London fire: Grenfell Tower residents had complained about safety concerns to local council

Campaigners for residents of the London tower block that went up in a giant blaze on Wednesday spoke angrily about long-standing fire safety concerns, saying they were ignored because the community was not rich.

Smoke billows from the Grenfell tower apartment building in London on Wednesday. AP

Smoke billows from the Grenfell Tower apartment building in London on Wednesday. AP

Damian Collins, former head of the Grenfell Tower Residents' Association, said residents had complained to the local council over the handling of a major refurbishment of the building completed in 2016.

"We used to say that... it'll take a tragedy before the people wake up and before the people managing the building get held to account," Collins said, as the 24-storey building smouldered nearby.

Collins said residents of the tower were particularly concerned about the lack of fire exits in the building.

He said there were also faults in the heating and lighting systems, and 90 percent of residents had signed a petition in 2015 that was ignored.

"There were so many concerns," Collins said.

"The telling thing this morning is that when I woke up I wasn't surprised... Shocked, terrified for all the people living here, not surprised," he said.

Grenfell Tower is a concrete tower block built in 1974.

Its £8.7 million (9.9 million euro, $11 million) refurbishment was completed in 2016 and included new cladding covering the whole of the exterior, which residents blamed for spreading the fire.

The tower was built as public housing and is located in a working-class but rapidly gentrifying part of the mostly wealthy Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

It neighbours the chic district of Notting Hill.

"If the same concerns were had in a wealthy part of Kensington and Chelsea they would have got resolved, but here they didn't get resolved," said Collins.

"This is a multi-ethnic, multicultural, diverse community that just didn't get served by the people representing them," he said.

Eddie, a 55-year-old resident from the Grenfell Action Group, said he too had been complaining for years in particular about work at the base of the building which he said blocked access for fire trucks.

"This is mass murder and these people need to be put into court for the way they've treated this community," he said at the scene of the blaze.

A blog post on the Grenfell Action Group blog in 2016 warned about a potential fire risk caused by rubbish being allowed to accumulate during the works.

"This matter is of particular concern as there is only one entry and exit to Grenfell Tower during the improvement works," it said.

"The potential for a fire to break out in the communal area on the walkway does not bear thinking about as residents would be trapped in the building with no way out," it said.

Nana Akuffo, 46, a chef who lives nearby said council tenants had been treated harshly.

"Kensington and Chelsea are moving out people who grew up in this area and building plush houses for the rich people. Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call for them," he said.

Referring to the multiple complaints by residents, he said: "If this happened somewhere near Knightsbridge that would have been resolved. It wouldn't have been an issue."

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2017 19:21 PM

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