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London Grenfell Tower residents raised concerns months before fire

Grenfell Tower was intended to be among the jewels of an $85 million (-67 million) urban regeneration scheme carried out by the London borough of Kensignton and Chelsea.

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Steve George (CNN)

Grenfell Tower was intended to be among the jewels of an $85 million (-67 million) urban regeneration scheme carried out by the London borough of Kensignton and Chelsea.

But on Wednesday, as an enormous fire gutted the 24-story residential block, it emerged that local residents' groups had expressed concerns about safety going back several years.

Originally constructed in 1974, the residential tower block had recently undergone a massive $11M (-8.6M) refurbishment carried out by private developers Rydon.

According to the local authority's website, these large-scale works included the installation of "insulated exterior cladding, new double-glazed windows and a new communal heating system, with the goal of improving energy efficiency."

Notably, redevelopment of the building included provisions for improvements to the "smoke/fire safety and ventilation works."

However, in a blog post dated November 20, 2016, a residents group, the Grenfell Action Group (GAC), highlighted ongoing concerns among residents over the safety of the building, managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization (KCTMO) on behalf of the borough.

The blog post argued that only "a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord ... and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders."

Terry O'Neil, former head of fire engineering at London Fire Brigade, told CNN that the fire in the building appears to have "spread rapidly from the outside of the building", which was "very unusual".

Robert Black, Chief Executive of KCTMO, said in a statement that the loss of life at Grenfell Tower was "heartbreaking" and that staff were supporting residents."We will issue a further statement in due course," he said. The statement did not address the residents' allegations.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea issued a statement early Wednesday saying that its main focus was the rescue operation. "The cause of the fire will be fully investigated and we will keep people informed," it said.

Rydon, the developers, said refubishment work met "all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards."

Residents' concerns appeared to be focused on KCTMO's fire safety record.

In October 2015 a fire ripped through another KCTMO property, the nearby 14-story Adair Tower in North Kensington, a "serious incident" according to official reports "which resulted in 16 residents requiring hospital treatment for the effects of smoke inhalation."

After the Adair Tower fire, KCTMO had been issued with two enforcement motices to install "self-closing devices on all flat entrance doors" and review communal staircases and ventilation in the lift lobbies to ensure staircases are "available for use by residents and attending fire crews." According to minutes of a KCTMO board meeting in July 2016 said works were carried out to address the issues raised in the enforcement notices.

Located between the wealthy neighborhood of Notting Hill and the White City social housing estate, Grenfell Tower was home to 125 families, according to local councilor Robert Atkinson. Many were council tenants -- residents whose housing is subsided by the local government.

All of the building's 120 apartment units were occupied throughout the refurbishment process, according to borough website.

The London Fire Brigade said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the fire. " A full investigation will need to be undertaken at the first possible opportunity to establish exactly what happened and what can be done to prevent such an incident happening again.

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