Chalcots scandal: we need the unvarnished truth

Thursday, 20th May 2021

Chalcots estate evacuation2

Residents evacuated from Chalcots estate in June 2017

WHEN it feels draining for any of us to ask another question about the Chalcots estate, the image of those driven from their homes should always spring to mind.

It certainly has acted as a spur for the New Journal to carry on with our own coverage.

How could they, young and old, be left dragging their hastily-packed suitcases up Adelaide Road back in June 2017?

They faced a riot of press flashbulbs. Some slept on mats on a leisure centre’s sports hall.

Due to the nature of the Private Finance Initiative which covered the refurbishment of the towers, there is an almost impenetrable web to untangle in the search for answers over who did what when. Or even, who didn’t do what when.

The whole fiasco was the product of misguided brinkmanship by the new Labour government as it entered into a sort of secondary phase under Tony Blair, where the sorcerer’s solution to all ills was to push competition and market forces.

We saw it with foundation hospitals and academy schools, but perhaps most starkly in council housing because in Camden so many dwellings did not meet the decent homes standard.

Cruelly, tenants were told that they would not see repairs unless the management of their homes was hived off, removed from the basic accountability of local government.

A famous rebellion ensued, but on the Chalcots there was little prospect for the tenants with leaking roofs that anything would be done unless they accepted John Prescott’s PFI deal.

Even then, the government offered less than Camden had said it needed for the tower blocks which had a history of problems.

Who developed the brief for the estate? Who signed it all off? Who checked the works?

The passing of time does not make these questions any less relevant to those who have waited and waited for their homes to be repaired and made safe over all these years, but it does make it harder to get to the truth.

Camden this week said it was entering mediation with some of the Chalcots companies in a bid to recover costs, including the money lost on the unprecedented evacuation. A speedy resolution would be welcome.

But the early pledges of a full investigation into the whole Chalcots debacle appears to be a slipping priority.

The New Journal, from day one, called for an independent inquiry on behalf of those who were driven from their homes at no notice; one conducted without fear or favour.

Of course, there is a risk that it could prove to be embarrassing for colleagues who went before or political allies of yesteryear, but there are lessons to be learned from the Chalcots PFI – and Camden should not shy away from leaving any stone unturned.

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