Kensington & Chelsea Council must completely change the management and provision of housing in the royal borough (RBKC) in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, according to the council’s deputy leader.
In a speech last night, Kim Taylor-Smith, whose responsibilities include the housing elements of the Grenfell recovery programme, told a full council meeting that the tragedy has “shone a light on the way we manage our estates, on our relationship with our tenants” and “on how and where we build new homes.” It has “changed Kensington & Chelsea forever,” he said.
Launching a “green paper” discussion document on homes in the borough entitled Our Challenge, Your Solutions, Taylor-Smith identified the management of its own housing stock as his “principal theme” and said, “No longer is it acceptable for us to assume we know best.”
Residents have seen “some changes and some improvements to their services” since March, when the council took the management of housing back from the widely-criticised Kensington & Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO), he said, but added that the council is still a “long way” from the point where its performance could be judged “exemplary” by peers.
While expressing his firm hope that residents would want RBKC to manage their homes “forever,” he invited them to help “shape” and “co-design” a new system. The green paper says that residents have selected the community engagement company Traverse to “capture how residents want their homes to be managed, how repairs and major works should be done and by whom.” Taylor-Smith has told On London that a six-month backlog of 5,000 housing repairs has been cleared, thanks to the borough increasing its capacity for that work.
Other areas for discussion would be a charter written by residents, setting down the standards they expect the council as their landlord to meet and also those of their neighbours in order to end antisocial behaviour, and for consultations about how best to “refit and refurbish” existing properties. Taylor-Smith confirmed that a “remove and build” approach to regeneration is no longer part of council policy.
Stating that Kensington and Chelsea risks “becoming a borough only for the rich,” he said more “council and truly affordable homes” must be built, and announced plans for the council itself to build “300 new council homes” which would be financed by the building and sale of 300 others for private sale.
“Key workers,” too well off for social housing yet too poor to afford private rents, needed to be helped too, including by revitalising powers to take “temporary controls of dilapidate, long-term empty homes”. Taylor-Smith thanked Labour councillor Judith Blakeman for suggesting the idea and stressed that it is “not about sequestering private property.”
Responding the speech Monica Press, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Group, thanked Taylor-Smith for many of the potential measures included in the green paper, referring to him jovially as “Comrade Tory Kim,” in recognition that several of the approaches he is highlighting for discussion are being regarded as notably left wing. Labour councillors have played a part in developing new policy ideas.
Press said that the principle of resident-led solutions to the borough’s housing challenges is, “something we can all agree on” and that “we can look forward to working on together.” She welcomed what she called “a reversal of years of RBKC housing policy based on ideology and dogma” rather than “data and need.”
Press added that a consultation on the future of housing management is “going extremely well” and she welcomed Taylor-Smith’s preference for the council to manage its housing “on a permanent basis, if that is what the council residents want,” and the council’s desire to build its own homes on its own land. She urged it to directly employ “its own specialised procurement, contract management and surveying teams” in order to ensure the highest building standards.
Read RBKC’s “green paper” discussion document via here.