The long road to Grenfell Recovery, the lack of proper Scrutiny and the people left behind

This is Sheila Durr, she used to be Director for Communities and People at RBKC and was supposed to be the Humanitarian Lead for the Grenfell Recovery here. .

We say ‚Äúsupposed to‚ÄĚ because Ms Durr was quite possibly one of the most useless suits ever to serve at RBKC ,and is “best” remembered for her role in the axing of a much-needed  and missed night service for traumatised members of our community: standing there and doing nothing while a fight between traumatised residents  broke out at The Curve, and for completely ignoring emails from  numerous concerned residents, including us .

Do-Nothing Durr left Hornton Street in October 2019, after 2 years , in which many residents in our local community were largely ignored, she spent nearly a year as a Senior Consultant at Surrey County Council before heading up north to Bury Council, where worryingly for residents there, she has been the Executive Director for Children and Young People for the past 5 months.Residents under her duty there have our  sympathies.

Back at a meeting of the (sadly since scrapped by our council in 2019) RBKC Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee, Sheila Durr had mentioned ‚ÄúTogether For Grenfell‚ÄĚ which nobody in the room bar the suits ‚Äď had heard of! One of us asked which groups were involved in this organisation and for an explanation of exactly what it is and Ms Durr responded by saying that it was a consortium of local organisations such as Al Manaar, Al Hasaniya and Midaye.

To  more recent times , and RBKC was having a consultation NEARLY FOUR YEARS AFTER GRENFELL about adult health and emotional wellbeing support services in the community. Here is what RBKC said in their consultation blurb: 

Since the Grenfell tragedy, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has commissioned a range of community based emotional health and wellbeing support services in North Kensington from the voluntary sector for adults. These have included those under the ‚ÄėTogether for Grenfell‚Äô umbrella of providers offering 1:1 and group counselling and wellbeing support for adults.
1:1 and group counselling and wellbeing support for adults.
The aims of the Together for Grenfell project is to support isolated community members whose emotional health and well-being had been affected by the Grenfell tragedy, targeting community members who did not feel comfortable or able to access mainstream services. The offer is personalised and built around the assessed needs of the local population and individuals. As a result, the key elements of the offer include:
  • culturally appropriate services delivered in languages spoken by the community 
  • collaboration and partnership with local partners to integrate culturally appropriate services into the mainstream health offer 
  • support delivered in community settings familiar to local residents, at flexible times that suit them 
We are now two years into the Council’s five-year Grenfell Recovery Strategy and we are interested in understanding people’s views on these services, broader services accessed and planning additional services. This consultation is seeking insight from those who live, work and learn in the borough on how we can:
This consultation is seeking insight from those who live, work and learn in the borough on how we can:
  • Best deliver the new arrangements under the Together for Grenfell umbrella
  • Deliver new initiatives for adults in the community until 2024, which create opportunities for local people to lead their own support, developing and enhancing existing models of support that help people build resilience through social support networks.developing and enhancing existing models of support that help people build resilience through social support networks.
screenshot_20210327-171532

We are left wondeting why was the ‚ÄúTogether For Grenfell‚ÄĚ umbrella so small? Above  is a list of community organisations from Kensington and Chelsea Social Council listed in  a report from 2019  ‚Äď and note that only a tiny handful of them have been included.

Only 3 of these organisations were included in the Together For Grenfell network in fact, and we really want to know why. Perhaps ‚ÄúDo Nothing‚ÄĚ Durr was engrosssed in a riveting game of tiddlywinks at her Hornton Street desk?

The  abolition of the  Grenfell Recovery  Scrutiny  Committee in 2019 left  a big hole in the scrutinisation of the council‚Äôs ‚Äúefforts‚ÄĚ, so many issues as well as individuals and groups  affected unfortunately do not get a look in

The supposed next best thing residents  get is the RBKC Overview and Scrutiny Committee.  The section  of the meeting of that earlier this month was supposed to be about scrutinising the dedicated service for the  survivors and the bereaved.  

But Chair  of the Overview amd Scrutiny Committee Cllr Marie-Therese Rossi insisted at the start of the meeting  that she was making it clear it was about about the dedicated service for the survivors and bereaved, but then added ‚Äúthe wider comnunity‚ÄĚ. 

Well, there is no actual dedicated service for the affected local community who are not classified as survivors or bereaved. We hate to repeat ourselves but we are sick and tired of the misleading ‚Äúwider comnunity‚ÄĚ label becaise it appears to have been attached to residents all over RBKC and it ought to-be clearer that residemts of the immediate North Kensington community are obviously suffering from a far more severe level of grief and trauma than residents who live at the other end of the borough  We are disappointed that some councillors appear to be confused about this. Anyway  it was down to Anne Cyron, RBKC Lead Member for Comnunities for clarification and to  be more exacting  and she  did  state that the meeting was specifically about the dedicated service for the survivors and the bereaved.

Several residents and representatives were present at the online meeting, including Kimia from Grenfell Next of Kin and Natasha and Bellal fron Grenfell  United.  It was clear from the meeting that RBKC had failed to contact  a number of bereaved residents and involve then in the service .Kimia gave several examples of this. Some of the bereaved speaking at the meeting said they had not been involved. Perhaps this situation could have been avoided if RBKC had widened their ‚Äúumbrella‚ÄĚ to include the full list of community organisations that KCSC provided a few years ago?   The Grenfell United representatives invited bereaved residents to come along to the Steering Group and get involved. It was obvious that language barriers and communication barriers have prevented some from getting the help and support they needed. 

As for the dedicated service, we do have to say that the feedback we have received from  the survivors and the bereaved on the dedicated service has been largely  very positive, with some praising the efforts of Callum Wilson,  the Director of the service . So not all ‚Äúbad news‚ÄĚ here and we think it is now up to RBKC to broaden their “umbrella” and we hope that we do not see or hear any more instances of people being or feeling  that they are being left out.

But what about scrutinisation of other Grenfell Recovery efforts? Well, there isn‚Äôt  really much of that  and it doesn‚Äôt look like there will be any soon. Anne Cyron said that that other services and community provisions will be scrutinised ‚Äúat a later date‚ÄĚ but did not say when ‚Äď so that likely means never in most cases, and as  for affected younger people, which Cllr  Cyron did briefly mention, that will probably get shoehorned  into the next meeting of the RBKC Family Services Committee. As for the parents and other family members  of  affected children, who knows? 

The council‚Äôs abandonment of  our affected comnunity has led to people suffering in silence and some affected residents like us,  feeling trapped back in some of the worst stages of PTSD  . Sadly , it has also led to unpleasant scenes, and arguments in the community  with some affected people wrongly pointing the finger at other affected people. The fact is, it is RBKC who are to blame for this; and certainly NOT any of  the survivors  or the bereaved who have already been through enough already. They should be and always will be the priority we hope,  and there should be no point of contention about this. The point of contention we have with RBKC‚Äôs approach, is that they have ended up COMPLETELY forgetting about the  affected North Kensington community, trying to fob us off with insubstantial nonsense, and have even been pitting affected residents against others, and community organisations  against others 

Another point  we have to mention is that the council were  heartless and inconsiderate enough to not include older people in their initial. Recovery strategy.  Do they not think older residents exist? Labour Notting Dale councillor Judith Blakeman has constantly  reminded the council of their failure to include and consider older residents  but has been met with very little in the way of response except  for RBKC to seemingly  expect voluntary organistions to pick up the pieces

Other forgotten about affected  residents incude those  who do not live on large  council estates, (including residents in housing co-ops or housing associations, residents in private owned or rented accommnoation and residents who live in temporary accommdoation). 

And, if the language and communication barriers are  still an issue with the bereaved, this is  likely to be an even bigger situation in our community . 

The council just tell affected  people to go to The Curve but quite a lot of people here find the environment there  far too official or clinical ‚Äď something we ourselves feel and others have said they would feel like they would be taking time and resources away from survivors and the bereaved if they did engage with services at The Curve. The council itself admitted back in 2019 that number of residents were not comfortable with it- but they have failed to provide any alternatives for the community specifically and that has  ended up being left to residents

 And this brings us back to that night service again. It was staffed by some NHS professionals as well as staff from local charities Hestia and Blenheim. It was informal, confidential, and people didn‚Äôt have counselling or NHS services forced upon them ‚Äď  but you knew they were there if you wanted to access them .This is a blog with a huge local following so we will not be retraumatising residents by describing what night terrors are, but many other traumatised residents in the community will know exactly what we mean. That night service provided a safe and confidential space to go for residents experiencing these ‚Äď sometimes all someone wants is a safe space, a chat and a cup of tea ‚Äď but apparently for CNWL , West London CCG and RBKC that was too much. Rather than funding this properly, advertising it and  moving it to a more appropriate secular setting, CNWL, West London CCG and  RBKC scrapped it, with  Sheila Durr and former Grenfell Chief Executive  Robyn Fairman ‚Äď another former  suit we don‚Äôt miss ‚Äď  putting the boot in on behalf of the council – they didn’t back this and clearly they didn’t think that caring for traumatised residents was a priority – we reported them repeatedly   trying to axe the service three years ago https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/2018/08/05/rbkc-does-u-turn-after-trying-to-axe-grenfell-night-service-for-traumatised-north-kensington-residents-again/

The council, after claiming the night service was poorly attended even though they failed to advertise it, or move to a more suitable¬† setting, didn’t seem to care and it¬† was replaced by a NHS telephone line instead. which we have never used and certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable with ever using. Same goes for many others. And while an in-person service like the much-missed night service due to Lockdown restrictions and Covid would not at the present time¬† be able to¬† function , when restrictions are lifted there will be an increasing need for such services as self isolation has¬† ¬†taken a toll on the mental wellbeing of many in our community too¬† This needs to be looked at again .¬†

Other help in the community has come from many of our community groups, many of which are not always properly  or fairly supported by the council..In recent times of Covid and lockdown , The SPACE, based at Freston Road, North Kensington has been getting help out to residents (a larger number of our residents than ever before due to Covid and the financial crisis require their help) . Due to  a recent outpouring of donations from kind  other residents all around  the borough, staff at The SPACE have informed us that theu  are now running out of actual space to store their donated goods . So we also call on the council to support them and provide then with extra facilities.  This is a valued and popular community-led hub and they deserve to be better supported by the council. 

RBKC like  to say they have always supported The SPACE but their actions have not always matched up to this. Back in pre-Covid times, RBKC even put on ‚Äúrival‚ÄĚ events, at The Curve  imitating the program of activities provided at The SPACE. 

As for other community groups, there are many outstanding local community groups and voluntary organisations and groups in the locality,¬† we will just briefly mention just a¬† tiny¬† handful of them ‚Äď LCAT (Latimer Community Art Therapy) at Henry Dickens Comnunity Centre , Kids On The Green,¬† and Solidarity Sports¬†.

RBKC‚Äôs response has been to pit some of¬† them against other groups which they did in the ‚ÄúGrenfell Projects Fund‚ÄĚ last year, in a tacky game show format, where they had to make a ‚Äúpitch‚ÄĚ much like TV show Dragon‚Äôs Den, and the few residents who got in, voted on their favourites using the same keypads from TV game show ‚ÄúWho Wants To be a Millionaire‚Ä̬† and the successful organisations who received the most votes, receiving the¬† funding. We did not attend, as even though we are friends and supporters of many of the successsful organisations who took part, we felt¬† and still do feel that this format was inappropriate and tasteless.

At THINK, we strongly feel that our  valued community organisations and groups  should not be treated like game show contestants; residents should not be competing against each other, affected members of our community shouldn’t have to jump up and down or go on social media in order to get RBKC to acknowledge that we exist.. The council has failed us over Grenfell Recovery and by not restoring Scrutiny , they are still failing us , and until we get a decent appropriate and fair level of Scrutiny, the successful (and the less successful ) Grenfell Recovery efforts  are analysed, with community feedback, they will further fail us and no lessons will ever be learned.. This requires  is some in depth level of  inclusive discussion about what is working and what is not working.

