Editorial comment: Council needs to show it has learned after fire

The Chalcots Estate. Picture: HARRY TAYLOR

The Chalcots Estate. Picture: HARRY TAYLOR - Credit: Archant

Grenfell changed everything. It’s a political phrase which sums up how the events on the night of June 14 last year changed British society forever.

On a Camden level, Grenfell begot the Chalcots, something which dominates Camden’s political landscape as much as it does Belsize’s physical view. To residents, it provided the horrifying realisation that their home, the bastion of a comfortable and stable, existence wasn’t a place of safe refuge any more.

Even then, little could they have imagined the seeming two-year saga that was set into motion. Not just the evacuation, but their estate being turned into a building site, the slow-churn of further repairs, further news, and delays when the thing residents wanted was certainty.

In a way, I have a lot of sympathy for Georgia Gould’s position. The evacuation of the Chalcots came a month after she took over as leader of Camden Labour. Even if the matter had been brought to her attention, there would only have been so much she could have done. It was a legacy issue.

While some have said Cllr Gould could have delayed the evacuation, the warning came just over a week after 71 people had died in one of Britain’s most horrifying events. If the body designated with looking at fire safety told you to evacuate residents - most people would have done the same. Those who say otherwise are relying on the hindsight, and talking months after Grenfell. You cannot recreate the atmosphere that decision was taken in.

However last week bore another reminder of Camden’s bungled fire safety policy.

Mary Hassell issued a Prevention of Future Deaths notice after her inquest into the death of Magdalena Fink.

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In Ms Hassell’s warning, she points her judicial finger squarely at Camden Council.

It is unthinkable that the borough would not have anybody responsible for checking smoke detectors. It’s not even something as nuanced as the material in cladding. Having somebody to go and check smoke detectors them is a basic requirement. How can an authority have such a gap in their fire safety coverage?

Cllr Gould’s response is similar to that of the Chalcots. There are lessons to be learnt. There is a new head of resident safety. You get the picture. But there’s a worrying lack of an apology, a concerning paucity of responsibility over it. However a woman died, in part, because of Camden’s shocking fire safety provision. Her council has to show not only that it is learning, but that is has learned.

It’s interesting that one of Labour’s target wards in next month’s election is Belsize, where Dorney, Bray, Taplow, Blashford and Burnham tower over their surroundings. Francesca Fazey’s brilliant piece shows how residents are using the issue to shape how they vote. With 3000 residents in the towers alone, it may be the issue that could burst Labour’s balloon in Belsize. The only way these people will be won back around, is seeing the effects of this learning, rather than hearing that it’s still ongoing.