Chalcots: Council cancels £100 million deal on evacuation estate and will ‘go back to market’
The New Journal's Chalcots Inquiry campaign has called for Camden to fully investigate what went wrong
30 April, 2020 — By Tom Foot
The Chalcots saw an unprecedented evacuation after fire safety flaws were uncovered
WORKS to replace cladding stripped from the Chalcots estate after the Grenfell fire disaster have been officially halted after the council dumped its lead contractor.
The council said it had “significant concerns” about Wates’ proposed £100million refurbishment of the five tower blocks in Adelaide Road, Swiss Cottage. In an unprecedented move late on a Friday evening back in 2017, Chalcots residents were dramatically evacuated from their homes because of fire safety fears that had come to light after Grenfell. Some slept on leisure centre floors after being forced to quickly pack belongings.
Since that operation, they endured almost three years of disruption with construction noise, scaffolding being put up and taken down and an on-going row over windows. In the latest development, the bill for materials and labour was said to be double what the Town Hall was expecting to pay.
Design changes made the scheme different to what was previously agreed, the council said. The U-turn means a loss of around £5million and at least a year delay to the works.
Leader Georgia Gould said: “Wates’ designs didn’t meet our requirements and weren’t what we asked for, and the final costs have increased significantly – this is taxpayer’s money and we need to make sure that works are value for money.”
“We know that residents will be disappointed by any delay and we will be too – this is not the news we wanted to give residents, particularly at this time which is so difficult for everyone already.”
She said an independent review had recommended the council “go back to market to find the right deal for this project”.
If the new cladding – which insulates the blocks and keeps residents safe – is not up by the winter, the council will pay residents’ extra heating costs, said Cllr Gould. The council said it had chosen not to sign a contract with Wates, despite agreeing terms with the company last year and signing a “letter of intent” for the £100million deal.
Resident Mandy Ryan – who has been an outspoken critic of the council’s handling of the Chalcots – said: “In the long term, I think it is the best decision. If there are discrepancies, if you have concerns about it, you shouldn’t go ahead. It might be a bit cold in the winter, but I think right now we need to come to terms with Covid-19. We need to have a break from it all, heal and start afresh when the world is in a better place. It’s not a major concern at the moment, everyone is worried about sickness – people need to get well.”
“I salute the Chalcots residents’ patience. We are amazing people living here, we are not selfish. But there had been a bad energy here. “It has been terrible with Wates. I’d say we are not disappointed, we’re not upset.”
But Simon Happily, who lives in Bray, said: “I’m gutted. We just need to get on with it now. The idea of us going through it all over again. All we’re going to do now is get stuck with another company.”
Letters were sent out to homes of the five blocks in Adelaide Road, in Swiss Cottage and Belsize Park, yesterday (Wednesday).
The main element of the works was to replace external cladding and windows, including the removal of the old window system from a disastrous Private Finance Initiative refurbishment, signed off by Tony Blair’s Labour government as long ago as 2004.
The New Journal’s Chalcots Inquiry campaign has called for Camden to fully investigate what went wrong
The council has been accused of failing to properly monitor works to the blocks at that time, only discovering fire safety issues after Grenfell. It has yet to fully untangle a web of companies and sub-contractors to answer the question: who did what, when?
Cllr Gould said, given the history of the project, it was important for the council to now watch over what its building contractors were doing. The government has agreed to fund £80million towards the cost of replacing the cladding. But more than £25million will have to be found from council funds. Initially the works were due to finish in the summer 2021, but the works are expected to go on until at least the following summer.
In March, the New Journal reported that Wates workers had downed tools during a dispute over a “second phase” of the works programme.
At that time, the council reassured residents that there was nothing to worry about and that the project would be up and running again soon.
At that time, housing chief Meric Apak: “This is not unusual in a complex project like this one, but it is important to note that we don’t anticipate this will cause any discernible delay.”
A Wates spokesman said: “Due to ongoing contractual commitments with the Council it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”