Unfortunately, as long as supposed Grenfell Scrutiny is  scattered among various council committees and  the general picture of how our community as a whole is affected and what is missing or needed gets properly looked at as a whole, the road to recovery for some will feel  more like a road to nowhere. That is why we are calling for the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee to be reinstated and we invite our local readers to join us by completing and sharing this independent Centre for Governance and Scrutiny survey (it only takes a couple of minutes to complete)

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/S9HZ2JG

If RBKC really wants to demonstrate change, they must first learn to listen to our local residents and respond to our concerns; (by the way, these are not  purely personal concerns of the writers of this blog- we spoke to a number of residents, including some community representatives, some survivors, some of the bereaved, some of those in other community or voluntary groups as well as some health professsionals  ‚Äď and sadly the same concerns and issues about people being left behind, about people feeling their voices are not heard, about the lack of Grenfell Scrutiny and about feeling that there was a lack of a dedicated community services for traumatised residents kept coming back).

Change doesn‚Äôt happen overnight and it will take years for our comnunity to recover from the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, but surely  after everything North Kensington residents have been through, this community  at  the very least deserves far  better than to be treated as an afterthought?  

Wornington Green: Still green for now

This morning, Catalyst Housing were set to chop down 37 trees on the Wornington Green Estate in North Kensington.

Catalyst are not exactly the most considerate and thoughtful of housing associations, having completely ignored the calls from Wornington Green residents, other North Kensington locals and some of our local representatives to reconsider their plans and save the trees (most of which are mature pollution absorbing plane trees), and the housing association decided to turn up with their chainsaws this morning.

But Catalyst probably didn’t reckon on a big turnout of residents, locals and groups , including members of the Labour Party, local Golborne councillor and Leader of the RBKC Opposition, Pat Mason, members of the local Green Party and members of the Kensington branch of Extinction Rebellion, to all be taking their peaceful socially distanced morning exercise out there too.

After a stand off and the Police being called for no reason, “Catastrophic Housing” decided to clear off. The trees are still here.

We thank everyone who turned up this morning in support, and all who shared and posted on social media, including Cllr Pat Mason, Cllr Judith Blakeman and Green Party PPC for Cities of London and Westminster and London Assembly candidate, Zack Polanski.

We especially thank the local residents and campaigners who care deeply about the health and wellbeing of this community and conserving our environment, both now and for generations to come.

But callous Catalyst say they will be back to chop down the trees next week.

So we have this to say to them:

” As long as you refuse to listen to and respect the needs and wishes of your residents and the North Kensington community and as long as you pose a threat to our environment, and as long as you refuse to change your plans, this community will stand together against you.

The fact that lots of people turned out early in the cold, the petition to save the trees gained over 1,000 supporters in such a short space of time, and even the present RBKC Leadership do not support your destructive plans, all ought to be strong indicators that you need to think again.

Members of this blog had planned to be there this morning too, but only due to personal circumstances, we unfortunately couldn’t make it, but THINKers will be out there taking our morning exercise next week, when you have said you will return to chop down the trees.

Do not underestimate the power of community and how we feel about our environment, our trees and our green spaces here – they are invaluable to us – and mean far, far, more to the locals of North Kensington than your luxury flats ever will”

This isn’t over……

“Guilt by Association” #2: Catalyst Housing

Part 2 of our “Guilt by Association” series of posts on housing associations

Meet Ian McDermott, the Chief Executive of Catalyst Housing.

Catalyst Housing are one of the founder members of the G15 Group of housing associations and are responsible for over 32,000 homes.

They formed out of Kensington Housing Trust (once based locally, at Portobello Road), who merged with Ealing Family Housing Association and Northcote Housing Association.

In 2019, Hertfordshire-based Aldwyck Housing Group (which has homes in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire ) joined the Catalyst fold and Mr McDermott, from Aldwyck, took the top job.

Ian McDermott might have some 30 years or so in the business but as he may not be familiar with our local area. we’ll just alert him to how environmentally destructive his organisation’s regeneration at the Wornington Green Estate in North Kensington is, so here are our previous two posts about it:

Wornington Green: Green no longer? North Ken residents fight to save 42 trees

And

Wornington Green: Not up-to-scratch Catalyst scheme gets hissed at by residents and councillors

Yes, even the RBKC council Leadership disapproves of Catalyst chopping down so many trees

In fact a total of 167 mostly mature plane trees will be lost to the scheme.

We also wonder if Mr McDermott approves of his employees using misleading terms to describe Catalyst projects? Like this, (taken from the RBKC meeting) from Fearghal O’Hara, Regeneration Manager for Wornington Green and who is responsible for overseeing the new builds at Wornington Green
‚ÄúThere will be huge gains for the community aside from more modern homes as a result of this regeneration. There will be new community facilities, new public realm, and we‚Äôre creating a new green space in partnership with RBKC ‚Äď that‚Äôs Athlone Gardens‚ÄĚ

Oh dear. Replacing an existing green space – Athlone Gardens – with a smaller one isn’t really creating a new one is it ? Nor is replacing existing community facilities at the Venture Centure – “creating new community facilities”.

We’ll also go back to what RBKC Labour Cllr Judith Blakeman said at that RBKC Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting regarding courtyard gardens and the part of thr Silchester Estate that was redeveloped (no, not by Catalyst but it’s relevant): She ponted out that the courtyard at the Silchester does not get enough light, all the trees and plants die and residents there are left with a mud bath. Now we’ll point out that similarly sized courtyards, are what Caralyst plans to provide at Wornington Green and unlike the Silchester, these will be at basement level. Good luck growing anything there….

No doubt Mr O’Hara or another one of his colleagues will probably pop up to tell the Wonrington Green residents that they now have a mud wrestling facility for the community or something. It’s the sort of behaviour residents have come to expect from them – and none of this – is in any way, shape or form, any sort of replacement for the mature London plane trees which help fight pollution and mean so much to both the Wornington Green residents and their neighbours in the North Kensington area.

Today we have heard the news that heartless Catalyst Housing have shamefully disregarded the overwhelming views of residents and the local council and have told residents that they will cbop down 37 trees beginning next Monday, right in the midst of Covid -19 when residents are staying at home trying to get some peace and quiet.

Catalyst have won several awards before (actually we think the ritual back-slapping housing sector awards are a complete joke; our own failed defunct ALMO – the disgraced KCTMO has been the recipient of at least one in the past), so here’s another one to add to Catalyst’s collection that they really well and truly deserve:

For pretending that inferior replacements for a park and a community centre are additions, and for having the nerve to say this to people who live there; for assuming our residents are stupid by trying to placate them with darkened basement courtyards and a few saplings and making out that they are in any way an acceptable replacement for plane trees and a healthy outdoor communal green environment – we can only call what they have done and are still doing in North Kensington ecocide ; and for sticking two fingers up to their residents, our council, North Kensington and the environment in general, THINK proudly present “Callous Housing” with a Piglet-Pie Award – and here’s “Mr Shifty” O’Hara to collect it:

Catalyst Housing are in fact the very first housing association to win one of our not very coveted awards, tbough somehow we don’t think they’ll be boasting about tbis “accolade”….

Further afield, Catalyst have been a partner in the South Kilburn Regeneration. In 2019 , residents in Merle Court there (former lifetime tenants and leaseholders of Brent Council who were transferred to Catalyst under the regeneration) had to be moved because the flats were covered in ACM flammable Grenfell-type cladding.

This is what Inside Housing reported in May 2019 : “Residents are now in the process of being moved out, but the association has said there is no guarantee that they will be able to come back. As part of the outline agreement, Catalyst will have to pay compensation to residents and buy back the properties from shared owners ‚Äď something Mr McDermott says will cost the business ‚Äúa lot of money‚ÄĚ.

We think it is utterly disgraceful that this giant housing association supposedly worth ¬£3billion are punishing others for their mistakes and wouldn’t guarantee that all their residents would have a right to return back to their home and community after their ordeal.

But recent reports say that the association has been financially downgraded and as the association has homes all over London and the home counties so theoretically residents could end up anywhere – which could all be a very worrying prospect for Catalyst residents living in more expensive parts of our city who may have to be moved “decanted ” away from faulty properties ….

As for more controversy further out, we have heard that cash-strapped TfL are going into partnership with “Callous Housing” and are planning on building blocks of flats on suburban tube station car parks.

One planned scheme in Rayners Lane, Harrow, is for 126 homes on and around the site of the station car park

They haven’t just stopped there either, they are planning to stick 11 storey tower blocks containing 227 homes by Stanmore Station and 118 homes by Canons Park Station.

While more homes in London are needed, the levels of density, the loss of some trees and greenery – plus obvious beauty – in the areas and the effects on the communities there; are highly concerning, as are parking (in areas where many residents still are dependent on car use) along with the obvious vast increases of pollution and congestion these developments will bring .

Understandably most residents in all three of these locations are opposed to the plans and they have our support . Have a look at this :

Our blog has signed and shared the petition from the residents of High Worple Way to Harrow Council to stop the Rayners Lane development and we urge our readers to join us:

https://www.change.org/p/harrow-council-stop-building-140-flats-at-rayners-lane-car-park-which-is-already-an-overdevelopment-area

We think it is inappropriate and wrong to overdevelop green suburbs with tower blocks, packing in high density flats like sardines in such locations, and we warn the residents there, that if Harrow Council gives this and others the green light, there will be no stopping these schemes.

As for the Wornington Green masterplan in our local area , that was approved by RBKC 10 years ago. It wouldn’t be approved now ; but our council’s hands are tied and legally they have no power at all to halt it.

We were wondering if Catalyst have become less of a housing association and more of a property developer? Things are very cosy indeed between Catalyst and developers Taylor Wimpey – they are not only partners in several schemes , but In 2019, Rachael Dennis, Chief Operating Officer at Catalyst Housing , left to become Regional Managing Director at Taylor Wimpey. Richard Smith, Managing Director at Catalyst Housing since last year, was previously Development Director at Taylor Wimpey Central London.
Philip Jenkins, Group Development Director of Catalyst joined from Taylor Wimpey, Central London where he was Managing Director.

Some of our neighbours in Westminster may remember Philip Jenkins; before he was at Taylor Wimpey and Catalyst he was Executive Director, Property and Development at City West Homes between 2014-17.

City West was Wesminster Council’s troubled ALMO responsible for the management (or not) of its 21,000 or so council bomes¬† and was notorious for poor service, poor repairs and complaints and following concerns over poor performance over a number of years. It was taken back “in house ” in 2018, with Cllr Andrew Smith, Westminster’s Cabinet Member for Housing saying : ‚ÄúI believe there is no option now other than to bring the management of council housing under the council‚Äôs direct control. The opposition Labour Group of councillors in Westminster had kept extensive dossiers of residents’ complaints about the ALMO

https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/nightmare-stories-of-westminster-citywest-homes-problems-revealed-3584686

So, how do Catalyst residents rate the services they receive?

Not very bighly it appears. Here’s just a taster of the various negative reviews and postings we found:

Plus this from a former Catalyst employee which just about says it all;

We say Catalyst Housing are “guilty” of being destructive to the environment (not just in our community) , dishonesty, having extremely poor communications,poor repairs,poor standards of maintenance, poor responses to their residents and poor relations with the communities in which they intend to build their developments – shame on them.

Ian McDermott in interviews, seems to want to portray himself as a housing association “Mr Approachable Nice Guy” but the conduct of his association tells a very different story.

