View from the chamber: ‘Baffled’ as Chalcots review fails to mention council knew of fire risks for five years

Column2-Sian-Berry

- Credit: Green Party

The independent review of the Chalcots evacuation brings to light important issues around how Camden can cope with large numbers of displaced residents in emergencies, but it surprisingly misses some important details.

How much did hotels overcharge us in the rush to place residents in temporary accommodation, for example? Cabinet members have previously promised these figures would be published, but they do not appear.

The review also skips over the most important question: why was the decision to evacuate four towers on June 23, 2017 made in such a muddle? We must remember that, while our attention was on flammable cladding, the reason our towers were the only ones in the country to be evacuated was also the scale of internal fire safety problems the London Fire Brigade (LFB) found when they went inside.

I called immediately for LFB’s advice to be published, and now we can finally see the long list of problems - impossible to fix in one night - that they issued. This is progress thanks to this review. However, I am baffled as to why the report doesn’t note that almost all these problems, including faulty fire doors and ventilation, were already listed in Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) that had been on file in Camden since 2012.

The conclusions of the 2012 assessments were that the people in Chalcots faced a “substantial” risk to life from fire, and the documents - released to me in October after a long battle - were made available to Marian Harrington. But they are nowhere mentioned in the report, even though they lead to a very different view of why the evacuation seemed so unplanned.


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In the week between the Grenfell fire and the LFB inspection, Camden’s leaders should have been all over these earlier documents.

They should have been fully aware they had not fixed serious fire safety failures known about for five years, and therefore fully prepared for the risk of being asked to evacuate once fire officers inspected the towers.

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Sadly, the review appears to seek to blame LFB for Camden not being ready to hear a judgement on 23 June 2017 that Chalcots residents were not safe in their homes.

Instead, I believe the blame for such a long list of serious problems remaining in these homes five years after being identified lies completely with Camden Council.

The next phase of the review must consider with more rigour Camden’s failure to fix problems and prepare for possible evacuation, and look at what went wrong with both the cladding and internal safety failures.

For a year I have repeatedly asked the leader of the council for a timetable for this vital second phase, and been told it will start only at the end of Camden’s legal action against the firms responsible.

But this is also taking place behind closed doors, with no sign of hearings in court. I am more concerned than ever that legal excuses may be used by those responsible to hide more documents and further cover things up.

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