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Would this £10m have been better spent elsewhere?

25 August, 2017

The Chalcots estate evacuation in June

COUNCIL housing has always been the Cinderella service. Neglected, a basic level of protection has never been provided. Fire doors. Fire alarms. Sprinkler systems.

Contrast that with the big blazes we have seen this month in Doha, where no one was hurt at all because the towers were fitted with sprinkler systems and proper alarms. That tells you what happens if you live in a private block.

The root of the problems at the Chalcots estate is, of course, the poor Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme of 2006.

This newspaper has called, consistently, for a public inquiry into the causes of the evacuation on June 23. This should focus, predominantly, on the terms of the PFI.

The council has this week disclosed that its evacuation decision has so far cost in excess of £10million.

The money has come from the Town Hall’s reserves that were built up over many years from tenants’ rent payments. It includes hotel accommodation, daily allowances of £20 per person, taxis, fire wardens’ wages and the costs of running the emergency centre in the Swiss Cottage sports centre.

Then there is the cost of the actual work they are yet to carry out – such as replacing the faulty windows in residents’ homes. The windows have already been replaced in the communal hallways. Each home may need to have possibly two or three windows.

Perhaps, the council is attempting to ignore, or delay, the need to carry out certain remedial works. Perhaps, it feels carrying them out now could further expose the built-in failures of its PFI scheme.

Serious questions remain over the decision to evacuate.

Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing. But, two months after the event, would many people agree the evacuation was necessary? What has been achieved? Would £10million have been better spent elsewhere? For example, on installing alarm system and sprinklers.

Will this funding be replaced by central government. Or will it, eventually, be passed on to tenants?

Stories straight

YOU are unlikely to find questions like the above in the council’s own publication, the Camden Magazine, which is delivered directly to residents’ homes.

Its latest issue contains several pages of glowing reports about the Chalcots evacuation under the banner headline “Camden At Its Best”. Residents tell “their stories” about how happy they were to come home and how well the whole project was handled. Of course, no voices of dissent can be found.

We are glad to hear that the Greater London Authority (GLA) has, justifiably, denounced councils’ attempts to compete with local media.

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