We warn other residents and local authorities who may be easily swayed when Catalyst comes promising redevelopments with affordable housing as the “cherry on top” ; their “affordable’ homes here start at ¬£600,000, relations between Catalyst and the community are at an all-time low and their redevelopment scheme in North Kensington has come at a price of environmental devastation , plus noise, nuisance, and misery for residents – which has gone on for the past decade and is only set to get worse .

Wornington Green: Not up-to-scratch Catalyst scheme gets hissed at by residents and councillors

Residents living on the Wornington Green Estate have been campaigning against plans by Catalyst Housing to chop down 42 trees – as we reported previously in this post:

https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/2020/12/04/wornington-green-green-no-longer-north-ken-residents-fight-to-save-42-trees/

The Wornington Green redevelopment scheme had been given the green light (but only just, by a majority of one) by the RBKC Planning Committee back in 2010.

Over 1000 people – including 160 Wornington Green residents – have signed the petition to save the trees and to call for meaningful consultation over this. Catalyst Housing have said some of the trees will need to be removed in order to build new homes, but campaigners and North Kensington locals , including us, believe the trees to be crucial to the public realm and the environment and to the wellbeing of the local residents.

Aftter New Year, the trees are thankfully still here – well for now anyway.. Last month, some of the residents and campaigners addressed the RBKC Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Also there were a couple of representatives from Catalyst present. Here’s what happened:

Keith Stirling, resident of the Wornington Green Estate: “We are in-a very very precarious position In fact regarding the felling of trees, our oxygen and the Ozone Layer. Chopping down trees, doesn’t help. The people of Wornington Green and the wider area need their trees.” He pointed out that the area is deprived of trees and that London plane trees supply the most oxygen. He said that Athlone Gardens was being regenerated as well and that it was a perfect place to transplant the trees – he had looked into it.

Constantine Gras, multimedia community artist and campaigner, who started the petition : “I”ve just heard that Catalyst have been listening to residents – they’ve just posted a newsletter to us. I think they’ve revised their plans to fell 42 trees down to 37″ Well that’s a start….

Constantine said that the Royal Borough “from posh squares to green housing spaces loves its trees and looking at the trees and listening to the birdsong – more so now as we’re stuck at home under Covid-19 restrictions”.

He emphasised the environmental benefits of trees here: “Trees in North Kensington, they really are a matter of life and death – the carbon emissions here are among London’s highest. The RBKC air quality climate change action plan has reported that 7.6% of all deaths in the Royal Borough are attributed to air pollution. Green spaces and trees are vital for filtering out toxic particles, so every tree in the borough, especially these 50 year old mature London plane trees on Wornington Green Estate they will help the borough become carbon neutral in 2040; I believe that is a council commitment”

As a community artist who has worked on social housing estates in North Kensington, Constantine Gras knows that residents really value their trees and green spaces, so he was been shocked to hear over a month ago of Catalyst Housing’s plans to chop down the trees as part of the next phase of redevelopment and that most of the community were unaware of this. “There seemed to be no consultation on this – how is this possible in this day and age? It’s wrong on every level. Just imagine someone walking down Wornington Road and all of a sudden all the trees have been cut down. Is this the type of regeneration that creates a sustainable community? ”

Constantine had looked at the planning applications from Catalyst – about 20 of them, the most recent one was last October – all of which had a tree plan from 2009 attached, which had never been followed and was obviously out of date regarding the information contained – disgraceful.

He questioned the legality of the process as to whether the council would let development be carried out that wasn’t in accordance with the submitted plans and without updated environmental assesssments.

Residents had carried out their own assessments of how many trees had already been lost. In phases 1 and 2a of the redevelopment 55 trees were removed, 10 retained and just 27 new sapling trees were planted with only 8 in the public realm. For the whole of the redevelopment there will be a whopping 167 trees lost – mostly mature trees – and less than half of them will be replaced.

As we said before, we think that Catalyst are partly renaming the estate “Portobello Square” because there will likely be very little “green” left when they are done….

It was stated that as well as the impact of construction and demolition, there will also be new roads – which will increased traffic flow and will have a major environmental impact. Residents expect Catalyst Housing and RBKC to monitor measure and offset the carbon footprint of this redevelopment.

Constantine also pointed out that as Catalyst are worth around ¬£3 billion and half of the new homes are or will be for private sale, that it won’t put too much of a dent in their profits to build fewer private luxury flats. (prices start at ¬£600,000 for a 1 bedroom flat) and put their resources into building an innovative development around the trees. “Just who is benefiting from this regeneration? ”

Fearghal O’Hara from Catalyst Housing, who is a Regeneration Manager for Wornington Green and who is responsible for overseeing the new builds at Wornington Green, responded: “We understand the concerns about removal of trees. We understand that this is a concern at the moment when people are spending so much more time at home. around the local community appreciating the local green space.”

He said that Catalyst Housing try to avoid tree removal, and whenever they can, “buildings and streets are designed around trees” . Really? That’s not exactly reflected in the number of trees lost, from what Wornington Green and nearby residents tell us, or indeed viewed on our own visits to the estate…..

Mr O’Hara::”Unfortunately we do need to move trees in order to build more homes. We accept and share the view os the petitioners that there is a climate emergency. However, we also recognise that there is a growing demand for modern efficient housing in London and in this phase of development (2b), we are bulding 230 homes 108 of which are social rent homes.to energy efficient standards amd to reduce environmental impact” Sorry Mr O’Hara, but we’re far from convinced as to how large scale destruction of trees and greenery reduces environmental impact.

He went on: “There will be huge gains for the community aside from more modern homes as a result of this regeneration. There will be new community facilities, new public realm, and we’re creating a new green space in partnership with RBKC – that’s Athlone Gardens”

No, we cannot excuse this from Mr O’Hara, saying that Catalyst are creating community facilities, – they’re not; they’re replacing them. -. We think he has some downright nerve to say this to people who have been in or around the local area for years.

He did say that the regeneration since 2011 has brought an additional £1million to fund community development projects including services, jobs and training opportunities as well as after school clubs and funds for the Venture Centre.

Mr O’Hara said the tree plan had been agreed by RBKC in 2010 and as many new trees should be planted as possible and as many as possible should be retained. He said it would have been looked at carefully when the masterplan was designed.He said with regards to consultation, the masterplan was widely publicised at the time and while this was 10 years ago, the masterplan remains the blueprint for the regeneration and that subsequent planning permissions were given by RBKC in 2014, 2017 and 2019. Catalyst had according to him, held a number of events both online and in person and that the RSG – the Residents Steering Group that the housing association sees as integral to the project to represent to views of residents and helps to choose designs and recently helped with selecting a contractor and keeps the organisation close to comnunity opinion apparently.

He said that they were proposing to plant 16 additonal trees in the public realm, bring the total of new trees in the development to 69, but failed to say how many of the 69 trees would be in the public realm and how many would be plane trees

Cllr Johnny Thalassites Lead Member (cabinet] for Planning, Place and the Environment thanked Constantine for the petition and said: “We need to save as many trees as possible. I welcome the commitment to retain two additional trees and to plant some more. I’m grateful to Fearghal and his team for working with us on that, but I think the key thing I would say is that I knew from campaigns in my own ward saving trees in Holland Park Avenue just how emotive and valued trees can be in a community, and that they can be a real green lung for for a neighbourhood”

“So I really believe that we should work harder to protect the more of the trees. I tend to think we’ve not gone far enough yet, I think there’s work to do.”

He said that they needed to go further to work to saving the trees and implored Catalyst to keep wotking with council officers to save more of them and while more social housing provided was a good thing, he regretted the fact that the council could not do anything about the Planning decision made 10 years ago (before he was a councillor), he would want to retain the treet but his hands are tied as Catalyst has no legal compulsion to follow his directions.

“The mood in the council and the Leadership is certainly to protect community, to protect trees and to support local residents and in the north and across the borough.”

Cllr Marie-Therese Rossi (Conservative, Redcliffe) – and Chair of this very Committee asked Catalyst if there was any way that Catalyst could look at the plans again to try and save the trees.

Cllr Greg Hammond (Conservative, Courtfield Ward) asked for more clarity on the planning permission, as he understood that there was a time limit on planning permissions “Or is it because the development has already started planning permission is deemed to still be in existence because the building work was started?”

Martin Lomas Strategic developments Manager, RBKC Planning and Place; ” Planning permissions, effectively once they have been implemented, they exist in perpetuity and developing countries that planning permission out so when we grant planning permission they’re subject to a condition that requires them to commence within three years. But if they do commence within that time period, then effectively the permission is then available to the developer in perpetuity to carry out that development in accordance with that planning permission.”

Pat Mason (Labour,Golborne Ward) Leader of the RBKC Opposition is one of the local councillors for the estates and said he was there objecting at the Planning Committee 10 years ago and at the time the consultation was a “complete joke”

“Kensington Housing Trust that morphed into Catalyst had a history of having absolutely dreadful consultations that even the council at that time said were not sensible, were not representative of what residents think. I have the planning application in front of me as it happens . The planning application noted that there was a 540 signature petition against the application and there were 53, other main objections, including the local councillors, and these were on 40, different main points, and these included, the loss of trees, the removal of Athlone Gardens, because that was mentioned here, the road layout and speeding traffic”

He said that Lady Hanham, a former Leader of RBKC for 11 years, had objected to the scheme saying that ‘I’m voting against because I do not believe this application benefits the people of Wornington Green’ and we made a big fuss at the time about the fact that Athlone Gardens was going to be erased and replaced and it was going to take years and years for these trees to be knocked down, but the prevailing majority on the committee with the casting vote of the then Chair (former councillor Terence Buxton) voted for this, and we were horrified because you can’t cut down. nearly 100 trees, and not expect an environmental problem so I think they should redraw the masterplan”

He said the development was 60% private housing because Catalyst needs this to stand up financially: “It’s not about helping our people. Overwhelmingly we need social rent housing in Golborne, which is the poorest ward in England. We do not need more housing for the rich here”

“I think that they should redraw because they have a very unhappy community there, and very unhappy councillors, and they are adding to the desecration of the environment and I’m not persuaded by the soft platitudes of officers from Catalyst who are now speaking to me who were not there then. And who will be gone as soon as this development is built living up the mess that they created”.

Kim Taylor-Smith RBKC Deputy Leader and Lead (cabinet) member for Grenfell, Housing and Social Investment said he was grateful to Catalyst for looking again at the issue with the trees and also said that overall , the scheme provided more homes for social rent.

“The impacts in terms of obviously having improved housing and what that does in terms of the environment and I think we mustn’t forget that. We really are looking for as many socially rented homes as we possibly can. ”

He said he supported whar Cllr Thalassites was saying and that all of the trees should be looked at again and talked of the possibility of the borough “adopting ” the trees that cannot all go in Athlone Gardens and suggested that they could go in other parts of the borough.

David Lindsay (Conservative, Norland Ward) asked Catalyst to explain the nature of the consultations that Catalyst had with residents living in the area and nearby and to expand upon that because an observation of his, as a councillor was “when I have planning issues in my ward, typically, the person who is putting in the application testifies that they have given and spent a great amount of time, consulting with their neighbours when in actuality some neighbours don’t believe a word of it.”

Fearghal O’Hara responded by sauing thay Catalyst had been consulting with residents over the past few years and held numerous events, including a “Party in the Park” event at Athlone Gardens, where they presented their proposals for Phase 3. Catalyst had held many consultation meetings in relation to conservation and proposals on designs for Athlone Gardens which they had held in collaboration with RBKC. Catalyst hild monthly meetings with the RSG – Residents Steering Group- and he said they endeavour to keep the RSG abreast of upcoming proposals and actions. “In addition to that, personally I strive with my communications team to keep the locals updated as to what is happening in terms of construction and anything we believe will impact on the residents’ wellbeing.”

