Major repair work will begin later this year on five Camden housing blocks that were evacuated in June 2017 after the council discovered that cladding attached to them was similar to that which went up in flames on Grenfell Tower.
Camden Council leader Georgia Gould has approved Wates Living Space as the contractor to replace the cladding, which had been installed between 2006 and 2009, with the most fireproof available and also to replace the windows and curtain walls of the Chalcots estate in Swiss Cottage, which needed replacing.
Camden has secured £80.6 million from the government’s cladding remediation fund, set up last July, to pay for the removal and replacement of unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) on council and housing association social housing buildings. It will provide £26.2 million itself. The work is expected to last three months.
Gould received some criticism for deciding to urge the roughly 3,000 residents to leave the approximately 700 dwellings, including from some residents themselves who accused her of over-reacting. However, she was also praised for acting bravely when made aware of the potential fire risk and being visible on the scene and prepared to explain her actions directly to those affected, some of whom were angry or distressed.
The vast majority of Chalcots residents were temporarily housed in private rented accommodation or hotels for a few weeks until the flammable cladding was removed, though a small number, some of them too infirm to go elsewhere, remained in their dwellings throughout. The fire brigade did not formally close the building, which meant that, in any case, no one could be forced to leave. Residents began moving back from mid-July 2017, though it was reported that over 100 refused to do so at that time, fearing that the buildings were still not safe.
A council spokesperson said, “The driving force throughout this process has been to deliver the highest possible standard of safety for Chalcots residents, and, by the time this work is done, they will have the best possible protection through a complete A1 fire rated system, which we will submit for full-scale independent testing”. The council adds that it has “always acted quickly within the correct procedures” to remove the ACM cladding promptly and has also carried out “extensive safety work on the interior of the buildings”.
In May 2018, Camden brought maintenance of the Chalcots in-house after the consortium that had been contracted to do the job went bust. The council says it intends to see through the final stages of terminating the agreement as part of getting “the best possible deal” for residents. The previous November the council had ceased paying the company, which it was in dispute with over who was responsible for the problems with the blocks.
Last October, Camden said it intended to sue a group of companies responsible for the refurbishment work that saw the ACM cladding installed with a view to recovering some of the costs it incurred due to the evacuation and has confirmed that that remains its position.