Chalcots: Camden accused of trying to suppress 'overheating' windows report

Scaffolding around Bray block on the Chalcots

A skirmish has broken out between Camden Council and tenant representatives in Bray block, with each accusing the other of sharing misinformation about whether new windows on the Chalcots estate will cause overheating - Credit: Charles Thomson

Children will be forced to sleep in overheated bedrooms if Camden Council installs planned new windows on the Chalcots estate, an official report suggests.

Camden has told residents that children must not be alone in any room unless their new windows are on a child safety setting.

But a report commissioned by the council last year, seen by the Ham&High, shows the windows will cause night-time overheating if that child safety setting is used.

When tenant representatives put up posters about the findings in Bray block last month, Camden tore them down.

It circulated a letter branding them “misinformation”.

We asked on what basis Camden had called them “misinformation”. The council did not answer.

“I’m prepared to stand by every word that we put in those two overheating posters,” said Stephen Lawson, chairman of the Bray Tenants and Residents Association (TRA).

Chalcots estate, Swiss Cottage, Camden

Tower blocks on the Chalcots estate, Swiss Cottage, are receiving new cladding and windows at a cost of almost £100m, after serious fire safety issues were uncovered in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy - Credit: Charles Thomson

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The Windows

Tower blocks on the Chalcots are getting new windows.

A child safety setting only allows them to open 10cm unless keys are used.

A booklet given to residents in December states repeatedly that children must not be left alone in any room unless the 10cm limit is used.

Warnings to parents in Camden Council Chalcots windows booklet

A booklet given to residents by Camden Council says several times that children must not be left alone in rooms where the windows are open beyond the 10cm safety setting - Credit: Camden Council

That council booklet says the windows will offer a “55% improvement” on current overheating levels.

But, said the Bray TRA, just because something is better than it used to be, that doesn’t make it good.

It said the booklet omitted and obfuscated important information.

The alleged 55% improvement is based on the windows being opened to 30cm - which the council is explicitly telling parents not to do.

The Report

In July 2021, Camden asked a firm called ARUP to test whether the new windows would cause overheating.

All windows (except bathroom and storage room windows) were tested for how they would perform in summer if opened to 10cm or to 30cm.

ARUP graded each window's performance green, amber or red – but the report was only made available to residents who asked for it.

Of 27 windows designs, 12 were graded red and three were graded amber if the 10cm cap was used.

Chalcots ARUP report on overheating

A report commissioned by Camden Council from ARUP included how the new Chalcots windows would perform if only opened to the 10cm child safety setting. More than half the results were amber or red - Credit: Camden Council

When the 14 proposed bedroom window designs were tested for overnight overheating, all 14 were graded red at 10cm.

Some of the fails were “severe”.

“During the hottest weather, occupants would likely experience uncomfortable temperatures in certain rooms more often than standards deem acceptable if they only open windows in the restricted position,” said the report.

This finding was not in Camden’s subsequent booklet.

When the ARUP table was reproduced in that booklet, the column showing the 10cm results was missing.

Asked why the 10cm results were omitted, Camden did not answer.

Camden Council booklet on Chalcots windows

When Camden distributed a booklet to all residents, the overheating results for the 10cm child safety setting were not included - Credit: Camden Council

‘Misinformation’

The Bray TRA, which had requested and received the ARUP report, did not notice when the 10cm results were omitted from Camden's later booklet.

When scaffolding started to go up last month, said TRA rep and former Tory election candidate Nigel Rumble, they felt time was running out to halt the scheme.

That was when they realised the 10cm results had not been shared with all residents.

They felt parents should know that if they only opened children's windows 10cm, per Camden's instructions, their rooms would overheat.

“You might have two or three children in that room, generating body heat,” said Mr Lawson.

Bray block, Chalcots, Swiss Cottage, Camden

Scaffolding has started to go up around Bray block on Camden's Chalcots estate, which is set to receive new cladding and windows - Credit: Charles Thomson

The TRA put up posters, but they disappeared and the council wrote to residents, warning of “misinformation being shared about the new windows”.

“Camden was trying to control the story,” said Mr Rumble. “They didn’t want this information out.”

Asked how it reconciled instructing parents not to open children's windows wider than 10cm with an official report saying their bedrooms would overheat at 10cm, Camden did not answer.

Chalcots activist Nigel Rumble, from the Bray TRA

Nigel Rumble, from the Bray Tenants and Residents Association, accused Camden Council of trying to hide important information from residents - Credit: Nigel Rumble

Response

Whilst it declined to answer our questions, Camden issued a statement from Meric Apak, cabinet member for better homes.

He said Camden was "proud" to have listened to residents’ concerns about overheating.

“The new window design...gives residents a wider range of choices to ventilate their homes to address this concern, and it does so safely,” he said.

“All but five households in Blashford have visited the show-flat and they all tell us they love the windows,” he added.

He encouraged residents in Bray, Taplow, Dorney and Burnham blocks to visit their own show-flats, which “will be ready soon”.

“I am confident they also will be pleased with what they see,” he said.