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What next? A full and truly independent inquiry

07 July, 2017

Evacuation at Chalcots on the night of June 23

THERE is little doubt that once the council leader Georgia Gould realised the enormity of the crisis of the Chalcots estate she and the chief executive acted with great determination and speed.

Contrast that with the extraordinary sense of almost semi-detachment expressed by the Conservative controlled Kensington and Chelsea council in the face of the Grenfell Tower inferno – and the inert reaction of its leader.

We were critical last week, pointing out Ms Gould had not involved enough of her political colleagues in the decision-making process involved in the evacuation of the tenants – and we were wrong. Several colleagues were consulted, and all the councillors were briefed at a special meeting last week.

But what happens next?

This newspaper has called for a full inquiry into why the council has failed – and failed it has – to maintain the highest fire safety standards on all its estates, high rise and low rise.

We have reported these failures over the years. Lamentably, on one occasion following a fatal fire in Holborn a few years ago, councillors refused to dip into the council’s reserves to put things right.

We are pretty sure this wouldn’t be the attitude now. The tragedy of Grenfell has changed the political climate. Yet, we doubt whether the councillors realise the extent to which the management of council properties has to change, root and branch.

Expectations and standards have risen over the years and the council’s 25,000 tenants – like any private tenant – are entitled to benefit from tip top management and maintenance. And that is what fire safety comes down to.

The number of fire safety defects on council estates that have come to light in the past two weeks illustrate this point – bare gas pipes, faulty fire doors, lack of alarms, window frames made of flammable plastic, holes in walls as new services are run through flats.

All of these serious fire risks would have been spotted under a sound maintenance regime – but this has been largely absent. Partly because of economies enforced by central government, and partly because of poor housing management at the Town Hall whose history goes back several decades.

A full and proper inquiry, as demanded by this newspaper, will not succeed if the council “outsources”, as it were, to a “review” led by a firm of consultants. It will be kicking it into the long grass.

It needs to be led by a truly independent figure and, more importantly, involve representative bodies of the tenants – such an inquiry, perhaps, can be instrumental to an overdue revival of the tenants’ movement.

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