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Chalcots tenants tell Town Hall they are ‘losing trust’

Deputation to cabinet meeting questions council's decisions on PFI estate

22 March, 2018 — By William McLennan

Campaigners from the Chalcots estate outside the Town Hall last night

RESIDENTS of high-rise blocks that were evacuated over fire safety failings told council chiefs last night (Wednesday) that their trust in the authorities has been further eroded by the surprise announcement that all windows will have to be replaced after more defects were found.

A group of neighbours from the Chalcots estate appeared at the Town Hall and told Camden’s ruling cabinet councillors that they felt the decision was being rushed through before local elections in May, calling for more time to scrutinise the plans. The council last night agreed proposals to replace all windows and the “curtain walling” – a metal structure to which the windows are attached.

It is estimated to cost an additional £30million and will take place at the same time as the cladding replacement, which is expected to cost £22m. Concerns about the safety of the windows has been raised repeatedly since the evacuation in June, but residents feel the news that they would now be replaced had been sprung “at the last minute out of the hat”.

Around 3,000 people were evacuated from the tower block after it was found that they were riddled with internal safety defects and wrapped with flammable cladding, similar to that installed at Grenfell Tower. In the eight months since they were told to return home, their estate has resembled a building site, with contractors working to remove the unsafe cladding.

Anthony Royle, the chair of Bray’s tenants’ and residents’ association, holds weekly meetings with the council to discuss the works. He said: “We feel trust has been severely shaken by recent events, where we learn that we have to replace all the windows at a very tight schedule. “We have had the windows on the agenda for every single week for many months. We were quite shocked, dismayed and angered that despite being there to talk about as those things this has been brought as an issue at the last minute out of the hat.”

He said that the “climate of openness, honesty and consultation” promised by council leader Georgia Gould in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, had “broken down disastrously on this occasion”. They fear that the window replacement will take seven days per flat, with residents forced to huddle their belongings in the middle of the room to protect them from the elements while the work takes place.

Marc Da Silva, chair of Taplow TRA, said: “In my opinion, much like the evacuation, this was avoidable if Camden offered greater transparency, communication, consultation and respect. They are not showing any respect for us. We know this is not a decision that has just been made.” He added: “Many residents questioned, seven or eight months ago, the safety of the windows, and we were called scaremongers. That we were frightening people and there was nothing wrong with the windows.” According to a report, considered by the cabinet last night, engineers Arup have found that “the standard of workmanship within the curtain wall assembly is variable”, with concerns over the “presence of non-regulatory material” and “structural fixing irregularities”.

Cllr Gould told the meeting the council had been “surprised” by the outcome of the engineers’ report, which recommended the replacement of the windows and curtain wall. She added: “As a matter of safety, the strong recommendation was to go with replacement.” She said it was important to push the plans through speedily, because “if you start to push back much further you might be looking at a further winter without cladding on the Chalcots. We want to replace the cladding as quickly as possible.”

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