Sajid Javid tells Chalcots estate tenants: Labour council has failed you!
But Town Hall leader says government has broken promises over funding fire safety works
12 April, 2018 — By Tom Foot and Richard Osley
Sajid Javid meets Tories in Finchley Road on Saturday
LOCAL government secretary Sajid Javid has said Chalcots estate tenants have been “failed time and time again” by Camden Council and has insisted safety repair delays are “not a funding issue”.
He was speaking to the New Journal as he arrived in Finchley Road at lunchtime on Saturday to launch the Conservative local election manifesto for Camden. Labour has accused the Tory frontbencher of breaking promises over money for work on the Chalcots, leaving the council to find £100million from its own stretched budgets.
But Mr Javid said the Town Hall ruling party needed to look at its own failures in the wake of the dramatic decision to evict the entire estate – five tower blocks on Adelaide Road – last summer. Flammable cladding and fire safety flaws were discovered in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy in Kensington.
For nearly 20 years, the estate has been at the centre of a row over who pays for its desperately-needed refurbishment, with funding eventually provided through a Private Finance Initiative agreed by the then Labour government and the council in the early 2000s. Camden has launched an inquiry into what went wrong at Chalcots, with a New Journal campaign demanding that this should be full and transparent.
Mr Javid said: “While it’s perfectly understandable why they were evacuated, you need to look at how the estate got into that position? The reasons the London Fire Brigade gave – it wasn’t just cladding, after the terrible tragedy at Grenfell, it was that they found multiple fire safety failures, including the inadequacy of some 1,000 fire doors. Who is the landlord? It was Camden Council. They failed time and time again to make those buildings safe and that’s why people have been put in this very difficult situation.”
He added: “They are still suffering from it. Even though they’ve been moved back in, there are many complaints. The work hasn’t been done. “Why has it taken so long for a council that has said they would prioritise this, even when the government has said to them if they need financial flexibilities they can get that? It’s not a funding issue.”
The tower blocks are part of Belsize ward, likely to see a three-way contest between Tories, Labour and Lib Dems. Camden wants financial help for cladding removal work on the estate, which has already begun.
Labour councillors say promises of investment, made in the direct aftermath of Grenfell, have yet to be backed up. Mr Javid, however, said: “For every council that has contacted us we have said they can have more financial flexibilities to support social housing.”
When asked for his assessment on the use of PFI on the estate and of a private company to lever in money for the initial refurbishment, he said: “The landlord is the council. They are responsible for work done. Fire safety officers check it. I don’t think they can push the blame onto someone else.”
Labour campaigners are incensed that Mr Javid has followed defence secretary Gavin Williamson on the campaign trail around Belsize Park with the same message blaming the council.
At the launch of Labour’s manifesto on Tuesday evening, council leader Georgia Gould said: “I’m disturbed and disappointed by Tory ministers coming into Camden to kind of point at our blocks and ask Labour councils to take responsibility. We have taken responsibility. We’ve spent over £100million on fire safety works. We have acknowledged that there are things we need to change, that we’ve got wrong, but we are acting. We’ve had nothing from central government.”