Monday 3 July 2017

Duffy lambasts Brent Council for not holding a special democratic meeting on fire safety in the borough

This is an email sent to Brent councilors today by Cllr John Duffy (Kilburn)

Dear All,

As you know the tragic events that took place on 14th June at Grenfell Tower has cost over a hundred lives has left a mark on our city. Over the years we have seen many similar tragic events, but normally they are in factories (sweat shops) in Bangladesh or a collapse of building on the outskirts (shanty -town) of a South American city. The only difference between this the others tragic events is the fact it happen only a few miles in a neighbouring borough right on our doorsteps do we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

In the early hours of 14th June I received two phone calls one from a women who was going down to the fire area to look for friends and offer them a place to stay, and another from a women crying who just wanted to talk about the tragic events she had witnessed on TV. The following day (15th) a friend of nearly 50 years call in on me and told me about his son and family, who live in one of the other twin blocks of Grenfell tower estate and who had witnessed the fire throughout the night, and how his partner was talking to her son on the  phone as the horror unfolded in that long night .

As the days passed it became clear they the fire did not only wreak death and destruction it also exposed inequalities.. Kensington and Chelsea is the wealthiest  area in London (and maybe the world) and has many high rise expensive hotels and private apartment blocks. These high rise hotels have the maximum fire protection  and have been erected using non-toxic building material etc. I do not object these people having the maximum fire protection. What I object to is the different way society treats the so called "Creators of Wealth" who stay in the big hotels and are pampered in comparative way that same society threat the "Orphans of Wealth" who they hide in Tower blocks with insufficient fire protection and there needs are ignored .

John McDonnell the Shadow Chancellor, said that politicians are guilty of murder. I am not sure if he said that just for affect. However it did highlight the fact that politicians are responsible for decisions and I have always believed apathy is not a political decision - its a cop-out. That is why I called for special full council meeting on 3th July .The meeting would have endorse a strategy for officers to follow and the officers in turn would been up-to date with local information from Councillors. Officers would have been able to explain what we're been doing , and the resource implications .This would have ensured councillors were not just observers waiting for the next bulletin, but were local representatives , representing local people. The CEO, Head of Legal, the Leader and the Mayor decided to limit discussion and to kick it to the 11th July. The decision was wrong, anti-democratic and not transparent.

Since the disaster , I have exchanged numerous emails mostly private with Officers and the CEO, here are some of them.

Time line
14th June at 09:22, I wrote  about  the visible deterioration of some of the new blocks in South Kilburn  and tried to identify short -life up  property we  could get up and running . I understand Cllr  Kalwala was doing the same thing  in Stonebridge looking for voids to be ready to help K+C . I am proud of what others and myself did to ensure Brent was ready to support the residents of Grenfell Tower if needs be.

15th June at 4-30PM, I went down to South Kilburn  to have a look  the blocks and ensure the area was cleared of any fire hazard. I understand Cllr Shazard and Cllr Colacicco were doing something similar in Mapesbury. I looked at all the blocks including George and Swift house (which are owned by a housing association) that had been of concern to residents for some time, including  issues about the failing exterior. I informed the CEO of my concerns .The CEO instructed officers to investigate  my concerns about George House.

24th June  at 11-16 AM, I requested an emergency full council  meeting ( which I later changed  to a special meeting ) the requisite number of councillors agreed to call the meeting and the CEO asked The Leader and another officer to discuss with the Mayor.

26th June at 3pm. The CEO wrote to all councillors, misleading all councillors saying that I had not got the 5 councillors you need to requisiteion a meeting naming myself , Cllr Pavey , Stopp , Warren . However the CEO, the Mayors office and the The Leader of the council were well aware that Cllr Chan  and Cllr Hector had also supported the request for a meeting by email to the Mayor, the Leader of the Council and Labour group leadership on the 24th June . 

The CEO then advise the Mayor  that he should not use his powers to call a special meeting , instead we should have a drop-in section, which would not be open to the press or public and would not be minuted, replacing a democratically called meeting. The CEO also promised time to ask questions at the drop -in , but  the Head of Legal said half an hours of questions is enough for councillors to ask questions and she would not agree to officers staying on after the 7pm deadline. 

28TH June at 11-15 am. My fears were confirmed,  just as I had alerted the CEO on the 15th June the cladding at George house failed the fire test. However the FB did not recommend immediate evacuation of the block and 24 hrs wardens are now in place to walk the scheme. 

Now because of the CEO intervention we have not got a Full Council meeting tonight, where we could publicly support and reassure residents in South Kilburn and support officers action. We have a drop-in for councillors and they are only allowed half an hour  to ask questions about the fabric and material, the short term safety,  and medium and long term solutions- while the public are banned. 

This lack of transparency shown by senior officers and the attempt to highjack the democratic process and limit debate is why I will not be turning-up tonight. I have instead arrange a meeting for 2pm tomorrow Tuesday) with the housing association who manage George House which I invite all councillors to. I am also inviting Peter Gadsdon  or one of his colleagues (he and his officers are doing a good job) if he or one of his colleagues is available to attend. I will inform the public meeting tomorrow (Tuesday)  evening (see notice above) about the outcome of the meeting and hopefully will be able to give residents an update.

There are obvious lessons to learn about fire protection, which will emerge, but there are other issues  about  how council meetings and decisions  are conducted and implemented. Over the next few months  the council will have to be more transparent and the CEO and Cabinet will have to start to listen to local councillors. There can be no more mistakes like trying to close the Granville Community Centre without understanding the consequences of regeneration on an area like Kilburn. Poorer areas also need a guarantee that they will retain all the funds they are due from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) from the related 106 income and it will not passed onto wealthier areas, who have not suffered the from the consequences of the redevelopment/ regeneration programme.

Fairness and transparency is needed if we are going to avoid creating more Orphans Of Wealth .


The Council has tabled an item on the agenda of the next Full Council meeting on July 10th (7pm Civic Centre). There are 17 items on the agenda -Fire Safety in High Rise Towe Blocks is number 15. LINK


Martin Francis said...

Received by email from a reader: Tomorrow's meeting is being held in the tower block where I live. But the posters advertising the meeting have only just been posted up in my block. I heard that the meeting is mainly for L & Q residents to allay their fears after George House (right across the road from me) has failed a fire assessment on it's cladding. It seems that we are hosting the meeting, as George house (and all the other new private homes next to it) never built a meeting room in their up-market developments. I can only assume that L & Q probably never envisaged that the need for a meeting room would ever arise.

A few years ago I asked BHP/COUNCIL to install sprinklers in my block & William Saville and they said NO ---and the reason they gave was 'our kids would be setting them off all the time and cause untold damage and cost". We even told them that one of Brent's Chief Fire Officer's had told us that we must have fire alarms and sprinklers installed, as in his opinion they are essential at stopping fires escalating.

I will be attending tomorrow and I will ask can we have the fire alarms and sprinklers now but already I am feeling I am living on the wrong side of the road.

Philip Grant said...

I doubt whether being one item on a busy Full Council agenda will be enough for councillors to discuss and consider this matter properly.

John Duffy was right to call for a Special Meeting, and if at least five councillors asked for one (which it appears that they did), the Mayor should have agreed to it.