Cllr Lindsay asked residents if anything what Mr O’Hara had said then, bears any resemblance to their experience of consultations.

Keith Stirling:”I was a member of the steering group and have recently resigned over this business with the trees I was a member of that steering group for many, many years. And the consultations that passed, basically paying lip service to the residents on Wornington Green ” and that “Catalyst were going to do whatever they were going to do”.

Keith told the Committee that as far as the steering group went, it was around 4 to 5 people and didn’t really represent the whole of the estate. He had argued that more people should be involved with the RSG but that some did not want to belong to it as they didn’t belive what Catalyst was telling them. When he found out that Catalyst were going to chop down the trees, he was horrified and resigned because “I’m not going to sit in a room with people that are going to do this sort of damage to my environment”.

David Lindsay: “I think its abundantly clear that Catalyst have not taken their residents with them. ”

Cllr Rossi: “I agree. I think that the whole thing. You know it’s a 10 year old planning permission and that people are saying they only just found out in November, that this is is going to happen. In terms of communication, something has obviously gone very badly wrong”.

Cllr Janet Evans (Conservative, Courtfield Ward) said she thought what Kim Taylor-Smith had said on moving the trees elsewhere was a good idea as was concerned that if some were moved on site at this stage , they might not survive.

She asked Catalyst “How would you mitigate on the loss of the trees? Because people do need them, especially now. They need a psychological environment of beauty, and what can you give, in terms of a happy space?” And she asked Constantine if he would be happy with this.

Mr O’Hara replied that part of what Catalyst are proposing will be two blocls of flats surrounded by trees in the public realm and in addition to that, each block will have a courtyard, whereby residents on the blocks can look out upon gardens which are below ground level. He said that Catalyst see Athlone Gardens as a potential jewel in Wornington Green, “so at the end of the regeneration, it will be a green public space for all to enjoy”.

Constantine: “These trees are here, they’re Wornington Green trees, theu are quite fragile and precious, so I mean it’s a very last resort to contemplate doing that. I could imagine an environmentally sensitive architect who would be connected to the scheme could look at the plan. attempted to build the new blocks around the site of what’s here. So we have the ability of building, what’s here as a footprint, and that might give us the ability to try to build around the trees. Now, I don’t think it’s rocket science to look into that. I wish that was being explored. Just seems to be about, people often come into an area, developers, and they just want erase what’s there, and not take stock of the value of what’s there.”

Keith: “The green spaces on Wonington Green that we have at the moment are quite precious to us, we really do need them. Everybody on my estate here, we talk about it all the time, how how much we love those trees and how much we love the wildlife that lives in those trees.

He said it was a wonderful thing to get up in the morning and see birds and squirrels when you’re going to work. But they’ll all be gone and it will take away from out environment What are we doing? I remember there was a song about putting trees in a tree museum. Is that where we’re going? To pay to come and see trees?”

Cll Will Pascall (Conservative, Stanley Ward) and Chair of thr RBKC Environment Select Committee asked Catalyst specifically to follow up on what Kim Taylor-Smith had said, if they would he open to looking again at the trees that have to be cut down and seeing if there can be any modifications made to the design to allow some of them to stay and for others to be moved elsewhere locally He said that as London plane trees have specific benefits and these ones were old and magnificent. He spoke of planting the trees for the future and that several trees would need to be planted for each one taken down.

“Now, it seems to be in this situation there is no answer that will fulfill what Catalyst, want to do. What they’ve got planning permission to do on one hand, and what the residents, particularly the two people who brought this petition, have expressed on the other hand, that what Councillor Lindsay pointed out, is that what is missing from here is some kind of working together, and I think that what Councillor Kim Taylor Smith suggested was a very good suggestion towards that possibility. And my question is really as to whether Catalyst would be prepared to look at it seriously and to put some money behind it?”

Fearghal O’Hara: ” I have been working with a team of architects and landscape architects and structural engineers over the past months. We are not just brushing the concern aside and we have investigated the layout of the buildings and of the public ground, but the problem is these trees were planted with the layout of the estate” He said it’s almost impossible to build the buildings in the same layout and build around the trees. He said they do recognise the benefits of London plane trees and they are proposing to plant some on the scheme.

Cllr Pascall then re-asked part of his question ” part of the question which I don’t feel has been answered” regarding are Catalyst prepared to take on board what Kim Taylor-Smith said and look at the trees and which ones can move moved locally and which ones cannot, if and if they cannot, can be moved elsewhere in the borough and for additional extra mature plane trees to be planted in addition to what has been reported and on top of that engaging with borough officers and residents and to put some money behind it.

Mr O’Hara replied that it was subject to approval within the various departments at RBKC….

Cllr Pascall:”.and to plant some new ones”

Mr O’Hara said that Catalyst feel that they are at capacity with planting additional new trees on the street because root systems, plus the daylight issues that additional trees may create could become a factor.

Cllr Pascall: “So you’re prepared to look at it, the question is are you prepared to look at it with the borough officers and residents because as Councillor Lindsay said one of the key components here is a meaningful consultation with local residents. On this particular issue that does not seem to be a meeting of minds”

Cllr Max Chauhan (Conservative, Queens Gate Ward ) asked Mr O’Hara why only 3 trees when the company spoke to specialist contractors “it was put in section 3.16 that this is being explored, implying it hasn’t been explored. Can we see more exploration and see if these trees can be identified to transport to Athlone Gardens or adopt in the wider borough”

Mr O’Hara said that Catalyst would be prepared to explore that further.

Cllr Judith Blakeman (Labour, Notting Dale Ward) :”We heard today that the regulator of social housing has just downgraded Catalyst’s financial position. So I am concerned that we have no guarantee either that this development will ever finish, because it’s already been delayed,- all that after the trees have been destroyed. This destruction of trees goes against all the council’s new policies.”

Christine Dingle, Wornington Green resident: “I think everything needs to be relooked at, reassessed and replanned., and I think it’s just so devastating and upsetting to think about, cutting the trees down, and all that time to grow, and are part of our lives”.

Abbas Dadou, Notting Dale resident, Cahir of Lancaster West Residents Association said that the community was being treated as a commodity “these people, they come and buuld and they go” He had issues with the planning department “you know, you people are supposed to be our guardians” referring to 200 square metres of green space in Lancaster West Estate, he said that planning officers and an architect had referred to it as a “useless bit of green” “We have 4 beuatiful palm trees there. For over 20 years , that green space is very important to us and they want to build a nursery beteeen two blocks forcing in a building, and leaving 4 metre gaps. So I can understand and I feel their pain . These companies who make huge money at the expense of the community who has been through a lot since 2017”

Isis Amlak, resident Norland Ward and community campaigner : “The plan to me does not seem that it’s any longer fit for purpose. 2010 was a long time ago and as we all know, one of the things that the Grenfell Tower atrocity has shown us is that it’s vital that communities are listened to. And I believe there is a commitment from the council, that we would do things differently, , and that going forward, the voice of residents, particularly in the north of the borough would be heard, far more loudly. ”

Isis said she lived in a part of North Kensington that was abundant in greenery, but when you head further north, particularly in Golborne, there is a lack of trees and a lack of green space.

She mentioned toxicity in the environment, found in the soil after Grenfell, and that the trees are vital to removing pollution and they provide so many environmental benefits besides such as helping to avert the risk of flooding. The trees also bring psychological benefits – “it’s just more beautiful with trees” and she said that ” a clever committed architect will find a way to build around the trees and incorporate them into modern building designs.”

Isis also had tbis to ask Catalyst: “How have you taken the impact of the Grenfell Tower atrocity and all the multiplicity of issues that is caused into consideration in your plans? Can you evidence that because I’m horrified to think that this plan went through 10 years ago, Grenfell happened three years ago, and no one sat down at Catalyst and reconsidered how they’re going forward.”

Feaghal O’Hara said Catalyst now recognise the sensitivities in North Kensington, especially since the Grenfell tragedy ( meaning they didn’t recognise them before?) and that’s why they were committed to keeping residents informed and involved.

Judith Blakeman: “Keeping residents informed is not engaging with the residents and you don’t have to live there afterwards, after you’ve chopped down the trees. We have a salutory example on the Silchester Estate, where they put small trees in a courtyard as you said, and none of them flourished because of the lack of light. They’ve now got a mud patch. ”

Pat Mason: “Residents are just being palmed off with platitudes and you think we are stupid, you think our residents are stupid. You think they have nothing in their heads now that can’t be palmed off with any old story,

That’s what the residents said 10 years ago. That’s what they’re saying now. Councillor Blakeman is right, being informed what’s going to happen is not consultation and that’s what has happened

You will be gone just in a couple of years, leaving us with the mess behind, environmental mess, trees cut down, you move on to some other project, we hear this and that, we hear these stories all the time from people like you in five years time, you won’t be here, you will not be here, you will leave us with the mess you’ll leave the council with the mess”

Maybe Catalyst had expected an easy ride from the council that once approved their scheme? They certainly did not get one and finally, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee Cllr Marie-Therese Rossi (who has gone up tremendously in our estimation) , got her claws out and said this: “To sum up, I have something to say to Catalyst. Something has gone very badly wrong here. You’ve got a planning permission, which by the sound of it, you got by the skin of your teeth, 10 years ago. You have not been engaging with the residents. And something I learnt a long time ago. I used to work with the urban regeneration agency and rule number 1 for regeneration is that you don’t impose it. It’s got to be bottom up. You have got to take people with you. And it really seems in this instance that that is not happening.”

“So I would urge you Catalyst to go and look at your plans again and just see by building a few less houses or flats that you can actually save some of those trees. Because that is what the residents want, and as they have said, they are the ones who have to live there for years to come.

And Catalyst cannot just dump a project on residents and expect them to be happy about it because they would like to keep their trees. My sympathies are with the residents. I would urge you, Catalyst to look again, because it can’t be right, this level of protest against what you are doing and that you have not engaged with people down the years.”

THINK’s view

So, it appears that quite a few of our councillors do not think the Wornington Green masterplan is the “cat’s whiskers” and neither do we

As a supposed charitable housing provider with local roots , Catalyst really ought to be caring more about this community and .their social housing residents. Instead these residents are, in the words of one of them who spoke to us, , “treated as an afterthought by Catalyst and in the way of the luxury flats” .

It’s all very well to build homes, but residents in the area deserve to feel comfortable and happy in their homes , and to look out of their windows or step outside and see trees. and wildlife, and not just see grey buildings and roads.Residents’ health will suffer as a result of this scheme, with more pollution, extra roads and far fewer trees,

This blog also has to tell Catalyst that if their plans lead to the immediate area lacking in trees, greenery, playspace and beauty , it might not attract the sort of buyers that would want to live there to set up home and to be part of the local community and instead would appeal more to buy to leave investors only interested in the high land value and lessen the close knit friendly community feel in the area.

This, along with less trees, green space and playspace would give the neighbourhood more of a transient, and less of a green, pleasant, neighbourly and welcoming aspect and would also likely bring an increase in antisocial behaviour and crime

We do take some encouragement from the responses of RBKC now (a huge difference from when the plans got through) We thank Johnny Thalassites in particular.

While we think the climbdown from Catalyst over the fate of 5 of the trees is a bit of good news, their whole conduct over this has been deplorable.

We too say they need to revisit their plans and not just plough ahead regardless and not put hefty profits above the health and wellbeing and needs of the local community. We also suggest that Catalyst looks into providing more additional green amenities, such as roof gardens for the residents , which would make the developments more pleasant and attractive for all residents – those in social housing, and also prospective buyers looking to set up home in North Kensington and be part of the local community rather than absentee investors whose main interests are in the land value (land banking) .

