CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Town Hall warned against delays to Chalcots crisis inquiry

Residents 'completely in the dark', ward councillor tells leader

18 October, 2018 — By Richard Osley

Tom Simon speaking at Monday’s full council meeting

COUNCIL chiefs have been urged not to press pause on an investigation into the chain of events that led to the Chalcots estate crisis.

Liberal Democrat councillor Tom Simon said residents were “completely in the dark” over the next stage of the review.

The unprecedented evacuation of the tower blocks in Adelaide Road last summer, triggered by the discovery of fire safety breaches in the wake of Grenfell tower disaster, saw more than 3,000 residents gather up belongings in suitcases and leave their homes on a Friday evening.

Some slept on the floor of the Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre as council staff rang hotels across London to try and find accommodation.

On behalf of those who went through the misery of those days last June, the New Journal’s Chalcots Inquiry campaign has repeatedly called for a full independent investigation into the circumstances, carried out without fear or favour, and exhaustive enough to give tenants and leaseholders a clear answer. This would almost certainly need to comb through the maze of agreements and negotiations that lay behind the refurbishment of the towers through a Private Finance Initiative, including interviewing the key players involved.

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould, who ordered the evacuation, has promised to get to the bottom of the crisis – and to learn from any mistakes.

The organisation of a wide investigation into the history of the estate, however, is on hold due to ongoing legal action.

Cllr Simon, who lives on the estate and was elected as a councillor for the Belsize ward in May, told Monday’s full council meeting: “I do feel that there are important questions that need answering and at the moment it feels a bit like the council’s attitude is ‘oh well, we will deal with that, once it’s out of the way and haven’t given it any further thought’. I feel that residents need a bit better than that.”

He added: “I know that legal action can be uncertain but we could give some rough indication of how long we expect that to take, just so that residents have as much information as we can give them at this moment, rather than just leaving everyone completely in the dark.”

The crisis has become one of the early defining issues of Cllr Gould’s leadership of Camden so far; the youngest leader ever to secure the top job had only been in the role for two months when she was forced to make the call on Chalcots.

She told Monday’s meeting: “It’s absolutely the case that there are questions that need to be answered and we’ve made that commitment to residents, to get to the bottom of what happened and to do that full review and we are still committed to doing that.”

She added:  “Obviously our first priority has got to be to make sure that we hold anyone accountable that is accountable for the works and secure money for the tax-payer, if that is possible.”

It was revealed last week that a safety chief appointed to a new £100,000-a-year role had left the council after less than a year.
Cllr Gould has previously suggested that the web of works deals bound up in the PFI had failed residents.

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