Chalcots tenants consider mass protest over new safety works at PFI tower blocks

“Non-regulatory” material has been discovered in the external “curtain walling” of estate where residents were evacuated

Thursday, 15th March 2018 — By Tom Foot

Chalcots meeting

Marc Da Silva speaking at Monday’s night meeting

TENANTS of five tower blocks that were dramatically evacuated last year following the Grenfell disaster say they are considering a “mass protest” at the Town Hall after another bombshell announcement about dangers on their estate.

Camden Council this week sent letters out to residents in the 710 flats on the Chalcots estate saying 3,000 windows will need to be replaced because of safety fears. The Town Hall also said that “non-regulatory” material has been discovered in the external “curtain walling” which will be stripped off the five towers.

The New Journal has called on the council to provide transparency over the state of the blocks – refurbished under a Private Finance Initiative scheme – as part of our Chalcots Inquiry campaign. In the immediate aftermath of the evacuation in June last year, we asked questions about the windows and fixtures.

The new schedule of works, due to be approved by the council cabinet next week, will cost up to £31million.

Marc Da Silva, chairman of the Taplow tower’s tenants and residents association, said: “The way all this has been presented to us, it feels like another evacuation. When you rush these things you make mistakes. We need more time. We need a greater transparency and a greater value for human life. This is another night I’m not putting my kids to bed.”

Tenants met to discuss what to do next at a meeting in the Taplow tower on Monday evening. “Many residents plan to attend the council meeting and potentially launch a mass protest,” said Mr Da Silva. “We also haven’t ruled out fielding candidates to run in the local election, so that all residents – those living across the ward, and not just on the Chalcots – have their voices heard.”

The council say that during recent “replacement cladding design work” that a “variable standard of workmanship” was uncovered, although the issue has regularly been raised as part of our coverage.

A report presented to the council’s cabinet, which will meet next Wednesday, said that some of the fixtures “do not meet the regulatory minimum guidance”, adding: “The design team recommend that this is necessary work to ensure the entire curtain wall is of a uniform acceptable standard.”

The Chalcots estates were evacuated following warnings from the London Fire Brigade that a blaze could easily spread throughout the towers due to a series of flaws. Residents were moved back in after initial works were carried out but many believe the buildings are still unsafe.

The council say they want the new windows to be replaced with ones that open inward, instead of outward, and only 100 millimetres. Residents have been told that the change is to stop small children “falling or jumping out” of the tower blocks. Several windows blew out in storm winds in recent months. Seven hinges have fallen out in the past five years, according to the council. Residents at the meeting on Monday warned their homes would get unbearably stuffy in the summertime heat if windows could only open 100mm

PFI contractor Rydon was the lead company for the 2006 refurbishment of the Chalcots and is responsible for maintenance under terms of a £150m PFI deal. In January the council announced they have stopped paying some PFI instalments because they now believe the works are not up to standard. “This has got to be the death of PFI,”

Conservative councillor Jonny Bucknell told the meeting on Monday. He was the only person connected with the council to attend the meeting. An inquiry into the upheaval, however, is underway behind the closed doors of the Town Hall. The report said that they would be able to “complete the additional works in the same timeline as the replacement cladding programme” and that there would be no need for another “decant” during the works. The council said leaseholders would not be billed for the works as they have already been levied for the original works which “has not passed its reasonable life expectancy”.

A report, which will be voted on by the cabinet next week, said: “Detailed design work on the new cladding system has found that the standard of workmanship within the curtain wall assembly is variable. “The most significant observations relate to structural fixing irregularities, sill heights that do not meet the regulatory minimum guidance, failed hardware to window systems and the presence of non-regulatory material behind fixing brackets and spandrel panels.

The design team recommend that this is necessary work to ensure the entire curtain wall is of a uniform acceptable standard.”

A statement from Rydon said: “Safety and quality is integral to everything we do at Rydon. This is a matter subject to ongoing communication between the council and the parties to the PFI, and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

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