Listening learning and understanding the needs of the residents and community is key, but Catalyst do not seem to care, Another Wornington Green resident said this to us: ” Catalyst could use this as an opportunity to show they are adaptable and change and adapt their masterplan to fit the 21st century. They could listen to residents, work with an imaginative environmentally friendly architect and create a beautiful innovative redevelopment that works around the trees we love and need.

This blog thanks all the inspirational residents and campaigners who are pushing for a better, healthier and considerably more environmentally friendly way forward for all.

We will leave our readers with some essential viewing – this link (which also links to some of Constantine’s other work) – a video of the brilliant “Wornington Word” film, a wonderful, but also bittersweet documentary showing residents from the Wornington Green Estate, their personal views, memories and experiences of the estate and the regeneration. We strongly recommend that our councillors and suits – and especially the officers, suits and directors at Catalyst Housing, watch this too;

https://www.grasart.com/film.html

So the council really wants to know our views on Scrutiny? THINK gets on the case….

(L to R: Greg Hammond, Max Chauhan, Pat Healy, Janet Evans & Marwan Elnaghi)

RBKC Residents have until this Friday, July the 31st to complete this survey¬† and give their views on the¬† Scrutiny programme –¬† here.
Well,¬† since they asked…..

We feel that since RBKC councillors  brutally took an axe to the Gremfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee by voting for the changes  last year, residents have been left with not only  fewer  meetings in general, and Grenfell-related issues have been scattered around  various commttees;  effectively residents have been left with what is just a skeleton of Scrutiny since.

Let’s look at some of¬† the evidence:

Scrutiny? You’ll have a long wait ..

The fewer Scrutiny Commitee¬† meetings taking place¬†¬† have resulted in less time alloted to both councillors and residents to ask questions.¬† While a few ¬† have pointed the fingers of blame at Labour Commitee chairs Marwan Elnaghi and Kasim Ali for having guest speakers at meetings and time running out for councillors to ask questions, we¬†won’t, as we feel that under the previous system this wasn’t much of an issue because there were sinply more meetings and more time¬† afforded to Scrutiny.
Not only that, but Labour councillors voted against the committee changes last year in the first place.

The last Family Services Committee saw Labour’s Judith Blakeman becoming frustrated at not being allowed to ask questions and put points and there were quite a few exchanges between Cllr Blakeman and Conservative Chair of that committee, Janet Evans¬† in that meeting, so even through it was without “guest speakers”, some of the same frustrations came through – and Family Services is usually an area in which RBKC does outstandingly and doesn’t have nearly as many issues as some others –¬† Housing¬† in particular.
(And on housing, residents  will now hace to wait until October to see councillors get through the rest of the agenda of the last meeting.)

Which also brings us to…

Grenfell non-recovery

As predicted by us before, Grenfell-related issues scattered across various councol  committees has made things far harder for residents to  follow and to take part in.

That last Family Services Committee (we have a post coming up about that)  had two topics of importance to residents in the North Kensington community: the issue of childcare provision for the under 5s in North Kensington and the issue of expulsions from schools. Needless to say, many residents concerned will have missed these. We cannot place too much  blame on the RBKC Communications Team for lack of publicity even though they seem to be rather too reliant  on Nextdoor these days and people have to trawl through a lengthy feed of classifieds, recommendations, lost cats and plumbers to find consultations and meeting announcements  (we missed the chance to publicise the  Family Services consultation as only found it on there TWO DAYS TOO LATE!).

This is the system we have and it isn’t working – it is a mess quite frankly.

While watching meetings (and in pre-lockdown times attending meetings)  is part of our job, many  other residents in our community simply do not have the time to be following several different committees. This inevitably means a lack of participation in  matters of importance to the  affected community and that some other subjects  will either get bounced around  without anything happening; such as possible  contamination around the Grenfell area,  or not be considered for Scrutiny at all, such as resident  engagement. not that  Рapart from Anne Cyron promptly responding  to us Рwe have actually seen any evidence of much of that taking place

Both North Kensington residents and Grenfell survivors and the bereaved have on several times, expressed their feelings of frustration that they are feeling  that the issues are being ignored and  they are feeling left out of the process; there really is only one way in the committee system to deal with Grenfell matters that can help to address this,  and that is to BRING OUR COMMITTEE BACK.

Also Working Groups. It is unclear as to whether residents can join these or not . Neither suits nor senior  councillors have made this clear to residents or indeed seem to be too  clear about it themselves.

Let’s hope (fingers crossed) the council does¬† listen to us this time unlike last Summer when complaints, reservations and concerns fell on deaf ears and they went ahead with the changes regardless. We tried, despite our issues and concerns,¬†¬† to give the new system a chance. However what we are left with really¬† isn’t working –¬† not for councillors and definitely not for residents –¬† but then again, a few members of the Leadership would probably rather¬† their policies and actions weren’t subject to¬† any council scrutiny at all….

North Kensington residents are far from clueless as to what sort of  council Scrutiny system changes we need. Please listen to us!


Know there before you go there: Sam Gyimah, Kensington and Grenfell

THINK “Election Special” #3

Last month, Kensington Liberal Democrat candidate (and former Conservative MP and Minister) Sam Gyimah made these comments regarding Grenfell to The Independent: ‚ÄúClearly we know now that this was essentially a candle that people were living in, and that is why this horrific tragedy happened. We‚Äôve got to deal with it, and I will be reaching out to the communities, but we‚Äôve got to be very careful that Grenfell is not just part of the party political knockabout. It‚Äôs one of those issues that should be above party politics and about the people and their families rather than being part of the culture war that is happening.‚ÄĚ
He continued: ‚ÄúIf you look at the Phase One report [of the official inquiry into the disaster], which is a very bleak assessment, there are many things that went wrong. By the way, Emma Dent Coad was on the council and was part of all the discussions that went on in terms of the cladding. If we‚Äôre going to get into the blame game I think this is a very complicated one and to say ‚ÄėOh the cause is Tory government‚Äô [is wrong]. The council is responsible and there are Labour councillors on there that could of stopped some of the decisions and didn‚Äôt.‚ÄĚ

Where do we start here? The blatant lie that Emma Dent Coad took part in “all the decisions” made about the cladding? The ignorance of pure fact? The lack of knowledge of the party political make up of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the limited power of opposition councillors? Or the complete lack of sensitivity towards the North Kensington community and everyone in it affected by Grenfell ?

The cladding was approved in 2014, two years after Emma Dent Coad left the TMO board. The decision was made by Rock Feilding-Mellen, not the TMO board. We know some former TMO board members ( some resident members and some councillor members) and we can tell Sam that specific discussions of particular materials used in refurbishments were not part of board meetings.

We can also tell Sam that back then, Emma Dent Coad was one of only one of 12 Labour councillors (there were 37 Conservative and 1 Lib Dem councillor) at RBKC, not exactly in a majority position of decision making, then. ( The only change to the political makeup of the council since last year is one additional Labour councillor and one less Conservative councillor, by the way .)

Sam also immediately contradicted hinself by saying we’ve got to be careful that Grenfell is not some part of the political knockabout but then goes and (very unjustifiably) blames Emma Dent Coad.

This does have a big knock-on effect however, as this causes people to believe lies and misunderstandings, and traumatised members of our community end up being trolled on social media and constantly having to correct some. . Emma has, since Grenfell, had to put up with a beyond unacceptable level of lies, smears, verbal abuse, trolling and harassment.

After not getting a response from Sam Gyimah, Emma Dent Coad taken things further with regards to legal action because it is illegal in an election under the Representation of the People Act, to publish any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct, unless he or she can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing that statement to be true.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/politics/2019/nov/17/labour-candidate-report-lib-dem-rival-police-grenfell-claim-emma-dent-coad-sam-gyimah

Sam Gyimah, in his comments to the media , which he apparently will not comment on, has also as well as deeply offending Emma, has unsurprisingly upset many members of our North Kensington community.

So when he decided to go on last month’s Grenfell Silent Walk, not everyone there was exactly too pleased to see him…..

Many people questioned what he was doing there, he had also attempted to position himself among the front (where the survivors and the bereaved walk) and had apparently even asked to hold the banner for a photo opportunity.

Cllr Pat Mason, Leader of the Labour opposition group of councillors, was one of the first to approach Gyimah when he arrived and said : “I’m one of those Labour Cllrs you accused of being responsible for killing the people in Grenfell Tower which is a dangerous lie. You need to apologise and retract or there will be legal consequences
for you

. Moments ago you were a Tory government minister from East Surrey who hardly knew where North Kensington was ‚Äď now you are here to use Grenfell for votes ‚Äď you should be ashamed“.

Another Labour councillor to encounter Sam before the Silent Walk was Judith Blakeman. Cllr Blakeman is one of the three Labour councillors for Notting Dale Ward (the ward that Grenfell Tower is in) and the longest serving councillor at RBKC.

Judith Blakeman had gone up to him after seeing him posing for photos there and at one point Sam had said ” I don’t know who you are”. Judith had replied “that is because you don’t know Kensington”. Upon learning who Judith was, Sam Gyimah had apparently said words regarding Grenfell to the effect of “it’s all your fault” Understandably, Judith and a number of others present were offended and very upset.

If the fact that Judith Blakeman was also a councillor board member on the TMO was some sort of excuse for Sam’s outrageous outburst, we will remind him that the TMO always had two councillors on its board – one Labour, one Conservative (and they were not personally responsible for decisions made over the cladding either). We will repeat (for the benefit of those who continue to misunderstand) ; decisions on the Grenfell refurbishment were by Rock Feilding-Mellen, not opposition and backbench councillors.

Here is a statement from the RBKC opposition group of Labour councillors:

https://kensingtonlabour.com/2019/11/13/statement-from-the-rbkc-labour-opposition-group/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

Maybe Sam Gyimah just happens to be confused about the TMO, RBKC and Grenfell? That, on top of appearing to not have any idea of how little say Labour opposition conoillors here have in the rumning of and in vital decisions made?

Well, if so Sam, perhaps it is not such a good idea to give an interview to a national newspaper with your speculative views on a very sensitive to say the least, subject that you do not know much about the details of? Perhaps it is not such a good idea to upset and offend many members of a community in a constituency you are seeking to be elected to represent?

As for our North Kensington community and Grenfell, we do expect to be acknowledged, to be heard and not to be exposed to any further stress on top of our trauma and grief; that is the least we expect.

Grenfell is not exactly a straightforward matter, and anyone who has read up it will be all too aware of that and we believe there were a variety of both causes and contributory factors to this disaster.

One absolute certainty about Grenfell is that this was a needless, preventable, man-made disaster which took 72 lives.

We have said a few things before in the blog concerning blame because we do feel that there was a destructive pattern that had long set into the previous administration at RBKC of treating its’ residents in social housing with indifference, negligence and at times, outright contempt. This is not something we have just read or heard about; it is from our own personal experience and knowledge .

THINKers are not standing for office but we expect better professional conduct from tbose who are. We could go a lot further on this at but will not at this time because we do not feel that a General Election campaign is a right or appropriate time for this .

We cannot see why Sam Gyimah would level such an accusation against Emma Dent Coad unless it is in the vein of the lowest form of electioneering and political point scoring. To do such a thing in Kensington, over Grenfell , is really sinking to a new low.

THINK remind all Kensington candidates that Election day is two days before the 14th of December – which will be exactly two years and six months since Grenfell.

We will also let Sam know that his comments have caused recent arguments and hostilities between previously amicable Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters. We hope that after the election, that some peace between the different parties can be restored here.

It goes without saying that all politicians and would-be politicians should properly think through and consider the implications of what they are about to say before they say it.

