UK rejects request to replace local authority after fire

(File, AP)
(File, AP)

London - British Prime Minister Theresa May's government on Saturday rejected demands that she appoint commissioners to run the local government blamed for mishandling the response to the London high-rise apartment building fire that killed at least 80 people.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan had asked May to take the unusual step because he said the elected council for the borough of Kensington and Chelsea has "lost the trust of local residents".

Directly involved

The council owns Grenfell Tower, which was a 120-unit public housing complex before it was destroyed in the June 14 fire and provides services to the surrounding community.

But British Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said that while he supported the decision by the Kensington and Chelsea Council's leader to resign on Friday, now was not the time for the central government to get directly involved.

"It is right the council leader stepped down given the initial response to the Grenfell tragedy," Javid said in a statement. "The process to select his successor will be independent of government, but we will be keeping a close eye on the situation. If we need to take further action, we won't hesitate to do so".

Khan's demand came amid intensifying anger about the rapidly spread fire and frustration over the council's efforts to help Grenfell Tower residents left homeless.

Fire survivors and residents of the surrounding neighbourhood have protested their treatment, accusing local officials of ineptitude and lack of concern for their plight.

Most deprived

Council leader Nick Paget-Brown resigned on Friday, saying he accepted responsibility for the "perceived failings" of the council and that its members would elect new leadership at its next meeting.

But Khan argued that all members of the council were tainted by the body's response to the disaster.

"It is crucial that the commissioners are people of high standing and probity; have a genuine empathy for local people and the situation they face and be untainted so that all residents of Kensington and Chelsea can have confidence in them," Khan said.

The frustration in north Kensington underscores the political and socio-economic divisions in the larger borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Grenfell Tower is located in one of England's most deprived neighbourhoods, according to a government ranking that combines factors such as income, employment, education and access to housing.

Yet it sits alongside the wealthy enclaves of Notting Hill and Holland Park, areas that attract wealthy expatriates, investment bankers and corporate managers.

Public money

The Kensington and Chelsea Council is made up of 37 members of the Conservative Party, 12 from the Labour Party and one from the Liberal Democrats. The council leader would normally represent the largest party.

Appointing commissioners to oversee a local government would be unusual, but not unprecedented move for the British government. Commissioners were brought in to run the London borough of Tower Hamlets in 2014 amid concerns about how the council handled public money.

A year later, commissioners replaced the Rotherham Council in central England when its leaders resigned after a report found they failed to confront widespread sexual abuse because of concerns about political correctness.

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