Will the Chalcots Estate be Labour's Achilles' heel in the May election?
PUBLISHED: 11:00 30 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:34 01 June 2018
Twelve months ago, it would have been difficult to predict that the Chalcots tower blocks in Camden would become one of the key issues in next week’s local government elections.
However, fast forward a year and the five looming blocks of the Chalcots Estate, in Fellows Road, may scupper Labour’s hopes of beating the Conservatives in the Belsize ward and winning a landslide across the borough.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, on June 23 last year thousands of Chalcots residents were forced to evacuate their homes amid fire safety failures.
They have since watched their homes being turned into long-term building sites, as Camden Council has scrambled to fix inadequacies.
Labour insiders were hopeful of winning the ward after the General Election result last year, and polling that was in the party’s favour.
But on a visit to the estate on Friday, the Ham&High discovered that the plight of the 3,000 residents could prove pivotal in deciding who will represent the ward in the council chamber.
“I’m thinking about voting Conservative for the first time ever,” said Mandy Ryan, a 51 year old carer, who describes herself as a long-time Labour voter and lives on the 22nd floor of Dorney.
“People feel totally let down. We’ll do anything we can to get them out,” Mandy told the Ham&High.
Interior fire doors and cladding on all five towers have had to be hastily repaired or replaced and this has now extended to all the windows on the towers and the exterior curtain walling as well.
The work is expected to last until at least August 2019, a delay on the initial estimate they were given.
A report at a recent council meeting showed the costs could eventually rise to £56million.
The council has said the work has had to be extended because the decision to upgrade the cladding meant the curtain walling underneath it then needed to be upgraded as well, and this could not have been foreseen while the old cladding was still on.
But the ever-changing list of repairs has left people disillusioned and some believing the information has been deliberately “dripfed” to residents, so that they would not initially realise the extent of the work that had been neglected.
“How could they not have known?” said one resident of Taplow who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s made me so fed up,”said another.
Council leader Georgia Gould has acknowledged that communication over the refurbishment could have been better.
Others have complained that there has been no accountability for the inconvenience tenants are now being forced to endure.
Student Kejsi Leci, 18, who lives on the 15th floor of Burnham is studying for her A-levels and will be voting for the first time.
“It’s hard to study, I wake up feeling groggy every morning because of the noise and it makes me quite angry to think this should have been done years ago,” said Kejsi.
“Even now, it feels like nobody has been held accountable.”
Dorney Tenants and Residents Association (TRA) member, Tom Simon is the Liberal Democrat candidate in the ward.
“It’s a constant series of surprises,” he said.
“You get told about the fire doors and the cladding and you think. ‘OK.’ Then you find out about the windows, which will take another year. “The council tells you one thing and then you find out it’s another. The residents’ association has become very cynical about the information it is receiving.”
Another Taplow resident, who asked not to be named, said he doesn’t want Labour to win but is struggling for alternatives.
“I voted Labour in the General Election for the first and last time,” he said. “We’ve been let down by an absent Labour MP and a Labour-run administration headed up by a politically ambitious councillor who I believe is out of her depth. The way Camden Council has treated Chalcots residents is awful.”
One homeowner in Dorney is a Labour voter and will be sticking with the party despite their handling of the situation. “The Conservatives were the ones who introduced the austerity that led to this,” he said.
An independent review into the evacuation is underway and due for publication in May, likely after the election.