Residents and bereaved families say they have been left “in limbo” over the future of Grenfell Tower after a decision to award a new maintenance contract for the building until 2027.
More than £100m has already been spent on tower maintenance and site management since the fire that claimed 72 lives in June 2017. Housing secretary Michael Gove is now under pressure to provide a timeline for deciding on demolition.
In May 2021, the engineering consultants Atkins recommended in a government-commissioned report that demolition should start no later than May 2022 “based on protecting the safety of those working in and living around the tower”. It warned that the concrete structure was at risk of further deterioration.
The tower has been extensively supported to ensure its safety and is closely monitored. Engineering experts say that it could take as long as three years to demolish it.
A £21.3m contract is being tendered to provide maintenance and security for the tower from next July until July 2027. Analysis of government financial records by the Observer reveal spending on the site has been about £25m a year to date.
Kimia Zabihyan, who represents the Grenfell Next of Kin group, an organisation which supports families of those who died in the fire, said there had been years of indecision over the tower’s future.
She said money had been wasted and people felt “trapped” by the indecision.
“The government has done nothing despite the cost, the safety concerns for the estate and the emotional toll that a lack of progress is taking on those who live next to the tower and those who lost loved ones,” she said. “This is holding people’s lives in limbo.”
A report by the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission in November said parts of the structure of the tower could be preserved or repurposed for a memorial. The commission says the decision on the tower’s future is for the government.
To date, neither the government or the commission has published research into what parts of the tower could be retained. The new maintenance contract raises questions when work could start on a memorial, with the earliest starting date earmarked for late 2026.
It was agreed by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in consultation with community representatives in February 2022 that a report would be commissioned to complement the Atkins report on what part of the tower could be retained to form part of any memorial.
A draft scope was drawn up for the project, which has been seen by the Observer, but the work was not commissioned.
Karim Khalloufi, from Morocco, who lost his sister Khadijah Khalloufi, 52, in the fire, said: “We want to know how much of the tower is safe to stand and to have the truth and proper options. Then they can figure out how to make the memorial. They have wasted six years.”
David O’Connell, a resident on the Lancaster West estate, the location of Grenfell Tower and low-rise housing blocks, said the government had “dodged” a decision on the tower’s future for years. “People want to move on with their lives and want a decision,” he said. “They can’t build a memorial until there is a decision about the tower.”
John Carpenter, a fellow at the Institution of Civil Engineers and an expert on structural safety who has advised the Lancaster West community, said the tower was safe because of the installation of steel props, but demolition with other homes nearby would be “very complex”.
Carpenter said it was “appalling” that the government had failed to reach a decision on the tower more than six years after the fire. He understood the requirement for community consultation, but there needed to be a decision on the tower’s future and the most suitable memorial.
He said: “This enormous edifice in the middle of the estate is a constant reminder to those who live there. One needs to move on.”
A spokesperson for the department said: “A decision on the future of Grenfell Tower will not be made without further conversations with bereaved families, survivors and local residents. Any decision must be approached sensitively and in a way that people feel as comfortable as possible with.”
Officials say the tendering of the new contract will not prevent a decision being made on the tower during the period the contract will run. They say they will work with the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission to ensure it has the assessments it requires to support its work.