The independent London newspaper

Looking after high-rise towers isn’t such a tall order

28 November, 2019

The Chalcots estate evacuation in June 2017

THE council cannot absolve itself from responsibility over events at the Chalcots estate.

It is a scandal that so many tenants have been sold out, left to rot in shoddily refurbished towers, poorly maintained for many years, and barely checked at all – until Grenfell.

This week the Town Hall argues that its PFI contractor and subcontractors have failed in their legal duties and breached a series of ­regulations and contractual terms.

Following recent surveys, they have filed a multimillion-pound lawsuit against their former partners. Dozens and dozens of failures are listed in the legal documents lodged with the High Court last night.

The real question is, why wasn’t this spotted before?

Why did it take the biggest fire disaster in living memory to get these high-rise buildings properly assessed?

Councils, as landlords, have a duty of care towards their tenants. Why were not even the most rudimentary structural checks carried out?

Anyone could wander into those flats and see that something was wrong. This newspaper ran a series of articles questioning the quality of the walls, doors and windows.

We saw the bad workmanship after all those years of neglect.

Who signed off this building work? Heads should roll.

It is a sloppy, slapdash approach that has put at risk the lives of hundreds of people. How can anyone be so laid back, so blind to what is going on so close to home?

The answer, fundamentally, is privatisation.

PFI, like the Arms Length Management Organisations (Almo), held tenants to a terrible ransom. It was all about moving responsibility away from the Town Hall.

Builders and inspectors co-exist in this twilight zone.

Regulations have been whittled away for decades since Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s housing legislation.

Deregulation has been the dominant political ideology for decades.

But it has also been fostered by the direct lobbying of private business interests.

A deep-seated culture of complacency has developed regarding fire policy and fire safety, and central government bears ultimate responsibility. Councils have got lost in the fog.

Grenfell was a crime caused by profit. So, too, the Chalcots has been a crime against Camden.

The council says it will maintain control of its window replacement programme and promised to make regular assessments of the quality of Wates Construction work.

But judging by the reaction of residents in the council chamber on Monday, few will trust them.

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