CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Camden Council takes back maintenance role on crisis-hit PFI estate

The PFI has let us down, says council leader

16 July, 2018 — By William McLennan

CAMDEN Council has taken over maintenance at the Chalcots estate, as the dispute over who was responsible for fire safety failings continues. Rydon, the company responsible for the refurbishment and installation of flammable cladding at the Swiss Cottage tower blocks, has now been replaced by the council’s own team.

The move will revive debate over the wisdom of private finance initiative (PFI) deals, which Tony Blair’s Labour government often favoured ahead of direct investment in schools, hospitals and council housing in the 2000s.

Town Hall leader Councillor Georgia Gould said: “The PFI has let us down and we are determined to give Chalcots residents the direct, accountable and responsive repairs service they deserve.”

The council last year stopped paying the PFI firm – known as Partners for Improvement in Camden (PFIC) – which was responsible for the doomed overhaul of the high-rise towers in Adelaide Road. Some 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes on the estate last June.

PFIC subsequently went bust, filing for insolvency in May. But Rydon, the lead contractor hired by PFIC, has remained on-site providing maintenance for the past two months, despite the collapse of its paymasters.

The council has told residents that from Monday it has taken over responsibility for all repairs and maintenance from Rydon.

The firm issued a statement that appeared to suggest it had not voluntarily left the estate. It said: “Rydon remain ready, willing and able to carry out and deliver its maintenance obligations throughout the Chalcots estate.”

Rydon refurbished Grenfell Tower using the same plastic-filled aluminium panels. It has denied any wrongdoing over the fire tragedy in west London and said that its work at the tower block was in line with government standards and regulations.

An inquiry is continuing. PFIC was to be paid £150million to refurbish and maintain the Chalcots estate until 2021, in a deal signed in 2006. It is estimated the company lost out on £36million as a result of Camden’s decision to withhold payment. The move was part of the council’s attempt to recover the costs of the emergency operation and subsequent safety works, which are expected to total more than £70million.

The Chalcots was one of a handful of estates across the country to be refurbished under a PFI. Tenants in Camden consistently appealed for improvements at the leaking estate to be paid for using direct investment from government, but their pleas were ignored.

The New Journal has called for a full, independent investigation into mistakes made on the Chalcots which ultimately set the estate on course for its mass evacuation. Cllr Gould said works would now be carried out by “a mix of our own directly-employed staff and trusted, specialist contractors”.

“We will work in partnership with residents to manage their homes safely for the long-term,” she added.

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