Chalcots estate: families told to return home despite concerns after legal challenge fails
Residents had hoped that that council would be forced to extend temporary accommodation
31 July, 2017 — By William McLennan
Residents who do not trust that the towers are safe outside court today
FAMILIES who feel unsafe to return to their homes on the Chalcots estate are tonight urgently trying to find somewhere to stay after a High Court legal challenge failed.
Residents packed into the Royal Courts of Justice this morning as a barrister argued that Camden Council should continue to provide Leticia Esposito, who lives in one of the blocks with her two children, with temporary accommodation until further safety tests have been completed on the flammable cladding that coat the tower blocks.
The application was viewed as a test case that could impact all residents of the blocks, but this afternoon it was rejected by Her Honour Judge Juliet Mary May QC.
Around 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Adelaide Road at the end of June and spent a month living in hotels and temporary accommodation. Many have now returned after being told by Camden that it was now safe to do so.
Others have refused and the court heard today that a group of eight are currently being represented by law firm Hodge Jones and Allen, alongside Ms Esposito, while a further 15 are likely to join them.
The temporary accommodation provided by Camden Council for Ms Espotito ended today and she left court to pack her bags and head back to her flat in Dorney.
Many others who felt unsafe to return home had been hoping the court judgement would lead to an extension in their accommodation, but are now left looking for somewhere to stay.
Speaking outside court, Khudeja Begum said: “I don’t know what I’m going to do now. All I know is that I’m not going back there. I’m not taking my children to somewhere I feel unsafe.”
Saranda Hajdari, who lives in Burnham with her parents and four siblings, said: “We have to find somewhere for seven of us to stay, which is practically impossible.”
The court heard that tests on the entire “cladding system” used at the Chalcots – which includes both the polyethylene cladding and fire retardant rock wool insulation – is underway and the results should be known by the end of this week.
Christopher Jacobs, representing Ms Esposito, told the court that is was “unreasonable” to ask people to return home without the results of this test.
The court heard that decision was likely to apply to all residents of the evacuated tower blocks.
Jason Coppel QC, for Camden, said if granted the council would face the possibility of housing “many individuals for many months”.
He added: “It opens the door to the council extending what has already been a very substantial exercise in helping residents.”
He said that the application “misunderstands the reason for the provision of the temporary accommodation in the first place”.
He said: “It was not the cladding, in and of itself. It was the internal fire safety works”.
He told the court that safety failings inside the building that were discovered by the fire brigade and led to the evacuation of the blocks on June 23 had now been addressed.
He said a “whole range of experts” – including the fire brigade, independent fire consultants and building control from other London boroughs – and found that “the concerns that led to the evacuation have been addressed and it is safe for residents to return”.
There were audible gasps of disbelief from residents in the public gallery, when he said that the “vast majority believe it is perfectly safe”.
Residents have raised repeatedly concerns about quality of work done to address internal fire safety issues in recent weeks.
Ms Hajdari said she had hoped the court case would focus on those, instead of only the safety of cladding.
She said: “It was the wrong case. They need to raise the issues with the internal works. The cladding is not the main issue.”
Jayesh Kunwardia, a partner at Hodge Jones and Allen who represented Ms Esposito, said he was “very concerned about the decision” and would be monitoring the outcome of the further tests on cladding.
He said the firm was investigating the possibility of appointing an independent fire safety expert to inspect the internal works in coming days.
A spokesman for Camden Council said: “We have been working alongside residents to reassure them of the safety of the buildings following London Fire Brigade advice and we have a package of support for moving home.
“We want to again reassure residents that building control requirements have been met and independently checked. Additionally, and crucially, the London Fire Brigade have checked the works and are happy that we have met the required standard. We know this has been a difficult time for residents and we will continue to make one to one support and advice available.”