This blog asks that Sam Gyimah retracts his comments about Emma Dent Coad and issues a public apology to her and to the survivors, bereaved and the North Kensington community,

We hope that he has read Emma’ s response in this article “Debunking the Grenfell Lies”:

https://tribunemag.co.uk/2019/11/debunking-the-grenfell-lies

Emma Dent Coad has signed up to the Compassion In Politics campaign and we think Sam and all the other candidates should do so too.

https://www.compassioninpolitics.com/

We will end this post by reminding Sam Gyimah and all the other Kensington candidates of what we said on our opening “Election Special” post:
Brexit, the economy, education, health, housing and the environment are all important to Kensington voters, but we remind all candidates that Grenfell is in this constituency and to please campaign thoughtfully and tastefully ‚Äď let‚Äôs have a positive and meaningful election campaign and consider the community affected.

GRENFELL, SCRUTINY AND THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT Part 2: Grenfell Committee gets the chop as RBKC lose their heads

(Our thanks to OG for the title picture)

So we look back to July’s Full Council meeting in which the abolition of the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee and other unpopular and unwanted changes in our part of the borough, were voted through, amid booing, heckling and shouting from many unhappy residents.

North Ken residents speak out

At the end of the first part of the meeting ( the “Democracy Hour”, in which local residents address the council), the final resident to speak, North Kensington resident Leearna Oliffe (pictured above) made two separate but relevant points in her speech.

First of all she spoke about Adair Tower, a council block in North Kensington, the tragic double murder of two elderly residents there Back in May, the media frenzy afterwards (which reminded some of the days after Grenfell ) and RBKC failing to provide vulnerable residents there any form of support despite offucers being in full knowledge of the situation. Thankfully Sue Duggins, chair of the newly formed RA there got in touch with the Grenfell NHS Outreach Team and they were on hand to provide much needed support to residents there who had been in need of it

RBKC did not respond until June and them dismissely said that it was a “Police matter” . No referrals to victim support

We’re sadly not surprised by this as RBKC has form over many years, of neglecting the needs of residents in social housing – particularly those in North Kensington (we would be amazed however if Elizabeth “never been in a tower block” Campbell actually had any clue where Adair Tower was).

Leearna : ” I would therefore ask do the council have a policy in place regarding serious incidents that affect residents that has a reference to ensuring their mental and physical welfare is safeguarded? And if not, would you please seriously consider putting this in place as you seriously have a duty of care over your residents. And as this example demonstrates, you are dramatically failing in this ”

Leearna in her second point also referred to RBKC’s Grenfell Recovery and the Government Taskforce Report and asked RBKC for a 6 week legal deferral on the decisions: “The motion which is being considered which would effectively bring an end to Grenfell Scrutiny need to be deferred until such time an effective consultation with the community has been considered. I would remind you that you are here to serve us and we therefore deserve to be considered in any decision. We are no longer prepared to be done to but rather want to be consulted and worked with”

A Rotten Borough response

Then the response from Elizabeth “Dizzy Lizzy” Campbell: “I really hope you feel you’re not being done down”( Residents:”WE ARE”)

Cllr Campbell: “We accept what the Taskforce says and that the bar they have set us is very high”

“We hope to be making progress with the community…..”

Residents:”THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH” “YOU’RE NOT LISTENING”

Dizzy Lizzy: “We think that by improving scrutiny, we will be able to scrutinise the recovery and strategy more carefully. It will be split across all council scrutiny so it will be in our DNA so that all councillors will have to learn from it….”

Residents : “THAT’S RUBBISH!” “WE DON’T WANT IT!” “YOU’RE STILL NOT LISTENING”

Of course Elizabeth Campbell was not at the administration committee meeting (which she was supposed to have been chairing) and Leearna said this was a “very decent respectful request to allow people to read the document before the changes went through” and that most people did not have enough time to consider the changes before voting them through. Leearna – not Dizzy Lizzy – received a huge round of applause.

Elizabeth Campbell finished by disputing the time that residents had to be consulted with as saying “I think you’ve come in at the tail end of it – the consultation was around six to nine months” But she missed a vital point then about the document only being made available for a short time before the administration committee meeting and this full council one, and also what scope of consultations the council undertook.

She also completely ignored Leearna’s questions regarding Adair Tower . So that’s North Kensington residents being ignored again; the tail end of this upside down borough.

And yes, that above screenshot is actually of Cllr Campbell bizarrely smiling while she was giving her response.

Then it was over to Cllr Pat Mason (Leader of the Labour Group)

Dizzy & Co (wrongly think they) know best

Pat Mason (above) said, addressing Elizabeth Campbell, “They (residents) – not you – know best as to what North Kensington needs. You should know that. They know best and you need to shut up!”

Cllr Mason did say that at the admin committee (which he is a member of), he had asked if anyone had read the document, and nobody said they had – appalling.

Pat Mason also is a councillor for Golborne Ward, where Adair Tower is situated, and said that “we (the Labour Golborne councillors) had fought vociferously month after month, year after year to get the council the former TMO and Police to do something about the problems in the block they were found wanting. It’s all on record. This is par for the course. This is not meant to happen in this new era of change at the council”

As for the scrutiny panel recommendations and consultation, he had to say this to Dizzy Lizzy “You’re telling them “you should have read this” or ” you should have understood” They elect us we’re supposed to be representing them. ”

Dizzy Lizzy then went in to make her Leader’s statement: “Tonight I want to speak positively” (pass the sick bag) “I believe the council is listening and not only listening it’s taking action” (Residents: “YOU’RE NOT!” )

Dizzy Lizzy had tried to take credit for the council over the new lease on Wornington College well they had to sign that (that’s thanks to the campaigners and thanks to former Government minister Anne Milton actually) citing this as a positive example of where the council was supposedly listening.

She ran though a list of things including “an extra ¬£18 million for Lancaster West refurbishment and reinstating lifetime tenancies” Good; about time. “We agreed an economic strategy which takes us away from the sleepy borough that residents think we are” (Residents: “YOU ARE!” )

Elizabeth Campbell then deliberately selected more favourable feedback from the Government Taskforce Report stating that the taskforce had praised the council’s rehousing efforts in an unprecedented situation. But said ” the taskforce said the quality of work on homes and the personalisation is unprecendented and unprecedented is where we are. The bar has been set very high. In just 24 months we have been expected to rebuild trust and transform our relationship with our communities ” Residents: “YOU HAVEN’T!”

Dizzy Lizzy: “In my view the timescale was unrealistic. Recovery and trust will take generations. We’re trying to achieve change by giving the community an even greater voice” (Shouting from residents in background) “Scrutiny of the council is being strengthened” (Residents: “IT’S NOT”) “We will be putting our communities first” (Residents: “THIS IS A JOKE” )

Dizzy Lizzy finished by saying that “a new Government is beimg formed as we speak” (cue A LOT of shouting from the gallery!)

Selective community engagement

It had earlier been revealed by Cllr Pat Mason in the meeting that Nabil Choucair who lost 5 members of his family in Grenfell had not been allowed to speak at this meeting – absolutely disgraceful. Cllr Mason made points regarding the council not listening to the community, the bereaved and the survivors who were all against these changes.

Elizabeth Campbell, at one point in the meeting, brandished a letter purporting to be from a resident (just the one who she chooses to listen to?) “I received a letter from a resident this week outlining why Grenfell Scrutiny doesn’t work ” and then read out her own reasons! (She also did not say which ward this “resident” was from). Our “Leader” then said the council had consulted with 348 residents’ associations (we know that’s a fib) and 29 voluntary organisations (we’d like to know which ones and if they are based in RBKC ; she did not say ). Residents in the meeting however, reacted by shouting “YOU BLOODY HAVEN’T!” “YOU NEED THIS TO STOP!”and “THIS IS NONSENSE!”

The Opposition hits back

Citing the Taskforce Report, Emma Dent Coad pointed to ” strategic – weaknesses – which we (the opposition) have been concerned about for some time.” Concerning Grenfell Recovery Strategy , Emma highlighted the report saying “communication hasn’t been effective, a lot of the program has yet to be developed in detail (the report was made only a month before this meeting) the council is struggling to convert a high degree of social capital inta positive force (“social capital” meaning us – the community)”.

Cllr Dent Coad also mentioned senior people turning up at community meetings, making promises and then disappearing (yes we’re unfortunately very familiar with examples of that – both from some council Cabinet Members and from certain members of senior council staff).She finished by saying “we (RBKC) don’t have the leadership we (also RBKC) don’t have the skills and we need to work on our social capital like the Taskforce has said. This is the Royal Borough moving backwards – shame on you”

Cllr Judith Blakeman: “These recommendations are so wrong, I don’t know where to begin!” Scrutiny should focus on what matters most to residents. The themes, at a resident’s conference of 15 people from a population of over 160,000, indicated that what matters most are environmental matters such as litter, car parking, traffic congestion, dog mess – NOT Grenfell, crime, community safety, housing and homelessness – the things that matter most to people in North Kensington.”This is another case of this council wishing to go back to business as usual as soon as possible”

And so does Julie Mills!

Cllr Julie Mills (above) is a Conservative councillor for Norland Ward (in North Kensington, less than 10 minutes walk from Grenfell) ” The reason I’m going to abstain is because I find Recommendation 11 quote difficult to accept both legally, judicially and indeed as an elected member ”

For the benefit of our readers, we’ll just post this again : Recommendation 11 : That the Overview & Scrutiny Committee be responsible for all Grenfell-related matters, including recovery, and delegate to the relevant Council Select Committees issues where detailed scrutiny is required”

“Note the word delegate. Now Mr Mayor, that indicates to me that there are no checks and balances on what the Overview Scrutiny Committee is going to dictate to all the other sub committees and what they will actually scrutinise. I find it quite unpalatable; I think it is probably unlawful. ” I don’t understand why Mrs (Heather) Wills, who is the architect of this, is advising the councillors ”

(Yes – very good point from Julie Mills here – Heather Wills is neither a legal professional nor an elected councillor.)

“We’re told to “suck it and see” that’s unfortunate term Mr Mayor, because believe that a responsible authority shouldn’t suck and see what happens. Either you are statutorily constituted and scrutiny is part of that, or not? What is the statutory status of this council at the moment?” ”

But Julie Mills was not the only Tory rebel, as to the surprise of some, Cllr Malcolm Spalding also abstained.

Mills Vs Rossi

Conservative councillors, Marie-Therese Rossi – former Mayor and chair of this new Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Julie Mills (also a former Mayor) ended up having a disagreement at one point when Cllr Rossi was speaking.

Cllr Rossi : “I’ve heard what you (residents) have all said this evening when you have been crying out when members have been speaking. It is not the case that Grenfell will be forgotten or that we are taking away your voice, that will not happen as long as I am chair of the Overall Scrutiny Committee. As such I will have overall responsibility for Grenfell-related matters and also responsibility for allocating work to the other four select committees, though I have to say to Cllr Mills that I do not see my position as that of a dictator”

Julie Mills then got up and raised a point of order objecting to this .

Present Mayor – Cllr Will Pascall: “Cllr Mills will you please be seated? Cllr Mills!”

Cllr Julie Mills: “Can you correct that for the record? I did not call you a dictator!”

Marie-Therese Rossi: “Ok I would just like to say that the way I would work would be to open up discussions with the other scrutiny chairs and myself” (Hang on a bit – so the councillor responsible for overseeing the new committee arrangements over scrutiny appears to be confused as to whether the four select committees are scrutiny committees or not?!)

Cllr Mills (still standing up): “Can you please withdraw that? I did not call you a dictator!”

At this point amid the disagreement and heckling from residents in the. background, the microphone clearly picked up Mayor Pascall muttering aloud “oh for goodness sake! Sit down!!”

Marie-Therese Rossi: ” I did not say you called me a dictator!”

Mayor Will Pascall: “Please can we calm down?”

Cllr Rossi: ” I think you said something Cllr Mills… no, I tell you what you said – you said “delegate” You didn’t like the word delegate”

At this point even THINKers were becoming confused!

