CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Tenants deserve answers over safety of their windows

10 August, 2017

Pat O’Neill

SLOWLY – perhaps too slowly – Camden Council are dealing with the problems thrown up by the flawed privately financed refurbishment of the Chalcots estate more than 10 years ago.

While many tenants and leaseholders will have doubts about the manner in which they were ordered out of their homes and the efficacy of the operation, questions remain.

These were markedly pointed up this week by both the views of the surveyor acting on behalf of the solici­tors Hodge Jones and Allen, and the considered opinion of the very person the council relies on, Pat O’Neill, head of maintenance.

Both experts warn of a continuing fire risk at the estate. Mr O’Neill is more emphatic, pointing out that the window frames in the communal parts have been replaced – the highly inflammable plastic frames by fire-resistant plasterboard – in order to “encapsulate” the frames and stop the spread of fire in the block.

The question tenants are naturally asking is: If the communal frames have had to be replaced, why aren’t all the window frames in their homes scheduled for replacement? Silence reigned when we posed this question last week. But the tenants are entitled to an answer now.

Before the Grenfell inferno most people – excluding experts and those who interpret the fatally watered down building regulations – were ignorant of the fire risks facing families living in tower blocks. The inferno swept all that ignorance away.

Apart from suspect forms of cladding, we know the risks tenants face in blocks where there are no sprinklers and alarm systems – yet the fire assessment report on Chalcots estate ruled out these systems. Perhaps if those who designed tower blocks lived in them they would be more fire-proof.

We have asked for an inquiry into the debacle over the Chalcots estate. This should be a priority for the council leader Georgia Gould.

Clean break at university

A SIGNIFICANT decision has been taken by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) to directly employ their cleaners instead of employing private agency staff. Strikes, demonstrations and “occupations” led to this reversal of policy.

There is a gathering movement towards this goal in the public sector where outsourcing of services has proved costly and inefficient.

Hampstead Labour party, apparently, has approved a motion by the Unite union against “marketisation” of public services and a return to “in-house” services in Camden, including the resurrection of the Direct Labour department responsible for “construction and maintenance”.

It is understood one or two leading councillors are also drawn to the idea. The times may be changing.

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