Camden has failed residents at Levita House in Somers Town

Thursday, 16th June

Levita_House

Levita House in Somers Town

• THIS week sees the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, a disaster which might have been avoided had residents and the community been listened to by Kensington & Chelsea council officials; or had they felt in any way accountable for internal protocols and their own behaviour.

As residents of Levita House in Somers Town, who have lived through two years of a badly-scheduled, shambolic, and mismanaged refurbishment, often of an astonishingly low standard, we are sad to report we’ve experienced the same kind of stonewalling and a similar lack of responsibility by council officers as occurred at Grenfell.

Tenants and leaseholders here have tried every way to alert the contract manager for Camden and colleagues of the problems arising and forewarn them of other issues clearly about to occur; but we have been mostly unable to elicit any response or help from those in charge.

The final block, in particular, has been left in an unsightly and poor condition. But in all blocks, for instance, new windows are almost impossible to open, old roof-level escape routes are now made inaccessible.

There is the worst possible standard of paintwork; beyond belief in fact, and actual damage caused by the builders has been denied and they have not been required to put it right. Aside from this being our home Levita House is also a listed building which by law must be properly maintained.

There have been elements of the work that may not even have been needed, but they were not evidenced despite our making every effort to understand the reasoning.

Some of the historic fabric has not been appropriately replaced and listed building guidance, enforced vigorously by Camden on privately-run buildings on the same estate land, is clearly deemed by planning to be an irritation, and rather an elastic principle on their own buildings.

We hear it was passed at committee, so the conservation team are powerless to actually enforce their own policy!

Councils we understand are under-resourced. But from our experience here there are fairly simple systemic changes we have identified and submitted for discussion that could help them look after their protected buildings with far greater sensitivity.

Lobbying at government level might also encourage some useful additional funding specifically for council-owned “heritage buildings” across all boroughs and nationwide.

But that aside, some Levita House leaseholders are expecting to receive a bill of £35,000 for work that no sane person would agree payment for had a builder they employed done such a second-rate job. Yet they have little or no recourse.

The council in fact re-employed the same contractor and agent who had overseen previously poor work in another area of the building.

But, worst of all, many people are feeling really distressed by the experience. Not being able to give voice to concerns about what we saw on a daily basis has been hard to handle.

To remove almost completely any sense of agency from residents, and for a prolonged period, especially during and following on directly from two years of restricted personal liberty, is frankly dangerous to people’s wellbeing.

More reason, one might think, for Camden to maintain communication and micro- manage a really well-run and efficient site? And to spend limited funds well.

Thankfully we are not likely as a result of their disregard and lack of integrity to be burned in our beds. It is a little hard to understand however, given the outcomes in Kensington, how they sleep in theirs?

Our thoughts, of course, are this week mostly with bereaved families and the community at Grenfell. We hope they will have justice. Never forgotten: Step up Camden.

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