Minutes of extraordinary ‘open forum’ meeting held at Silchester Residents’ Rooms, on 9th August 2017 at 18.30
Sasha Jevans Director of Operations, KCTMO
Elaine Elkington Interim Chief Executive, KCTMO
Kim Taylor-Smith Deputy Leader, RBKC, inc. responsibility
for Grenfell operations, and Housing & Property
Siddiqa Islam Project Manager, RBKC
Amanda Johnson Head of Housing Commissioning, RBKC
Nahid Ashby (chair) Deputy-chair, Silchester Residents Association
Minutes taken by Michael Jardine
Apologies received from Elizabeth Campbell, Leader RBKC
Nahid Ashby opened the session, hoping that this would be an informal opportunity to ask questions of the panel, and that it would be respectful, ie without shouting, and limited to three fundamental agenda points.
On the 14th June Silchester residents were immersed in the horror of the Grenfell fire- many of us live less than 200m from the tower itself, and have friends and family among the dead, bereaved and those made homeless. We didn’t just see the fire, we heard it and smelled it and felt it. It has had a profound effect on us, physically, mentally and emotionally and we feel as though we have remained entirely unsupported by the Council.
Repairs, etc. have been placed on hold, and no responses have been given to our queries. We have had three items of communication from the Council in this time:
1) A letter from KCTMO to residents of Frinstead House threatening that the ‘privilege’ of access to the More West gardens would be revoked if children continued to play football in the gardens, hand-delivered while Grenfell Tower burned, and given that More West was not itself free of antisocial behaviour.
2) A letter informing us that the Regeneration programme for the Silchester red-line was ‘on-hold’.
3) A letter informing us of a gas leak affecting Testerton Walk on Lancaster West.
Nahid therefore wished to discuss three things; what support we are to be offered in our own traumatic proximity to Grenfell, what will be done to address the ongoing requirements for maintenance and repair of our homes, and finally the threat of wholesale demolition of our homes under the guise of ‘regeneration’.
The floor was then opened to the residents.
“When are the TMO giving up, to let someone who cares do their job”
EE noted that she had only been appointed last week, and that they are working with a Government-appointed taskforce to review how the TMO will operate in future.
“Why were ugly double-yellow lines painted on every conceivable bit of roadway on Waynflete Square, with only notice being signs saying that parking, was suspended on the day they we painted- ie no consultation”
Teresa Brown KCTMO Housing Director was invited onto the panel. She explained that they were only re-painting pre-existing faded lines (This was considered by many residents to be simply not true and just a response to the fact that fire appliances had been prevented from reaching Grenfell Tower by parked cars) and that parking controls are currently not being enforced in this area due to the fire.
“Why is the front door to 71-76 Waynflete Square open and hanging off its hinges, threatening to fall on small children and allowing access to strangers (including journalists around the Grenfell Fire) and no one has attended to repair since the Fire?”
No answer was offered.
“The TMO is not trusted, and people have suffered from years of this mistrust on top of often poor performance. Due to this it is very difficult to start any productive conversation, as we have seen this evening. How are KCTMO going to start to build trust?”
EE responded that the first resident engagement letters had been sent this week to Chairs and Deputy Chairs of Resident Associations. Her background is in working with housing since 1983 in Waltham Forest. She confirmed an observation from the floor that she had worked with ‘regeneration’ projects in Hammersmith and Fulham, but had more recently been involved with the provision of new Council housing in Birmingham.
“We have a gas leak on Silchester West, in Markland House which is disrupting half of the block. Who is our officer at the TMO? Who is responsible?”
Among some confusion with many people speaking at the same time, KTS asked for the opportunity to speak.
He wished to clarify that in the four weeks since he has been in post, he has upheld the petition, and passed motion from the Council meeting on 19th July when he was appointed, that the previous regeneration project- the ‘Silchester Red-line’ of July 2015- was completely dead. No further regeneration will take place unless it is fundamentally decided on by residents themselves in full consultation, with full access to all documentation.
He has been preoccupied on Lancaster West and offered apologies if he had taken too long to reach out to Silchester residents.
He agreed with a proposal from the floor to write a letter, collaboratively drafted if necessary, to all concerned setting this out, and superseding the previous advice that the proposals were merely ‘on hold’.