Mayor Pascall: “Councillors, can we move forward please? ”

Cllr Rossi: “I apologise if I have caused you any offence”

Maybe all that Mayoral bling has some sort of effect on them or something?

Let’s try and clear this up: We have quoted what Cllr Mills actually said with regards to dictating and/or delegating above. Cllr Rossi, while seeming to be determined in her new role, appears to be unsure of what exactly the official roles, remits and protocols of the select committees actually are in full detail – and this is no offence to her – so are most people, including us!

Anyway here is some of the rest of what Cllr Rossi (just heard amid much heckling and shouting from residents) had to say regarding her role: “I have to say to all the residents who came to listen to this that my door will always be open. You can come and speak to me or I will come and speak to you. I am very concerned to meet with Grenfell United survivors and also to ask you if you will give me a bit of time. I will ask you to judge me therefore not on what I’m saying tonight, but what I actually do in the weeks and months ahead.”

“One of the reasons we decided to change the scrutiny arrangements was to increase public involvement” Oh really Marie-Therese? Less scrutiny, fewer public committees and meetings and completely ignoring the wishes and protests of survivors, bereaved and North Kensington residents by abolishing the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee equates to greater public involvement? We would be laughing if we weren’t so near to crying. Tellingly, she did not go into any of the other supposed reasons

Linda Wade has her say

Lib Dem Cllr Linda Wade was the lone opposition councillor on the Scrutiny Panel and she had this to say: “In a way the Scrutiny Panel was handed a poisoned chalice. I feel that the problem was it become more review of classification of scrutiny rather than how the Leadership Team could be held to account. More time seemed to be spent on allocating Leadership Team (Cabinet) Members to a reduced amount of scrutiny groups which was in some cases awkward and at other times unsatisfactory whereas the development of a more robust plan to be able have a have more effective scrutiny of the Leadership Team was harder to achieve”.

“At a time when we say we are a listening council, that we seek increased transparency, that we’ve changed our culture; the brief handed to us was in fact, to reduce the number of scrutiny committees and reduce the amount of time that they met – something which appeared to be contrary to the different aspirations of the council to be open, transparent and listening. ”

“The Leadership Team have failed to comprehend the necessity to continue with the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee at this stage. The very issues that are closest to the lives of residents are being fractured into different committees, making it harder for residents to navigate but perhaps easier for the council to administer” “It fails to address the humanity of the situation. It is essential for the credibility of the council that the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee is retained”.

Karaoke performances?

The phrases “every committee should be a Grenfell Scrutiny Committee” and “Grenfell is our number one priority” and its variants have rang out on the Conservative side like some sort of catchy but trite and meaningless pop song on the radio and we had a few repeat performances that evening.

We will try to be fair to Cllr Anne Cyron, her speech wasn’t a bad speech, she is new in her post and at least she is one member of the RBKC Leadership Team who has worked very positively with some members of our community. Her project of a Grenfell Community Assembly is not a bad idea but that in our view should never be considered as an adequate replacement for the GRSC (our leader didn’t get the memo!), but we could really do without endless choruses of “Grenfell is our number one priority” (after hearing several different interpretations of the Taskforce Report that evening) . But other councillors did have “cover versions”…….

Cllr Hamish Adourian: “Every committee now needs to be a Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee “. (Though he did attempt to make some sort of half compromise by suggesting a Grenfell Recovery working group that would supposedly attend this new assembly and give feedback back to the select committees. )

Actually Cllr Adourian (who sits for Earl’s Court Ward but lives in North Kensington) and Cllr Cyron are two Conservatives who have shown some understanding of our area and have positive community relations with some residents here – which made their attempts to defend the indefensible all the more frustrating to listen to.

Carry on, don’t lose your head!

Pictured above, is Cllr Greg Hammond . He was Chair of the Scrutiny Panel that produced the recommendations which included abolishing the GRSC ). Some of the gangway had been cordoned off by security so protesters could not hold up signs behind Cabinet Members anymore, and Cllr Hammond just happened to be in the right (or wrong?) place at the right time! The camera moving well as the sign behind him moving to keep in shot, provided the only light relief in what was a very difficult meeting.

Greg Hammond (who is usually well prepared) wasn’t prepared for the sign behind him, and stumbled at the beginning “I spoke to the councillors when they accepted the offer to give them my views – give me their views on the report” and “we did have residents – erm – erm at the conference” (All 15 of them Greg? We actually think a larger number of residents were laughing at the protest sign “comedy moment” during your speech!)

Interestingly, he did say the consultation on this was 1 month; earlier at this meeting Dizzy Lizzy had said the consultation was 6-9 months! ( make of that what you will but we’d sooner believe him).

Referring to the GRSC he spoke of receiving responses such as ” some felt it was positively harmful and should be abolished as soon as possible – others felt it should stay in perpetuity and these views are incompatible”

Well no prizes for guessing which views the Leadership of our council preferred to listen to and act on – but perhaps some should also know actually quite a few people did feel that the GRSC should stay in place for now and perhaps be subject to review a few years down the line?

A tough call for Greg “Action Man” Hammond, but he made it through defending the indefensible relatively unscathed by heckling residemts (though we’re guessing that he and some of his colleagues may want to change places or draw straws to see who doesn’t get to sit in the back row next time!)

Dizzy Lizzy gets in a tizzy

Referring to the new “Grenfell Community Assembly Cllr Campbell said “Scrutiny is a separate issue” but is it? Because she then right away referred to the Assembly as a “reason to improve scrutiny and to give residents the opportunity to ask questions in a forum which they believe meets their needs”. Make up your mind Dizzy Lizzy! Maybe she couldn’t hear herself think with all the heckling jeering and booing from residents who very much felt the need to retain Grenfell Scrutiny.

Also we noticed this from her earlier on in the meeting when she was demonstrating her considerable knowledge of environmental issues: “improving air quality – that thing to do with the environment” !!

A legal question regarding scrutiny

Pat Mason said “The assembly does not have any formal powers to subpoena anybody” (meaning unlike scrutiny committees) So THINK are wondering if the same is the case with the new Select Committees? If not , this cast a very bad light on the council if they are changing the setup from Scrutiny Committees with these powers. to other committees without. Perhaps someone with more legal knowledge than ourselves can answer this one?

Some thoughts at the end of the night

After the votes for the changes went through, many residents felt angry, others depressed but we will fight this. We will support each other and not let our council get away with kicking the needs of this community into the long grass. Most of us did not vote for the councillors who voted for this.

Many of us see and have always seen Cllr Campbell’s position, given that she served in previous administrations of this council, as a severe obstacle to Grenfell Recovery in the first place,

Looking around the chamber at this meeting , we saw a few dissatisfied looks on some faces of councillors on her own side (and not just at this meeting).

After the revelations in this meeting and in the Admin Committee before of what the the full number of responses from the consultation and the consultation efforts were – we are utterly disgusted and feel cheated.

We do not lay any personal blame for on this on the councillors who sat on the panel and submitted the document (they all sit for wards in the south of the borough some distance from Grenfell and some were “merely following instructions”) .

We do lay considerable blame for this however, at the feet where ultimate decision was taken to do this was – that means Dizzy Lizzy as Leader, the RBKC Leadership Team, some former and also some senior council staff – Heather Wills in particular for their rubbish non-efforts to share this with the community and have meaningful discussions in full regarding the recommendations first, long before these were ever put to a vote and for their conduct in this exercise.

If anyone is deluded enough to imagine abolishing the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee could ever improve things here – we just have to point out again, that RBKC’s Grenfell Team is now the only council department now without a real committee dedicated to overseeing it as a whole. Perhaps someone suitably qualified can also answer our legal question here? Many of us in this community believe RBKC ‘s Grenfell Team to have severe shortcomings and so it appears, do some in the Taskforce, going by the criticisms made in the report.

It doesn’t help the credibility of local democracy if some councillors vote through changes they themselves appear to be confused about.

What most of us in the north of the borough can see coming will be worsening relations between this council and residents, and both a Leadership Team and a Grenfell Team, which is already failing in many respects, further allowed to carry on doing so with many more things going unchecked.

The culture that has long existed at this council that played a part in Grenfell, which undermined us and did not listen to our community still exists – in a more muted and less apparent form and everyone knows that Elizabeth Campbell, who served in RBKC Cabinets pre-Grenfell, was and still is, very much part of that culture. If this council truly wishes to make drastic changes, then it is time to start at the very top. There will be nowhere to hide if the new arrangements descend into shambles – a real possibility when some are confused as to what they actually are and do – Grenfell Recovery falls by the wayside and the next Taskforce Report recognises this. The early signs are not good – not good for our North Kensington community, not good for local democracy and not good for the borough as a whole.

Local Elections РWestway23 Hustings: RBKC Tories a no-show! 

So what happened at the hustings organised by Westway23 back on the 17th of April, some may ask?

Well following the previous hustings by a Migrants Organise at Al Manaar, in which Cllr Eve Allison was the lone Conservative to turn up, this time not one of them even bothered!

Are they afraid of North Kensington residents and the questions we want to put to them, some may wonder?

Or do they just not care one bit about us and the issues we face?

THINK warn the RBKC Tories that appearing to avoid us or not to care about us in North Kensington can and will likely cost them votes.

As for the meeting, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Advance all made an appearance. There were some good speakers there ( particularly Labour’s candidate for Colville, Ian Henderson who is a campaigner for Save Our Sutton Estate in Chelsea, which is under threat).

There was ¬† shouting ¬†fron angry and frustrated residents at some points of the meeting ¬†and the meeting ended in chaos ¬†over a dispute between a few residents and Labour’s Judith Blakeman over an email. We do not publish other people’s emails that are not addressed to us, so we will not go further into this.

We will not be unfair to Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Advance to question them over the policies of a council which they are not responsible for if those in charge do not bother to show up.

We believe that the least the RBKC Tories could do is to issue an apology to Westway23 and local residents and then arrange to be there at another meeting.

There is hustings tonight at Earl’s Court and we will be very disappointed if the Tories do not turn up to this. Local Earl’s Court residents deserve to hear ¬†from them too.

It doesn’t look good for them, and as they have previously missed hustings before the general election (when Labour’s Emma Dent Coad won Kensington) ¬†last year in Earl’s Court (only Cllr Malcolm Spalding turned up to that!) ¬†some of us wonder if they have just accepted defeat and thrown in the towel…….

IMG_4109.JPG

Local Elections: Hustings РA community ignored by the ruling Conservatives 

Yesterday some ¬†THINkers were present at local election ¬†“Your Voice Your Vote” hustings. The event was held at Al Manaar and was held by Migrants Organise – an organisation which campaigns for, helps and celebrates refugees and migrants ¬†here. Please check out their website here:

https://www.migrantsorganise.org/

There were plenty of Labour councillors and candidates present РEmma Dent Coad (pictured, far left) out local Kensington MP and also councillor for Golborne Ward, Cllr Pat Mason (pictured, fourth from left) , Cllr Monica Press( pictured, second from right)  and Cllr Judith Blakeman were all present. Liberal Democrat Cllr Linda Wade (pictured   second left) was there. So were Annabel Mullin(pictured on the far right) , Valerie John-Baptiste, Melvyn Akins (pictured Рthird left)  and Claire Van Helfteren from Advance.

So what about the Conservatives, you may ask? Well only Cllr Eve Allison bothered to turn up! (She is in our picture, third from right) .We had memories of a certain hustings before the General Election in Earl’s Court back in June when most of the local Tories failed to turn ¬†there up too (giving the lame excuse of a “school meeting”!) See our old post about it here:

https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/hustings-victoria-does-a-theresa-may-and-so-do-most-of-her-colleagues/

Anyway, many subjects were discussed, with residents, local campaigners and politicians giving their opinions on social housing, crime, education and the local area.

