A little over four years after a catastrophic fire tore through Grenfell Tower in West London, officials have announced that the now-derelict 24-story residential high-rise will be razed over fears that the charred remnants of the scaffolding-supported, protective wrap-clad structure pose a public safety risk.
As first reported by The Guardian, ministers are expected to formally announce the demolition of the tower later this month after the recent release of a report on the state of fire-ravaged structure prepared by government-enlisted engineering consultancy Atkins. The structural engineers who authored the report advise that what remains of the tower should be “carefully taken down” as soon as possible due to safety concerns impacting the community around the site, including a nearby secondary school. The recommendation to move forward with the tower’s demolition with a new sense of urgency was made to officials “unambiguously and unanimously” in a decision referred to as a “fait accompli,” as one high-ranking source who spoke with the Sunday Times described it.
Per the BBC, experts detailed that the work to bring down the tower should begin by May 2022 at the latest.
The report reads: “There is unanimous agreement and unambiguous advice from all the technical experts and engineers involved in the Grenfell project that the tower should not be propped for the medium to long-term but should be deconstructed at the earliest possible opportunity, with deconstruction commencing no later than May 2022.”
It has always been a given that the tower, which, on June 14, 2017, was the site of the deadliest structural fire in modern British history, would likely eventually come down and give way to a public memorial remembering the 72 lives lost in the tragedy.
However, a timeline as to when that would happen remains uncertain as the second phase of the inquiry into the deadly blaze, which was temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 crisis, is still ongoing. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) had previously promised to Grenfell survivors and the loved ones of those who perished that the earliest demolition date would come shortly after the fifth anniversary of the disaster in June 2022.
Despite the heightened urgency now at hand, MHCLG, the agency which assumed ownership of the blighted site in 2018, has offered its assurances that work on dismantling the remains of the tower will still not commence until after June 2022 at the earliest as it had promised—it also clarified that final plans have still yet to be ironed out: “We know how important and sensitive this decision is, and no decision has been taken,” a spokesperson from the MHCLG relayed to the Guardian in a statement. “Following important independent safety advice from structural engineers, we are engaging closely with the community as we consider the evidence including the safety concerns raised, and what the future of Grenfell Tower should be.”
That “community,” however, has vocalized that it has been left out of the process regarding the fate of the site and, more specifically, the exact timing of the planned demolition.
Grenfell United, a group of survivors and bereaved families formed in the immediate wake of the tragedy, released a statement acknowledging that it was “shocked” to learn of the forthcoming demolition announcement “given the promise by the government that no decision would be made on the future of the tower without full consultation with the bereaved and survivors.”
Members of Grenfell United and supporters of the group believe that no decisions regarding the site’s future should be made until a decision on a permanent memorial—a lasting, meaningful tribute fully supported and decided on by both survivors and the families of Grenfell residents lost in the fire—is made.
The statement went on to note:
“The government has engaged with fewer than 10 of the bereaved and survivors on this matter to date. How can the tower be demolished before the legal process concludes, when no judge in the land can confirm it won’t hinder future criminal prosecutions? Justice is important to us all and anything that may prevent justice must not be an option.
Many of the Grenfell community accept the removal of the tower will always be a case of when, not if, but the timeline needs to be decided by the bereaved, survivors and community, not the government—who have done nothing to make the changes needed to prevent it happening again.”
Another support and action group founded in the wake of the tragedy, Grenfell Next of Kin, released its own strongly worded statement in reaction to the demolition news, which was first reported by The Sunday Times. It called the story “deeply distressing and irresponsible” and stated that the newspaper was partaking in the “deliberate spreading of misinformation” coming from a single source. “The impression coming through this ‘project fear’ is that the Tower is unsafe, dangerous and therefore there is no other option except demolition,” wrote the group.
Earlier this year, Grenfell Next of Kin backed a memorial proposal that leaves the ruins of the tower standing and allows nature to take hold (with some restoration work and seed-distributing assistance) so that it is transformed into a lush, 220-foot-tall vertical forest a la Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale high-rise in Milan.
“The ashes of our loved ones are in the fabric of that building,” said survivor Marcio Gomes, who, along with his wife Andreia Perestrelo, conceived the demolition-circumventing memorial plan. “The tower is a symbol of survival for those who made it and a sacred place where our loved ones took their last breath.” (Gomes and Perestrelo’s son Logan was stillborn due to toxic smoke inhalation.)
Meanwhile, the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission, which was established in 2018, has yet to publish any finalized plans for a permanent tribute to the victims of the Grenfell disaster and its survivors.