The council of Kensington and Chelsea has revived its plan to get rid of North Kensington community asset Canalside House and replace it with flats. The resurrection of the plan will be viewed by many as signalling the explicit return of the council’s long-standing policy of asset-stripping North Kensington. Will it be third time lucky for the council?
What is Canalside House and Why Does it Matter?
Opened in 1929, Canalside House is an integral and much-loved part of the North Kensington community, serving many hundreds of local people each year, including hundreds of children, the disabled and other vulnerable groups. It is ideally located at the north end of Ladbroke Grove, with excellent transport links. It continues to play a vital role for people in West London, including with its role as a hub for Grenfell recovery and support.
In 2016 the sale of Canalside House to property developers was agreed by RBKC. This was initiated by the then deputy leader of the council, Rock Feilding-Mellen, who has since resigned following the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people. He is widely believed to have been culpable for decisions made that led to the fire, as well as cultivating a culture at the council in which people in North Kensington were ignored and their assets stripped for the benefit of property speculators.
The tenants of Canalside House were presented with a fait accompli and told they would be moving to a building on Latimer Road. The building was wholly unsuitable and the decision by the council was an existential threat to most of the Canalside organisations.
In 2017, after the Grenfell fire, when the Canalside residents played a notable role in supporting the affected local population (in contrast to the council, who by their own admission were not up to the task), RBKC paused the sale of the building.
In January 2018, the council issued an executive decision to sell Canalside House, with Director of Corporate Property Richard Egan taking up Feilding-Mellen’s plan. Egan, along with deputy leader of the council, Councillor Kim Taylor-Smith and Councillor Matthew Palmer, told a series of lies to try to force through the sale. It was also revealed that zero social housing was to be included in the “3,500 new homes” earmarked for the Canalside site.
RBKC’s lies were exposed by local activists and blogs and the council did a U-turn. Taylor-Smith stated: “Kensington and Chelsea Council has no plans whatsoever to sell off Canalside House, the building is a key base for charities and the voluntary sector, as well as small businesses and other local enterprises, all of which create important job opportunities in the north of our borough”.
He also vowed that the council would work on improving the building. This has not happened. And Taylor-Smith ignored all emails from the Canalside User Group, which represents the 14 resident organisations, until September 2018, when he notified the group that the sale was back on, albeit with the word “demolish” replacing “sell”.
At the 13th September RBKC Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee meeting, a report from Conservative Councillor Mary Weale justified the plan to demolish Canalside House using exactly the same language that has been used by the council in their grab of other local public assets including Ladbroke Grove library, Wornington College and Lancaster Youth Club. Namely: that there are issues of disabled access and that the building is too costly to refurbish. Weale also claimed that a number of the offices are only used “on an occasional/part-time basis”. The crucial work undertaken by Canalside organisations was not mentioned.
The renewed move to sell/demolish the building suggests that the RBKC’s (repeated ad nauseam) claims that it would “change” after the Grenfell fire amount to nothing more than platitudes and propaganda, smokescreens for business as usual.
The council turned down a grant from the Tudor Trust to install a lift for disabled people at Canalside House; the council has made no effort to refurbish Canalside House and has let it slide into decline; all of the offices at Canalside House are used full-time, except for one, which was vacated by the Volunteer Centre when the council first announced the building’s sale. After that it was left empty by the council and has only just reopened as a hot-desking service, which has started to become popular.
The Canalside User Group told us that they will demand the council do another U-turn and abandon the plan to make Canalside House another victim of the North Kensington asset strip. They will not be alone in making this demand: service users whose futures depend on the Canalside organisations will oppose the move, as will those who will not understand how politicians can promise change, explicitly state they will not sell a building and then do the opposite. And just maybe the national government, or their Grenfell Taskforce, will call the ruling party at Kensington Town Hall and demand an explanation for this textbook example of hypocrisy…
Hypocrite – from the Greek work Hypokrites, meaning “an actor”
Canalside House is home to: Abundance Arts; African Women’s Care; Baraka Community Association; Colville and Clydesdale Housing Cooperative; French African Women’s Association; Hodan Somali Community; Hope Care Agency; Kensington and Chelsea Mental Health Carers Association; Munro Health Cooperative; Portobello Business Centre; Rain Trust; Sudanese Community and Information Centre; Sudanese Nubian Association; Talk Together CIC; Worldwide Somali Students and Professionals.
Full Canalside backstory part one: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/02/08/rbkc-council-selling-vital-community-aset/
Written by Tom Charles @tomhcharles
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