Letter: Fear for future of Chalcots residents

Residents during the evacuation in 2017

Chalcots' residents during the evacuation in 2017 - Credit: PA Images

Anthony Royle, past chair of Bray TRA, past member of Chalcots Works Group, writes:

Congratulations on the article by Michael Boniface of May 14 on the frustrations that Chalcots Residents have with Camden Council.

It is now four years since the terrible Grenfell Tower tragedy, which prompted the evacuation of the Chalcots Estate of their 3,500 residents for five weeks as a precaution against the possibility of a similar catastrophe. This was a great trauma for us residents, but was followed by Camden’s vital decision to repair the fire stopping and remove the same cladding and insulation from the five towers, for which they are to be praised and congratulated.

Unfortunately the key message about how the residents of Grenfell were not heard and listened to by their local authority, has not been fully absorbed and understood by Camden. Cllr Meric Apak states in this article, all the things that they are doing to listen to residents, which is at best disingenuous. However, this is window dressing exercise and is an attempt by Camden to be seen to consulting, whereas in reality it is a shadow of the dialogue and genuine consultation that existed previously through tenants and residents associations and the Chalcots Works Group, which he closed down. 

We are now told that we cannot even expect answers to our legitimate questions in emails, since we have to await answers in the space limited periodic newsletter, which is totally inadequate, but symbolic of their new total approach. 

Procurement is ongoing for the fire safety works

Residents of the Chalcots towers have been waiting four years work on their homes in the aftermath of the dramatic 2017 evacuation - Credit: Mandy Ryan

The Hackitt report recommended that a key part of listening to residents concerns was through tenants and residents’ associations, but these were not even referenced by Cllr Apak in this article. In fact Camden decided to undermine existing TRAs and groups like the Chalcots Works Group, which met weekly with Camden officers throughout the early parts of the claddings removal and the fire stopping project to jointly solve all the problems by this joint consultative approach. They latterly decided to create many other fragmented new groups and arenas with limited time periods of existence and limited terms of reference. 

My belief and experience is that Camden found it too difficult to be challenged and questioned weekly on all aspects of the management of the project, which proved to be extremely costly and was not completed effectively, so they tried to start again with a new framework of consultation, which would not be so difficult for Camden to handle and control. Zoom sessions and Covid have made the consultations far more easy for them to limit, control and manage.

Bray TRA officers produced in recent months a list of 32 items and issues that we felt from our lived experience of this big £100m project in the last few years, would guide Camden in the recruitment of new contractors to finish off the project, to replace claddings and insulation and replace windows with a new design. 

Cllr Meric Apak

Cllr Meric Apak - Credit: Archant

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We have attempted to have this list discussed by Camden, and eventually we, TRA officers, were invited to a meeting with Cllr Meric and his officers three weeks ago specifically to discuss this list. Sadly, we did not discuss this list at all, and we left this abortive meeting feeling depressed, humiliated and angry. We were subjected to a collective angry assault on abusive TRAs, who were disrespectful and abusive, and Cllr Apak wanted to justify why he would close arenas down rather than have officers used as target practice, as recently demonstrated with Gospel Oak DMC. 

We could not understand why we were being attacked in this way, since Bray TRA has been one of the most effective active  and courteous TRAs. This experience reiterated our collective experience of Camden’s approach to TRAs across the estate in recent times , which has lead to our fears and concerns about this final stage of the project. 

Three years of hellish invasive and intrusive work into every room of the 712 flats over the next three years to replace windows , radiators and make good damage is a terrifying prospect, and now without a cooperative and understanding alliance between us, which we have been trying to offer and create, the prospects are dire.

I fear for our futures here.