London’s mayor has urged Theresa May to appoint commissioners to run Kensington and Chelsea council after its leader resigned over the Grenfell Tower fire.
Sadiq Khan welcomed Nicholas Paget-Brown’s decision to stand down, but said public trust could not be restored by other members of the council.
He said residents “quite rightly feel desperately neglected”.
Mr Paget-Brown resigned on Friday, saying he had to “accept my share of responsibility for perceived failings”.
At least 80 people are believed to have died as fire engulfed the Grenfell Tower block, in west London, on 14 June.
Mr Paget-Brown resigned following sustained criticism of the council and an aborted meeting of its cabinet on Thursday, from which leaders had tried to ban members of the public and press.
The decision led to a rebuke from Downing Street, which said it would have expected the council to respect a High Court ruling that the meeting be open to the public.
Reacting to Mr Paget-Brown’s resignation, Mr Khan said it had been “clear that the local community in and around North Kensington has lost trust in the council and that the administration is not fit for purpose”.
He called on the prime minister to appoint “untainted” commissioners with “a genuine empathy for local people and the situation they face” to take over the running of the council until the next local council elections.
Key criticisms of the council
- Residents condemned the response to the tragedy, calling it “absolute chaos” as relief efforts on the ground were limited.
- They said there was little or no co-ordination in the immediate days after the disaster, with claims council officials were nowhere to be seen.
- The council was accused of failing to provide enough support or information to those who had been made homeless.
- It tried to hold the first cabinet meeting since the disaster behind closed doors.
- After a High Court order ruled it should be open to the public, the council adjourned the meeting after 20 minutes, claiming an open meeting would “prejudice” the inquiry.
Mr Khan added: “The council now needs to find a way to move forward and find a way to restore the confidence in that community.
“That can only be done with new leadership and a new approach that reaches out to residents who quite rightly feel desperately neglected.”
Shadow housing secretary John Healey told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he backed Mr Khan’s call because the council had “demonstrated they are not up to the job”.
“The public and residents’ trust can’t be restored by simply replacing the leader and deputy leader by other politicians from the same political group and this is where ministers need to step in,” he said.
Council leaders had claimed on Thursday that an open meeting would “prejudice” the forthcoming public inquiry into the disaster.
But angry protests followed and Labour councillor Robert Atkinson, whose ward includes Grenfell Tower, branded the abandoned meeting a “fiasco”.
In his resignation statement, Mr Paget-Brown said he had received legal advice not to “compromise” the public inquiry into the fire by having the meeting open to the public and press.
But he added this decision “has itself become a political story”.
“It cannot be right that this should have become the focus of attention when so many are dead or still unaccounted for,” he said.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said the resignation was a “personal matter” for Mr Paget-Brown, but added that it was “right that he has stepped aside”.
Deputy council leader and cabinet member for housing, property and regeneration, Rock Feilding-Mellen, also stood down.
The fire at the 24-storey block in North Kensington destroyed 151 homes, both in the tower and surrounding areas.
Documents obtained by the BBC suggest cladding fitted to Grenfell Tower during its refurbishment was changed to a cheaper version, which was less fire resistant.
The tower’s cladding has been the focus of attention, amid suggestions it was why the flames spread so quickly.
Meanwhile, the head of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation has stepped aside so he can focus on “assisting with the investigation and inquiry”.