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Lakanal fire borough leader: capacity is an issue after disaster

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No individual council has the current capacity to deal with the aftermath of a disaster like the Grenfell Tower blaze, the leader of an authority that went through a fire tragedy has said.

Southwark LBC leader Peter John (Lab) said his council struggled to rehouse people after the fire at the slightly smaller Lakanal House (pictured) in 2009, even though the loss of life and damage were less extensive.

Cllr John, who has led Southwark since 2010, told LGC: “We learnt the very hard way about fire.

“We have offered help to K&C and some of our officers have been over there but we have not been asked about helping with accommodation.”

Kensington & Chelsea has told LGC that 109 households from Grenfell Tower have been accommodated in west London hotels.

Cllr John said: “Hotels are a very short term solution. We struggled with rehousing people with the Lakanal House fire, with people put into temporary accommodation, and I think any council would struggle.

“I don’t believe that with the cuts any council would have the slack anywhere to deal with a tragedy like this on its own now – I would be amazed if any individual authority could cope alone.”

Lakanal House fire

Lakanal House fire

He said Southwark had checked fire safety in housing blocks since 2009 to make sure these were compartmentalised, so that any fire should be contained in a room or flat long enough to be extinguished without spreading.

“We have checked we do not have this sort of cladding [like Grenfell Tower] on our blocks and as far as I know we do not,” he added.

Southwark was fined £270,000 and ordered to pay £300,000 in legal costs after it pleaded guilty to charges over Lakanal House, and spent £62m on a fire risk assessment programme and associated works.

Meanwhile, Southwark has awarded one month’s automatic business rates relief to firms that could not trade because they were inside the security cordon put around Borough Market after the 3 June terrorist incident.

Cllr John said: “Some, such as restaurants I’ve talked to, have lost thousands of pounds. The cost of rates relief is split 30/70 between ourselves and [the Department for Communities & Local Government].”

He said the total approximate cost would be £440,000, making Southwark’s share £132,000.

Businesses that can prove more substantial loss can make claims for hardship relief.



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