London: A council has admitted it received complaints over the refurbishment of a west London tower block which has been ravaged by a deadly fire, after an action group said its warnings fell on “deaf ears” when it highlighted safety concerns.
The cause of the huge blaze on Wednesday which killed at least 12 people at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington is not yet known but the death toll from the devastating tower block fire is expected to rise.
Residents had been concerned about safety, and Grenfell Action Group said in a blog post in November “only a catastrophic event” would expose the issues.
The group said there was one entry and exit to the tower during improvement works and it had issues with evacuation procedures.
Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Borough, Nick Paget-Brown, confirmed the tower had undergone a major refurbishment, including the addition of external cladding, and that the council had received safety complaints.
“Now clearly when you do that there are difficulties, problems, complaints, logistics to resolve and it is undoubtedly the case that the council received some complaints about the way the work was being conducted.
“But we will need to look much more closely at how much of that corresponds to the cause of today’s fire.”
The tower block was recently refurbished at a cost of £8.7 million ($A14.6 million), with work completed in May last year.
The exterior of the 1970s-built tower was modernised with cladding and replacement windows, while additional homes were added using vacant space in the building.
Management of the tower was passed from the council to the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation in 1996 after the tenants and leaseholders voted to manage their own homes.
The organisation said in a statement on its website: “It is too early to speculate what caused the fire and contributed to its spread. We will co-operate fully with all the relevant authorities in order to ascertain the cause of this tragedy.
“We are aware that concerns have been raised historically by residents. We always take all concerns seriously and these will form part of our forthcoming investigations. While these investigations continue with our co-operation, our core priority at the moment is our residents.”
But the former chairman of the tenancy body which manages the Grenfell building said he had concerns about the way it was being run for years.
“This is a scandal. This is one of the biggest scandals in the country – and it could have been avoided,” Reg Kerr-Bell, former chairman of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenancy Management Organisation, told Daily Express.
“We felt there was a disaster waiting to happen and we were going to have a meeting with the MP so that we could put these concerns to them.”
Mr Kerr-Bell said he also had concerns over the building’s 2016 refurbishment, which was undertaken by a company now in liquidation.
“This refurbishment contract should never have been managed by TMO.
“It was too big for them. My great concern was about the viability of the project.”
Prime Minister Theresa May has promised a “proper investigation” after the fire tore through the building.
Speaking in Downing Street, May said: “When it’s possible to identify the cause of this fire, then of course there will be proper investigation and if there are any lessons to be learnt they will be and action will be taken.”
Many people are unaccounted for and firefighters are continuing to tackle “pockets of fire”, with the operation now in the “recovery phase”.
Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan Police said: “This is going to be a long and complex recovery operation and I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12.”
Residents’ groups have claimed they voiced concerns about the safety of the building, which had been recently refurbished, while those who escaped complained their fire alarms had not been set off by the blaze.
Policing and Fire minister Nick Hurd said emergency checks would be carried out on tower blocks undergoing similar renovations.
Grenfell Tower, which built in 1974, was refurbished at a cost of STG8.7 million ($A14.6 million), with work completed in May 2016.
Rydon Group, which that carried out the refurbishment, said the project “met all required building regulations”.
But a line stating the project had met all “fire regulation and health and safety standards”, which was included in an earlier release, had disappeared.
Witnesses described hearing screams for help from people trapped on the upper floors of the block as flames engulfed the building, which contains 120 flats thought to be home to between 400 and 600 people.
Children and a baby were seen being thrown out of the windows to be caught by emergency workers and members of the public below.
London Fire Brigade said it had rescued 65 people as flames engulfed the block and had managed to reach all 24 floors, though a full search of the building had not been completed.
NHS England said 74 patients were treated in six hospitals across London, including 18 who are in critical care.
Dozens of people gathered for a vigil on Wednesday night in the shadow of the tower as the sun began to set.