Grenfell council spends enough to 'build tower three times' on survivors' hotels
Nearly £21 million has been spent keeping Grenfell Tower survivors in hotel rooms, enough to have built the original block an estimated three times over, new figures suggest.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) paid £20.9 million in hotel bills between the fire last June and mid-February, according to information obtained by the Press Association.
A further £8 million was run up financially supporting families and individuals who lost everything, dozens of whom have now spent nine months living in hotels.
RBKC has been heavily criticised for the length of time taken to find permanent new homes since the west London inferno left 71 dead and hundreds destitute on June 14.
Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad said architects working on the surrounding Lancaster West estate during the 1970s estimate it would have cost around £500,000 to build Grenfell Tower.
The 24-storey block was constructed between 1972 and 1974, meaning in today's money the sum would be as high as £6.2 million, less than a third of the council's hotel expenditure.
Sam Webb, a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects' expert advisory group on fire safety, estimated the price tag for the project would have been slightly higher, at £750,000 to £1 million - a maximum of £9.4 million to £12.5 million now - due to a sharp increase in tender prices in 1970 and the financial repercussions of the Arab-Israeli war in 1973.
Financial data from RBKC, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that between June 14 2017 and February 15 this year, £20.9 million was spent on rooms at 53 hotels for residents of Grenfell Tower, several bereaved families and evacuees from the Lancaster West estate.
It is understood the Government will meet approximately half the cost of the hotel bills and financial support.
Ms Dent Coad condemned the findings and called for commissioners to be drafted in to run the council rehousing drive.
She told the Press Association: "Kensington and Chelsea Council tax payers will be shocked to hear that our wasteful and incompetent Council has already spent nearly £30 million keeping survivors and bereaved families in hotels.
"The Tower would have cost in the region of £500,000 when first built. It was a very solid construction built to last 100 years. I can't look at it now.
"I spend a great deal of time visiting displaced families in hotels, and without exception they want permanent homes which suit their needs, but are not being offered anything suitable.
"Their lives are not only on hold; for many this has lost them jobs and businesses, and destroyed their ability to work or study.
"I cannot understand why the Government hasn't sent in commissioners to take over the re-housing process."
But deputy council leader Kim Taylor Smith hit back at the Labour MP, who is also an RBKC councillor, questioning whether "she would prefer us to not spend money on giving people a roof over their head".
He pointed to the 307 homes secured by the council at a cost of £235 million as evidence that efforts were being made to accelerate the rehousing process.
Out of the 209 households which required new properties in the wake of the fire, 185 have accepted the offer of a temporary or permanent home and 126 have moved in, according to the latest council figures.
This leaves 24 families or individuals who are still in hotels.
A man from the tower and his elderly mother, who suffers from disabilities, are among them, according to Ms Dent Coad.
She said: "This woman has been sitting in a hotel for nine months, she wants a flat, she is disabled and wants disabled access.
"What the hell are RBKC doing spending a fortune on hotels when there are supposedly 300 flats they bought out there?"
Mr Taylor Smith responded: "From the statement given by the local MP, I'm assuming she would prefer us to not spend money on giving people a roof over their head after the Grenfell Tower tragedy?
"It is also clear she is out of touch and has not understood the challenges of purchasing over 300 good quality homes in her constituency.
"We have staff doing everything they can to rehouse families as quickly as possible. We've already spent £235m to secure 307 homes, to ensure that people have the maximum choice available.
"Additionally, we have clear housing policies in place to help people from the wider community move out of hotels back into their existing homes or into temporary accommodation."