OPINION: We need to see fire inspection reports for Camden’s Chalcots Estate
PUBLISHED: 18:26 29 June 2017 | UPDATED: 19:25 30 June 2017
Last night I drove over the Westway flyover past the charred remains of the Grenfell Tower.
It is one of the saddest and most macabre things I have seen and will be burned on my memory for ever.
In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell fire which killed 79 people, I wrote last week on this page: “What the Grenfell Tower tragedy has shown is that while some are living in wealth, on their doorsteps are tower blocks like Grenfell where people are being neglected and not being cared for by their landlords and local authorities.
“While the horrific images of Grenfell are still in our minds, this is the lesson our local politicians and authorities and all of us must learn. We must make sure that everyone within our community, whatever their circumstances, has a safe place to live. Nobody is neglected and everyone has an equal voice that is heard. Everyone has a right to be safe, not just the wealthy and articulate.”
Now I feel angry and let down. I believed then that such a disaster would never happen in Camden, because I had faith that the council I have grown up with would never neglect or fail to look after a part of our community like that.
But now it is clear that I was wrong.
We now know that conditions inside Camden’s four Chalcots tower blocks, in Swiss Cottage, were a potential fire trap. This led to thousands of residents being evacuated on Friday night on the orders of London Fire Brigade.
It is bad enough they had to spend uncomfortable nights on a gym floor but this is not just about this stressful experience and temporary disruption.
It is about the shocking fact that the conditions in The Chalcots tower blocks were such a danger that LFB advised that Camden Council take immediate action as it considered residents were in “imminent danger”.
Councillor Sian Berry reveals in her blog that LFB told her it considered an article 31 notice, the most serious enforcement option available, if Camden hadn’t immediately taken action.
These are issued when the LFB feels a building constitutes “an imminent risk of death or serious injury to the persons using them.”
Missing or faulty fire doors - Camden has ordered in 1,000 replacements - exposed pipes, blocked stairways and missing internal walls.
This combined with the fact that the multi-million pound PFI contract for refurbishment and maintenance of The Chalcots was with the same firms, Rydon and Harley Facades that renovated Grenfell Tower.
They had covered all five Chalcots tower blocks in flammable cladding that last week failed a safety test.
I feel angry that thousands of my Camden neighbours have been sleeping every night in bedrooms which pose such a fire risk.
How can Camden council have allowed such neglect to happen, putting thousands, 4,000 by its own estimate, in such danger?
Who was looking after the people of the Chalcots?
Newly elected council leader Georgia Gould has promised to “work with residents to get answers.”
So she should. It is unacceptable this situation was allowed to happen.
This week I have also asked Ms Gould to make public the previous buildings fire inspection reports for The Chalcots tower blocks and in particular the most recent report that led to the sudden evacuation.
“I do not have any of these to give you,” said Camden press office.
The press officer does not have them on his desk, or does Camden Council not have them at all?
Rydon may well have been handed the contract for the maintenance of the buildings, but Camden Council must be ultimately responsible for checking they are doing their job and that residents are not being put in danger.
From now on, surely councils should be forced to publish, or even to pin up on estate notice boards, valid fire certificates for every building under their management for tenants to see.
I call on Georgia Gould to publish the most recent risk assessment documents urgently. There must be no cover up. Residents have a right to know, in particular those 150 households who are back in their flats.
The council has a duty to inform them exactly what risk they are taking by sleeping back in their beds tonight.