CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Chalcots estate: Camden Council stop payments to PFI firm behind flammable cladding

Exclusive: Town Hall acts to "recoup costs" of works at towers evacuated over safety

25 January, 2018 — By William McLennan

CAMDEN Council has stopped paying the private company responsible for installing flammable cladding on the Chalcots estate, as it seeks to recover the costs of the £40million fire safety works expected to run until 2019.

The Town Hall has withheld payments, so far estimated to be in excess of £1.7million, to Partners for Improvement in Camden (PFIC) since November.

The firm, which signed a private-public partnership deal with the council in 2006, was hired to refurbish and maintain the estate until 2021.

Four of the five tower blocks in Adelaide Road, Swiss Cottage, were evacuated last June after the fire brigade said they were unsafe.

Investigators found a series of internal safety defects during an inspection which was carried out the day after Camden discovered the towers were covered in plastic-filled aluminium cladding, similar to that used at Grenfell Tower.

The council sent in teams of workers to fix the internal problems, which included faulty fire doors and holes in the buildings’ walls that could allow smoke and flames to travel.

Nearly all the cladding has now been removed, but work to replace it with a safe alternative is expected to run until August next year.

Council leader, Labour councillor Georgia Gould, said: “The costs of these repair and maintenance works on the Chalcots Cladding being removed at a Chalcots estate tower last year estate run into millions of pounds. This is money I know our taxpayers would expect the council to seek to recover, given the exceptional circumstances – and that is what we have started to do in accordance with the terms of our agreement.

“We have withheld payment since November as it is crucial the council does what it can to protect the public purse and recoup any costs.”

So-called “private finance initiatives” – where companies are paid in instalments for infrastructure works that they both financed and delivered – have come under scrutiny once again following the collapse of construction firm Carillion.

PFIC, which was set up to bid for the Chalcots contract, was due to receive a total of around £157million from Camden over 15 years in regular instalments of around £850,000. They have so far been paid £121.4m.

However, the New Journal can reveal that the last payment of £881,421 was made on November 13.

It is the first step in the council’s attempts to claw back the cost of the massive works that have been carried out since June.

It is estimated that the cost of the internal works and re-cladding will total around £40m, with at least another £10m spent on the evacuation operation and emergency accommodation last summer.

PFIC was originally a consortium of Halifax Bank of Scotland and United House, but has since changed hands.

Halifax Bank of Scotland was taken over by Lloyds Banking Group in 2009.

John Laing Infrastructure Fund bought the project from United House in 2012 and holds a 50 per cent share of PFIC.

A statement from Partners for Improvement in Camden Limited said: “The safety of the residents is paramount. We support Camden Council in any steps necessary to safeguard the residents at the Chalcots estate. There is a process regarding the contract and while that discussion is ongoing we are unable to comment further.”

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