KTS wished furthermore to introduce and explain himself: he is a councillor for Stanley Ward in the south of RBKC and was a back-bench councillor. He is a chartered accountant and a successful businessman. He understands that taking on the Deputy Leaders role might be seen as a ‘poisoned chalice’. ‘The book’, he explained, of the failures of the Council and the TMO, has been written and he hoped to be able write another about a positive recovery and what happens next.
From the floor, “Isn’t this all about money? That you’ve only abandoned the regeneration plans because you can’t sell flats next to Grenfell Tower for enough money any more?”
KTS continued to explain that the only priority at the moment is to rehouse the 151 families from the tower and Grenfell walk, and the 171 families from the Walkways correctly, within their communities and extended families. The Council had started to actively acquire leasehold properties on Silchester ahead of the regeneration decision, and these are to be rapidly brought up to a standard to house some of those displaced, directly by the Council and not through the TMO.
KTS confirmed that some of the cash reserves of the Council are available to discharge this obligation. Beyond that, there will be work to modernise and ensure fire safety is upgraded to Lancaster West. Whatever occupies the site of Grenfell will be a memorial to those who died and the surrounding housing must be in good repair next to it. KTS has been struck by the good design, daylight and landscaping of the existing housing at Lancaster West in the time he has recently spent there.
KTS confirmed that all development and regeneration projects by the Council have been stopped, including North Kensington Library. His brief includes Housing and Property, and he wants to consider both strands together, ie not exploiting Property at the expense of Housing. There was a great deal previously done wrong in this respect.
“When will anything be done about the remains of Grenfell Tower”
KTS explained that he had been up the tower with Michael Lockwood who is managing the site. They are starting to scaffold the outside and will eventually wrap the remains of the building. There is approx. 15 tonnes of debris per floor, which all has to be finger-tip sorted on site, before being crated up and removed for storage. The clear up to the point where the tower is wrapped and the surroundings cleared is expected to take another twelve weeks.
Following a further question about ensuring that families displaced by the fire are not housed out of the Borough or out of London, it was noted that there were public meetings at the Methodist Church where issues beyond Silchester Estate itself can be addressed.
“For your information (TMO), in the low-rise blocks around Waynflete Square, there appears to be no fire safety measures or signage at all advising of evacuation procedures.
On another matter, can RBKC confirm that contracts with PPCR (Independent Tenant and Leaseholder Advisor) and CBRE (Regeneration lead consultant) have been terminated?”
KTS and SI confirmed that they had definitively stopped work on the Regeneration project. KTS happy to formally terminate contracts to demonstrate good faith in this respect.
Various residents reported issues with the Cadent works to repair a gas main to one half of Markland House, affecting forty flats, for up to 2.5 months- among questions/ complaints were:
“Cadent haven’t communicated with us at all”
“We have been offered the use of communal showers at the Better Leisure centre, which forces me to walk around the remains of Grenfell Tower which makes me cry before I go to work in the morning”
“Signs have been put up by Cadent stating that compensation is capped at £1,000, but the (single) electric hobs and electric heaters we have been given use a good deal of electricity, as does boiling multiple kettles for any kind of washing/ washing-up operation”
“We were told it was just as well that it was summer, but the last two weeks have been cold and wet”
“Can our rent be discounted or suspended for the time we are without gas?”
“I have negotiated a deal with the Westway gym to use their showers, which are much closer, for a reduced fee- can the Council please make that deal?”
“I have pursued Cadent myself and they have stated in writing that I can use the Better Leisure showers between 18h30 and 22h00 daily on production of proof of address”
EE understood that Cadent letters confirming alternative arrangements for showering, etc. had been delivered today, but saw that this was clearly not the case.
KTS had not been aware of the Markland House gas issue- he has been occupied at Lancaster West for almost all of his time in post so far- and could not give assurance over compensation or rent relief at this time, but he agreed that the compensation offered by Cadent did not seem sufficient. He promised to use the authority of the Council to put pressure on Cadent to not only complete the works as quickly as possible, but to also ensure that effective communication is maintained with those Markland House residents affected.
At this point a conflict between residents and their families escalated to blows and the meeting was closed, at approx. 19h45