Evacuated Chalcots residents to get a say in Camden’s fire safety inquiry

Towers on the Chalcots Estate. Photograph: Wikicommons

Camden Council has agreed to include the views of Chalcots Estate residents in the second phase of its inquiry into last year’s evacuation.

Three thousand residents were forced to move out last June after cladding at the block was found to be similar to that used on Grenfell Tower, where 72 people tragically lost their lives two weeks earlier.

The first stage of Camden’s much-anticipated review looked into the emergency evacuation of the estate, and the second phase will examine the failings in the refurbishment and management of the buildings that triggered it.

The report on the first phase was released on Monday 25 June, amid criticism that the council had shifted the blame from themselves to the London Fire Brigade.

Critics include Cllr Sian Berry (Green) and some residents who say that the review, which was commissioned by the council but led by social care expert Marian Harrington, is not tough enough on the council.

In response Camden Conservatives tabled a motion calling for the terms of reference and the appointment of a chair for the second stage of the review to be decided by an independent organisation.

The motion specified that the organisation chosen should have technical expertise in the field, citing the Building Research Establishment or Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors as examples.

Introducing the motion at the full council meeting on Monday 16 July, Cllr Steve Adams (Conservative) said: “Anyone who has spoken to residents or just read the newspapers knows that the faith in Camden’s impartiality in the investigation so far has already been damaged.

“That’s why this motion calls for the roles to be appointed by experts from outside Camden Council to ensure that justice to the truth is done and it is seen to be done.

“It is vital that we restore public trust in Camden which has been shaken, and which is our duty as councillors to restore.”

An amendment to the motion was tabled by Cllr Richard Cotton (Labour), which proposed that the terms of reference for the second stage of the review should be decided by both a “body with relevant technical expertise” and Chalcots residents.

The amended motion removed the stipulation that the chair of the review should be chosen by an independent body.

Cllr Cotton told the chamber: “Of course we will consult with the appropriate professional bodies alongside local residents but we shouldn’t be ceding council decisions to an external professional body.

“It’s not enough to appoint external experts, we have to listen to the real experts, who are the people who live in those tower blocks”

Cllr Cotton rejected the amendment on the grounds that it was “a binary matter”.

“It is either an independent review or it is not an independent review,” he said.

The amended motion was passed, with support from the Labour councillors in the chamber. The five Conservative and two Liberal Democrat councillors present voted against the motion, and Green councillor Sian Berry abstained from the vote.

Green Party councillor Sian Berry. Photograph: Sian Berry

Speaking to the Camden Citizen just before the local elections in May, Cllr Berry said she was frustrated by the council’s approach to the Chalcots review.

“This review has national significance in my opinion,” she said.

“We could learn the lessons of Grenfell more quickly in a more dispassionate way by looking at what happened at Chalcots.”

“But from the council’s point of view, they want to put the review off”, she said. “They don’t want to be transparent.”

Camden Council Leader Cllr Georgia Gould has said the council is “absolutely committed” to phase two of the inquiry, adding: “We absolutely have to get to the bottom of what happened there.”

The estate is now back in council hands after the private firm Partners for Improvement in Camden, which ran the estate as part of a PFI scheme, went into liquidation in May.

Camden Council is spending around £56 million on fire safety works on the Estate, including replacing the cladding and installing new windows.