An operation to cover the burned-out shell of Grenfell Tower will begin in the next three weeks and is likely to take until mid-autumn due to the extensive damage of the fire.
Michael Lockwood, who is in charge of site recovery, told local residents in a meeting on Wednesday 26 July that scaffolding would begin to be erected around the tower in the next two to three weeks, and that the operation to wrap the tower would take a minimum of 12 weeks.
The wrapping will prevent dust and ash being distributed in the area, Lockwood said. Scaffolding would permit a lift to be installed within the tower, allowing recovered material to be removed and analysed.
The stability of the tower proved to have been a “big issue” over the six weeks since the fire, in which at least 80 people died, he said in the meeting. “The building comprised a core and four columns, one of which was badly damaged in the fire,” he added.
To ensure the column in the north west corner of the tower remains stable, a “significant amount of propping” had been required. Work was continuing in the interior where some floors and ceilings were at a small risk of collapse. Around 1,800 props will be put in place in the next few weeks to bolster the vulnerable parts of the interior.
Both the recovery operation, assisted by advisers from the 9/11 attack in the US, and a criminal investigation are continuing, with 50 people working inside the tower seven days a week. Recovery is expected to last until the end of the year and the criminal investigation is likely to conclude in early 2018.
“It is being done respectfully and with dignity,” Lockwood added in the meeting. “We need to maximise the evidence and make sure justice is done.”
He has also confirmed that 12 flats in the block were completely untouched by the fire, and another 21 had been partially damaged. Personal items from those flats will be retrievable in the coming weeks.
Decisions will be taken regarding the long term future of the building by the end of the year. Lockwood also added that he was aware of online petitions for a memorial garden or park, and promised to “have that discussion with the community”.
Residents at the meeting also criticised the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council, Elizabeth Campbell and her deputy Kim Taylor-Smith for failing to listen to the community and to respond to its needs.
Ramiro Urbano, the father of 12-year-old Jessica Urbano who perished in the fire, raised questions over the figure of “at least 80” casualties announced by the police. “Why are you so scared of going beyond the number? For us, the figures don’t add up,” he said, saying 600 people had been in the tower at the time of the fire.
The Metropolitan Police’s borough commander for Kensington and Chelsea, Ellie O’Connor, said the police announced 80 casualties “because that’s what we believe. We do say it might go up, but we don’t believe it will go up substantially.”
Recovery and identification was a very difficult task, O’Connor added. “If the death toll goes to 80, 90, 100, we will be honest with you” shed said.
People living in the area around the tower spoke of the detrimental side effects of the fire on their health, citing nosebleeds, asthma, headaches, dizziness and chest pains. A man who lives nearby said he represents the “silent victims” of the fire. “On top of what we’ve seen, we’re experiencing every day noise, pollution, disturbances,” he said. “My chest is wheezing.”
The communities secretary, Sajid Javeed, wrote to residents promising them the task force responding to the disaster would be in place for “however long is necessary”.
In the letter, which was available at the public meeting, Javeed wrote: “I envisage them to be in place for however long is necessary to get the job done- in reality, this is likely to mean for at least one year.”