealth and poverty is startling. However, the sense of community in the borough remains strong.

Few Kensington residents found themselves unmoved by the devastating sight of Grenfell Tower burning on the night of 14 June 2017, claiming so many lives and displacing families. Regardless of income or background, the magnitude of the Grenfell tragedy brought people together.

Although there is a divide in terms of wealth – the area that houses Grenfell Tower is ranked amongst the most deprived 10 per cent in the UK – how much of this is to do with politicians as the community, regardless of income, has demonstrated that it wishes to be united?

In June 2019, Inside Housing reported that Theresa May’s former chief of staff and former housing minister, Gavin Barwell, was sent multiple warnings to review fire safety rules in the months before the Grenfell tragedy – the last just 26 days prior to the fire – but failed to reply to the majority of the communications, or meet with the MPs who raised the concerns. MPs even resorted to sending letters via recorded delivery because Barwell, who was recently awarded a life peerage, was so poor at responding.

Letters calling for change were also sent to Eric Pickles, Stephen Williams and James Wharton between 2014 and 2017. The letters also asked them to reconsider the decision not to make retrofitting sprinklers mandatory for high-rises.

In the 2017 snap election, Emma Dent Coad was elected at the MP for Kensington. She also serves as councillor for Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council and has previously led the opposition Labour group on the council. As a member of the board of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) when refurbishment of Grenfell was discussed, Dent Coad allegedly scrutinised work on Grenfell Tower. Praising the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower on 8 November 2012, which she felt showed the council had listened to residents. Years later, we’d see that those refurbishments were not adequate enough to prevent the deaths of 72 people.

Tenants in the Lancaster West estate where Grenfell Tower is located originally wanted a greater say and better housing services by forming a TMO , but the director of housing offered up a borough-wide version, ultimately functioning as an Arm’s Length Management Organisation of the council, a “fake” TMO where tenants had very little control. Since 2015, no financial support for tenant training has been offered. According to Anne Power, professor of social policy and Head of LSE Housing and Communities, the reason Kensington and Chelsea stuck with the name “Kensington and Chelsea TMO” was “in the hope that tenants would identify with it”, while in fact, there were only “a handful of tenants on the board”.

That same lack of respect for the voices of Kensington residents exists in other arenas too. Kensington overwhelmingly voted to Remain and topped the EU elections where I was an MEP London Candidate for the Liberal Democrats. In doing everything in my power to stop Brexit, I will stand up for the rights of those voices, especially EU nationals, some of whom (excluding Ireland, Malta and Cyprus) were not allowed to vote in the 2016 referendum.

Brexit seems only to have exacerbated the current climate of blame and division, at a time when everyone should be working together to bridge the widening gap between those who are struggling to make ends meet and the wealthy, those of different races and cultures and repairing the damage to the UK’s reputation in Europe and the rest of the world.

There is a sense of hope to move on, but can it in this climate?

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In the event of a snap general election, I am the prospective parliamentary candidate for Kensington. A decade of life in the rough and tumble of both controversial and rewarding politics has taught me when things go wrong, we must learn and take political responsibility. In spite of the odd setback, my commitment to stand by people and their concerns are what has led me to be resilient.

Our mistakes – from Grenfell, to Brexit – are our greatest teachers and our resilience is the ability to take people with us in deeply uncertain times.

I am standing in Kensington to represent a constituency and its diverse needs and I respect the wishes of the majority of its residents to Remain in Europe.

Together we can stop Brexit and bring a sense of harmony back to the constituency.

I can and will be that bold voice in Westminster and in the constituency for all of its residents and their concerns.

Rabina Khan is a Liberal Democrat councillor and the prospective parliamentary candidate for Kensington

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