Enough Empty Council Flats In One Chelsea Block To House All Grenfell Families

7 August 2017, 09:59 | Updated: 7 August 2017, 18:39

Council flats in the same borough as Grenfell Tower which could house all the survivors are lying empty because the owners want to demolish them.

It's been nearly eight weeks since a fire ripped through the 24 storeys of Grenfell Tower, killing at least 80 people, leaving scores of people without a home. Most are still living in hotels or B&Bs and the council says it could take five years to buy enough homes for them all.

The Sutton Estate, built 104 years ago, has 159 empty flats - one more than would be enough to house the 158 homeless families from Grenfell Tower.

The Sutton Estate, currently empty in Kensington and Chelsea
The Sutton Estate, currently empty in Kensington and Chelsea. Picture: LBC

They were emptied out - "decanted" - last year because the company who owns them, Affinty Sutton, want to demolish the building.

Their plan included knocking down 383 homes, and replacing them with 237 social rent flats, and more than 100 private flats to be sold at profit. That was rejected by Kensington and Chelsea Council, who said the net loss of social housing was too great.

But Affinity Sutton had already started moving out residents ready for the application.

To make matters worse, last year, workmen smashed windows, doors and sinks at the estate, making the flats uninhabitable.

Ian Henderson, who used to live in the estate, says these flats could be refreshed to make them ready for Grenfell residents within a month.

He told LBC: "There are currently 159 empty flats. I think the crying shame was, when they moved all these people out, instead of just leaving the flats as they were. they sent workmen in to cut off the electric, cut off the gas, open the water pipes, smash the front door windows smash the toilets, smash the sinks, to allow them to call these properties void, when they're not void at all."

Affinity Sutton told LBC this is not unusual, saying: "The flats were deemed unfit for purpose a few years ago. Sending in workmen is not out of the ordinary in order to stop squatters."

But the number 159 is particularly bitter to Ian and the other residents campaigning to save these blocks, because that is one more than the number of households needing social homes after the Grenfell fire

Ian added: "They're living in hotels. We'd like is to see these buildings brought back into use, we'd like the people of Grenfell to come here, so at least they are all together.

"And that would give the council time to find them proper properties, back in the North of the borough, where these people want to live."

A smashed-up flat in the Sutton Estate
A smashed-up flat in the Sutton Estate. Picture: LBC

While the planning application to demolish the blocks was rejected by the council last winter, Affinity Sutton have since applied to appeal that.

On 13th June, they asked the council to reconsider and letters to residents dropped on their doormats the day after the fire.

There is now a public inquiry and locals have until 18th August to lodge their complaints or support of the plans.

Affinity Sutton insist the private flats are necessary to pay for the social properties.

In a statement to LBC, Kensington and Chelsea Council said: "The council is engaging with Affinity, which is willing to work with us to find a solution.

"The xouncil’s first priority is the survivors of Grenfell and to date 105 properties have been secured by the Council for those who lived in Grenfell Tower and we continue to look at more options."