Linda Wade was particularly good in mentioning the academisatuon of schools and that many teenagers being expelled from these local schools end up drifting into a life of crime.

This was also mentioned by Pat Mason (who has a background in youth work) and by Emma Dent Coad,and all three  also mentioned the importance of good provision of youth services locally.

THINK strongly agree with Linda, Emma and Pat and we are very concerned about the rates of knife and gun crime among young people in London Рthere is one person stabbed to death in London every three days in fact Рwe believe that it is vital that politicians both locally and nationally, seriously take this on board and have some reconsideration over the policies of some schools and also do not make any cuts to youth and community facilities.  We also strongly feel that there should be no more cuts to policing.

Melvyn Akins, a  well-known local North Kensington resident  and candidate for the newly-formed Advance party, also spoke well and mentioned his own experiences and called for change.

One resident at one point made an impassioned plea for both residents and politicians to get more involved with community and youth work. He lifted up his top at one point to show scars from knife wounds that he had received in the past.
Some at the meeting did not appear to be very familiar with politics and how the system works. Some were so upset and frustrated after suffering years of cuts and neglect by both RBKC and the Government, not to mention also being traumatised after Grenfell.  that they vented their frustration on Emma Dent Coad and Labour opposition councillors.

We at THINK point out to these residents that we have had  a Conservative council in Kensington and Chelsea, that has been in power for 117 years, and that we have a Conservative Government. So Emma , in her role as both an opposition Member of Parliament and councillor, is very limited in her powers as to what she can do and does not have any role in shaping the policies and cuts that have been inflicted by both national and local governments. The same goes for the other opposition councillors at RBKC

We say to all frustrated residents that to change the system, you have to vote for change and then be the change in holding those who ¬†you vote for to account. It is no use to sit on one’s ¬†hands ¬†and blame a system if you do not play ¬†an active part in trying to to bring about change.

The deadline to register to vote is in just four days time. If you are not registered to vote, or have changed address, name or nationality, please do fill in the form on here (it only takes five minutes) :

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

THINK also believe that lifelong provision of education is vital to the wellbeing of all residents and we remind all candidates of all parties that keeping KCC Wornington College in North Kensington open and also extending provision of courses provided there is crucial to this local community.

Grenfell was discussed, with Labour’s Judith Blakeman speaking about our council’s less than adequate response and that they are buying properties ¬†without bothering to find out what survivors actually need first.

Most of the local representatives who spoke were very impressive, particularly Linda Wade from the Lib Dems ¬†and ¬†Labour’s Monica Press.

We also heard some excellent impassioned speeches which were straight from the heart by Labour candidate for Norland Ward , Mona Adam, and by Labour candidate for Colville Ward, Nadia Nail. Both Mona and Nadia come from refugee backgrounds and have real knowledge and insight into the issues that many refugees living here face. Labour candidate for Golborne Ward, Sina Lari, also spoke well about his parents’ background as immigrants.

THINK stand with Mona, Nadia and Sina and as people who have  migrants  in some of our own family  backgrounds, we believe that it is vital that local government in RBKC reflects the make up of the local population and fully takes on board the issues its residents have.

The lone Conservative councillor there, Eve Allison is the only black Conservative councillor and ¬†was the only Tory ¬†present at yesterday’s event.

She spoke strongly about her being alienated from the local Conservatives, talked of her deselection and the fact that she had to go to national government to be reinstated. Cllr Allison also  spoke about her own background and the fact that she lives in social housing. She made the case that her own party needs to be more representative of the local population and to include persons like herself. We agree with Eve,  about the Conservative Party  needing to include more people like herself but know that the policies of this council and Government   have alienated so  many in our community.

As for the other ¬†local Conservatives, who did not even bother to turn up, THINK believe that their non-presence speaks volumes about their attitude towards not only North Kensington and Grenfell, but also young people, community groups, migrants and refugees. It says it all if not even one member of the RBKC Tories’ leadership bothered to attend.

Eve Allison has a majority of only 1 vote in St Helen’s Ward and we are not banking on her to hold on to it, so maybe some senior local Tories may be relieved ¬†to not have her speaking out against them in public as a local councillor after the elections , but we thank Eve for speaking out and we say to the ¬†other RBKC Tories (who come from overwhelmingly white upper and upper middle class backgrounds) – shame on you.

There is also hustings, presented by local campaign group Westway23 at Acklam Village, Acklam Road, W10 on Tuesday the 17th April. THINKers will be there of course and we fully expect local representatives from ALL the parties to be there.

THINK urge our local readers  to do the right thing at the local elections and vote the RBKC Conservatives out of power. 

A bit of news from the RBKC Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee……¬†

Yesterday at the Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee meeting, THINK “regular” Tory Cllr “Chicken Run” Matthew Palmer attempted to bring up the dubious (and false) TMO surveys that claimed that 95% of residents before Grenfell, were satisfied with the services they were receiving – this was his pathetic attempt to claim all was well with our social housing.

Cue red faces, RBKC Deputy Leader Kim Taylor-Smith shrinking in his seat and senior council officers wanting to hush liability Cllr Palmer up!

Unfortunately at that council meeting, THINK witnessed some senior council officers lying. This was by way of an answer to Labour councillor for Notting Dale Judith Blakeman, who brought up the subject of Hesketh Place and the lack of fire exits. See our previous post here:

https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/2018/02/20/rbkcs-ludicrous-definition-of-an-emergency-fire-exit/

The lie council officers told was that the Fire Brigade had said that the emergency exit was at the front door – which was their attempt at an explanation for a sticker pointing the way to the front door, rather than providing residents with an actual emergency fire exit at the back.

Well, some THINKers spoke to the Fire Officers attending that day and we can state that they in fact recommended that RBKC provide the building with an emergency exit by way of a push bar door at the rear of the property – a recommendation that still to this day has not been carried out……..

Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee:  Curtains down on the Rotten Borough

Yes, it’s that time again, the Grenfell Scrutiny Committee meets again tonight at 6:30pm at Notting Hill Methodist Church. This is probably set to be yet another debacle and this council are a joke – hence the picture.

The committee is chaired by Labour’s Cllr Robert Thompson (Dalgarno Ward). Recently he has come under ¬†heavy criticism from many in and around our community in his role as chair of the committee.

We at THINK know  Robert and we believe that the format and remits of the committee were placed upon him in his duties in that role. We also accept that he has not been in a similar role before.

However, at previous meetings , we were less than satisfied that local Lancaster West resident and campaigner Joe Delaney (one of only two resident members on the panel) was not given adequate time to speak.

If the committee is serious about community engagement, then they should make it a bigger priority to hear from the community and let Joe and others to have adequate time to have their voices heard.

Many of us in the community have found these meetings frustrating as the format (with a panel of councillors – dominated ¬†by the Rotten Borough Tories) and a “consultation” (yes, that dreaded word again) that alienates many of us.

Local resident Judy Bolton had said “every time we come here we go through further further mental distress. It is too convoluted. How did you come in your consultation to decide who was in the catchment area around Grenfell?”

Before Judy spoke there had been shouting amongst residents as some who were traumatised by the fire did not live in the Tower or walkways Рcue shouting back and forth amid disputes among  residents  over who was local or affected or not.

Well some THINKers live in Notting Dale Ward (the council ward in which Grenfell is situated), but not Grenfell Tower or Lancaster West and one of us lost friends in the fire – which she witnessed from her back garden.

The question of services to traumatised residents goes way beyond those who were living in the direct vicinity of the Tower in our view; we ¬†had put out a post several months back in which one man who had lost two members of his family in the fire pointing out ¬†to Dizzy Lizzy and co at the Town Hall about the council’s poor engagement with the bereaved.

The subject of traumatised children in the community came up too. Labour’s Cllr Judith Blakeman pointing out as she has done at meetings before that we need more children’s services, and local resident Melanie Phelan mentioned the fact that many children not living too ¬† near the Tower will have ¬†also lost classmates at school.

Samia Badani from Angels4Grenfell, (an informal resident-led community engagement initiative – which we are regular visitors to) raised the point of an open letter signed by many in and around he community (including THINK), calling for resident engagement to be co-designed by the community.

Of course it was at this meeting when Michael Clarke, Director of “Communications and Community Engagement” at RBKC admitted to his “mistake” of putting Grenfell all the way back on page 7 of the council newspaper.

The meeting unsurprisingly did end up ¬†in disarray. Cllr Robert Thompson ¬†has written an open letter that we have reprinted below, with regards to using tonight’s meeting to discuss how the meetings can be ¬†structured.

We ¬†at THINK like Robert ¬†personally and will give him a chance and try to be positive in the meeting ¬†– but we have no faith left in this sorry wreck of a ¬†Rotten Tory council. They do not understand or respect our community, they show a top-down approach to community relations which clearly does not work, and they keep making “mistakes”. Let us remind them of all the “mistakes” they made in the run up to Grenfell – it seems some never learn from their mistakes.

Sadly we believe that RBKC will only begin to engage with our community well  when there is a complete change of regime Рthat unfortunately will not come until the third of May. Until then in our view, it is up to our community to  unite together and show the way.

We  strongly believe that a council that caused  Grenfell by way of their actions and inactions should not be scrutinising themselves or their friends. This is an impossible position that not only leaves our community in a mess, but will impact deeply  upon the lives of many vulnerable others in the borough. It is time this was stopped once and for all Рit is time the Rotten Borough Tories were given their marching orders.

Here is Cllr Thompson’s open letter:

“As Chair of the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee I have been heartened by the depth of interest and engagement, at our meetings, from local residents and from those involved in the voluntary, community and faith groups of North Kensington. These contributions have been valuable in allowing Committee members to do their work, to hold the Grenfell Recovery Programme to account and to make it better for those of us affected by it, and I am extremely grateful to all those who‚Äôve taken part to date.

I have also listened carefully to the criticism that the very structure and nature of the meetings has not been conducive to facilitating the widest possible participation and representation from our
local communities. I believe that in order for the Committee to do its work effectively this needs to be addressed. The meeting on 15 February will therefore be a facilitated meeting dedicated solely to giving local people – and the representatives of local voluntary, community and faith groups – the opportunity to consider what kind of meeting might enable the Committee to achieve its aims better in future, and identify topics for priority discussion at the March meeting.

I would like this next meeting to provide the opportunity for us all to learn from one another how these Committee meetings can be improved in order to achieve better outcomes for us all. We want to make sure that the voices from our local communities and our experiences of the Grenfell Recovery Programme are both listened and responded to. This is in order to allow the Programme to fall under the critical eye of those of us most affected by it, and to allow that experience to inform the Programme’s development. The aim of all scrutiny is to make the work of the Council more effective for all of us who live and work in our communities, so I feel we need to discuss together how the work of this Committee can be as effective as possible to make sure:

-Ôā∑ it can be seen as being owned by the communities most affected by the fire;

-Ôā∑ the agenda reflects the concerns of our communities;

-Ôā∑ the constructive input of those most affected by the fire is maximised; and

-Ôā∑ the role of elected councillors and co-opted members of the committee is used to its best effect.

As Chair, I will open the meeting before handing over to an independent facilitator, Graham Elder. Graham has broad experience of helping council meetings run more productively to support local residents, having worked with more than 15 councils. He will encourage discussion in small groups about the kind of meeting that residents, and those involved with our communities, might hope to achieve in future. Towards the end, these groups will feed back to the wider meeting on key points raised in the group discussions ‚Äď all of which will inform what happens at the following meeting on 21 March.

I do hope that as many of our local residents, and those who work in our local community, voluntary and faith groups, will be able to come, to enrich our discussion and help move us forward in a positive and productive way by co-designing the format of future meetings.

I hope to see you on 15 February.

Robert Thompson

Cllr. Robert Thompson
Chair, Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee”