CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

£10 million cost of Chalcots estate evacuation revealed

Exclusive: Money spent on hotels and daily allowances hits eight figures

24 August, 2017 — By William McLennan

THE last-minute evacuation of the Chalcots estate has cost Camden Council at least £10million, it can be revealed today (Thursday).

Most of the money was spent on hotel rooms and daily allowances for the roughly 3,000 people who spent a month away from their homes while urgent fire safety work was carried out at the tower blocks in Adelaide Road.

The New Journal has been provided with information that shows the cost of the decision to empty the blocks has now topped eight figures, with the final total likely to rise. The bill for making the blocks safe so people can return has so far cost an additional £8million. Camden Council leader Georgia Gould has pledged that it will have “no impact on frontline services” which people use every day.

However, the New Journal has learnt that some of the council’s house-building projects and other maintenance work could be delayed by several years as a result. The council has also made clear its wish to fight against government plans to reduce council rents by 1 per cent a year, saying the cash is needed to fund improvements on estates.

The drastic decision to evacuate was taken on June 23 after a fire brigade inspection, triggered by the discovery that the buildings were covered in flammable cladding, found a number of faults internally that could allow smoke and flames to rip through the high-rise blocks. The £10million has come from the Town Hall’s reserves, which were built up over many years from tenants’ rent payments. The figure includes accommodation, daily allowances of £20 per person, taxis, fire wardens’ wages and the cost of running the emergency centre at Swiss Cottage sports centre.

The council believes that the installation of dangerous cladding, which had been signed off as safe at the time, was a failure of government building regulations. It is attempting to force the government to foot the bill. At the same time, lawyers are looking at the possibility of recovering costs from a number of contractors responsible for carrying out refurbishment work from 2006, which included installing cladding found to be the same as that used at Grenfell Tower.

Council leader Georgia Gould

If they are not successful, this pot of money, known as the housing revenue account reserves, would be depleted by £10million, at around £25million. The council admits that if costs are not met by government or contractors it would have to be “replenished”, with the possibility that cuts would have to be made elsewhere. On top of the evacuation costs, the bill for work to make the five blocks safe has totalled up to £8million so far, with the expense of removing and re-installing cladding yet to be calculated.

This is expected to fall under the council’s capital expenditure, becoming part of the £230million spent each year on work such as maintenance and construction projects on estates. It is believed that, as a result, other work that had been in the pipeline may be delayed by several years.

Cllr Gould said: “That’s not what we want. What we want is for government to come and support us but if that doesn’t happen we’d have to look at those options. It wouldn’t be an impact on frontline services. We can make that commitment even in the worst-case scenario.”

Green councillor Sian Berry said: “This is going to mean delays to future major works. One example is the Carroll and Sanderson Close estate in Highgate. They need their windows doing and I’ve been chasing this up. It was in the plans to start consultation and contracting in 2018 but I think these kinds of schemes will be what suffer.”

Cllr Gould said: “The issues with buildings that have happened around the country have clearly been a failure of national regulations, so we feel that government do have a responsibility to support local government on this. We will be doing the independent review to look into what happened in Camden and we will look at any failings in the borough, but we are pretty sure that national regulation has failed. Because of that, government should be supporting local councils, and we are asking them to support us. “We want that support to come in terms of cash support, but if that’s not going to be the case, there are other options around lifting the borrowing cap, around the 1 per cent rent policy, about using our right-to-buy receipts on fire safety.”

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