The chief executive of a 1,300-home housing association has been appointed as the long-awaited replacement third member of the Grenfell Inquiry panel.
Ali Akbor will step down as chief executive of Leeds-based Unity Homes and Enterprise to take up the role with the inquiry on 2 November.
The inquiry has been seeking a third member for its panel since January, when previous pick, Benita Mehra, stepped down after it emerged a charity she chaired had received funding from Grenfell-cladding manufacturer Arconic.
Ms Mehra was a short-notice replacement for the original candidate, Professor Nabeel Hamdi, who resigned without explanation in December.
Survivors and bereaved have been pressing for an appointment since, concerned that the current panel of retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick and architect Thouria Istephan lacked insight into matters relating to social housing and community relations.
Last week, Grenfell United – which represents many of the former residents of the tower – wrote to prime minister Boris Johnson branding the delay “unacceptable”.
Under the rules governing public inquiries, the government must appoint the panel, the recruitment being handled by the Cabinet Office.
Reacting to the appointment of Mr Akbor, Grenfell United said: “We can only but hope that this panellist has been thoroughly checked and will live up to the responsibility he has before him.
“We have already heard evidence on how we were labelled as troublemakers for speaking out for our safety. It’s imperative that the panel learn the lessons and produce meaningful recommendations so that social housing tenants are never treated in this way again.”
The inquiry is this week hearing from witnesses at the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) about their role in the refurbishment. On Monday, it emerged that tenants who asked for details of the plans were branded “antagonists”.
Mr Akbor said: “I have been privileged to work with Unity colleagues and partners for more than two decades to deliver high-quality affordable homes and other essential services to those in greatest need.
“We have radically improved the quality of life for thousands of people. This is a source of great pride to me and I know that this wonderful work will go on.
“The future of the association and its customers will be in excellent hands.”
Unity was first established in 1987 to address the housing needs of the black and minority ethnic population in Leeds. It now owns and manages 1,300 homes for tenants of all ethnicities.
The association also runs a service supporting local entrepreneurs that provides 142 affordable business units for more than 80 diverse businesses across three centres.
Mr Akbor is a qualified accountant and held senior roles in Salford City Council before joining Unity, where he has been chief executive since 1999. He was awarded an OBE last year for services to the community in Leeds.
The panellists will assist chair Sir Martin in reviewing the evidence and writing the inquiry’s final report.