Deals and delays on the Chalcots estate like ‘being in an insane loop’
Confirmed: Town Hall walks away from £100 million deal
22 May, 2020 — By Richard Osley
Cladding being removed from the towers back in 2017
SENIOR Labour councillors have agreed to walk away from a £100million deal for fire safety works on the evacuation-hit Chalcots estate, leaving residents facing another three-year wait for the project to be finished.
The Town Hall’s cabinet agreed to cancel its plans to work with contractors Wates after deciding Camden should once again go back to market in search of a new deal.
It follows almost 20 years of raised hopes and dashed dreams for residents living in the tower blocks in Adelaide Road, which can be traced back through a disastrous Private Finance Initiative deal that had once been presented as the only way to secure investment for their estate.
In unprecedented scenes, all residents were ordered to leave their homes on a Friday evening back in 2017 after fire safety flaws were exposed following tower block inspections in the wake of the Grenfell disaster.
Cladding has already been removed but residents, once allowed to return to their flats, have lived with ongoing construction noise and scaffolding.
Council leader Labour councillor Georgia Gould said: “Wates’ design didn’t meet our requirements and wasn’t what we asked for, and the final costs have increased significantly – this is taxpayers’ money and we need to make sure that works are value for money.”
But the change of direction means £5million in costs have already been lost and a year of stop-start works will now count for little.
Cllr Gould apologised for further delays and disruption as the cabinet – the 10 most senior councillors at the Town Hall – agreed to refuse a “final offer” from Wates at a meeting held using video call technology last Wednesday.
The opposition Conservative group had called for an inquiry into the axed deal and what advice the council was taking behind the scenes, but it was warned this would only mean more delays.
Camden has said it will investigate everything that has gone wrong on the Chalcots over the years but a time frame for doing so has not been made clear.
The New Journal’s Chalcots Inquiry campaign has argued for an independent review going back to the PFI decisions and a proper attempt to untangle who knew what and when.
Conservative councillor Steve Adams, who represents Belsize, said: “I take issue with this being described as a cutting edge and complex project. It’s not that complex. “I also have concerns with the expert advice that’s being delivered because, to be honest, faith is running fairly low. We’ve had a series of promises and seven letters of intent.”
He added: “It’s almost as if we are going around in some insane loop.”
Conservative councillor Steve Adams
His call for a review would have meant the hiring of an external firm to examine the details but he said learning lessons could avoid further attempts to secure a contractor being botched.
“I’m genuinely worried that the advice that has been given, listened to, accepted, maybe should not have been,” he said. Liberal Democrat councillor Luisa Porritt, also in the Belsize ward, said: “We are deeply disappointed that the situation has got to this stage. Residents are facing yet another long delay to essential works on their homes. They just want to get on with their lives but we are now looking at works continuing until 2023, six years after the evacuation.”
She warned that the council needed to “examine and address any potential pitfalls in the proposed new procurement process,” adding that it was “unimpressive” that the design for the work was not even complete.
“It’s not clear whether the new contract will be issued based on a complete new design or a design and build,” she said, adding that more consultation with residents was required.
Cllr Porritt urged council chiefs to ensure that this would be the last attempt at procurement that would be needed.
Camden’s housing chief Councillor Meric Apak said he was a council tenant himself who had been waiting for the windows of his flat to be fixed for many years.
“So I know how it feels and it must be a hundred times worse because of what residents have gone through with the evacuation,” he said. “They will obviously be bitterly disappointed with the delay, but I have spoken to tenants’ reps and while I’m not going to say they are happy, they are not disappointed with the recommendation to reject Wates’ final offer and to test the market.”
When contacted by the New Journal, Wates said it would be “inappropriate” for the company to comment on the council’s plans. In March, a dispute had arisen over the “second phase” of works but Cllr Apak had said at the time that this was “not unusual for a complex project.”