On Wednesday the 21st of June, Camden Council removed a panel from the Burnham tower, just one of five on Fellows Road, Swiss Cottage. This action comes a week after the tragedy at Grenfell Tower of which the 24-story tower block caught fire leaving – at time of writing, 58 dead.
Camden Council told residents they were removing the panel, which was similar to the cladding at Grenfell Tower and was put up by the very same firm, Rydon Construction. On Thursday the council confirmed that there were ‘significant differences’ and they would be removing the cladding from all of the tower blocks which make up the Chalcots Estate; Bray, Burnham, Blashford, Dorney and Taplow.
News teams from Sky, BBC, London Live and many others were present to speak to residents and council officials. I live on Fellows Road and have been there since I was 3 years old; I know and have grown up with many people from the Chalcots tower blocks. In the time since Grenfell Tower hit the headlines around the world residents from the Chalcots Estate have been understandably upset, frightened and angry.
Residents spoke to the news teams about their fears and the ‘ignored’ requests from them over the years regarding the towers’ health and safety. I met the Sky News team first who were all really friendly and interesting people. They were compassionate towards the residents they spoke to and were nice enough to show me their kit. They let me hold their cameras and tripod as well as sit in the van and watch them putting together a package for a live broadcast at 5pm. I also met a journalist for the Daily Mail who spoke to me about his journey and the piece he was writing. It was great to see the different approaches that a print journalist takes to that of a news team with cameras.
At 6:30pm there was a residents meeting in the library at the end of the road which I attended. Our local MP, Tulip Siddiq, also attended and mid-meeting took the microphone to announce that she would be personally writing to Saddiq Khan to enquire about the closure of Belsize Park Fire Station.
There were approximately 150 people at the meeting of which the first 30 minutes comprised of experts speaking and then a Q&A session.
The council told the residents that the cladding used on the tower blocks on Fellows Road ‘was not what they had commissioned’ and although the cladding did not pose an immediate threat they would be ‘removing the cladding to reassure people’ which was met with shouts from all corners of the room’ I do not feel assured!’. The council promised that there would be 24/7 fire wardens in all of the blocks until it was felt that they were no longer needed at a cost to the council. There was also a promise of free appliance testing for every flat in every building.
Mike Cooke, Chief Executive of Camden Council tried to calm understandably angry residents by stating ‘[his] assurance is that it will be weeks not months’ for the cladding to be taken down; a job that took 8/9 months per tower in 2006. Residents found this hard to believe and called out ‘what will we do until the cladding has been taken down?’ One woman stood up and accused the council of knowing that the residents were in danger but failed to do anything about it; ‘you didn’t check the work! You left all these people in danger. You’re saying you’re doing this out of the kindness of your hearts – it’s all spin.’
A young woman stated that ‘the fire safety posters were taken down today as they were wrong and were actually suitable for office buildings, not housing estates. They’ve been on our walls for 11 years – who has been checking this? Why aren’t the people responsible for checking them here?’
There are many questions yet to be answered by the council that should have been answered days, weeks, months and years ago. However, the council does seem to be taking their role within the five towers that makes up Chalcots Estate more seriously than perhaps it ever has.