©Urban Dandy Ltd
©Urban Dandy Ltd
©Urban Dandy Ltd
©Urban Dandy Ltd
In July an independent review of Kensington and Chelsea Council’s governance was concluded and the council adopted twelve recommended “principles of good governance” . To assess how the council has fared in applying their new democratic principles it is worth considering an ongoing example: Canalside House, the North Kensington community hub currently under threat of “demolition” by the local authority. Is there any evidence of a change of approach to the local community?
The Centre for Public Scrutiny, experts on effective decision-making, were commissioned to carry out the independent review, which was funded by the Local Government Association. RBKC welcomed the subsequent report and adopted “12 principles of good governance we should embed in the council.” The 12 Principles are bespoke, designed specifically for RBKC to act on its claims to want to “change” following the Grenfell Tower fire.
The council’s own report endorsing the CPS recommendations was titled ‘CHANGE AT THE COUNCIL: THE COUNCIL’S RESPONSE TO THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF GOVERNANCE’ (their capitals) came four months after the independent review, suggesting serious consideration and a real commitment to action on the part of the local authority, who stated: “the council recognises that it (sic) essential to put these principles into practice.” The council’s leadership are to be held to account on this by the Executive and Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee.
The council leaders who hold the relevant portfolios and who endorsed the report were Elizabeth Campbell (leader) and Cllr Gerard Hargreaves (responsible for Communities and Culture).
Have the 12 principles been put in to practice?
Canalside House is an acid test of whether “change” has come, is still in the post, or is just Newspeak.
The Canalside story can be read in more detail here, but in short, the building is one of the few remaining Kensington assets preserved for community use. It is under threat of demolition to make way for private housing developments out of the price range of most North Kensington residents.
We spoke with members of the Canalside User Group, which represents all the Canalside organisations, to discover whether or not the council has been putting its policy into practice.
Principle 1. “Connecting with Residents”
“The council hasn’t connected with us at all. They haven’t visited, but our building is to be demolished and us moved. They seem to want us to go to a hot-desking space, but that’s not suitable and would mean the end for most of us”.
2. “Focusing on What Matters”
“We work with vulnerable people, children, BME community groups, small businesses, we’re the lifeblood of North Kensington and support for Grenfell. But the council seems more focused on building unaffordable properties”.
3. “Listening to Many Voices”
“They haven’t listened to us. That would require them speaking to us and that hasn’t happened. We emailed Kim Taylor-Smith (deputy leader of RBKC) a few times but he didn’t get back to us until he decided to inform us our building would be ‘demolished’
It’s not just us, they have ignored local activists and the Kensington and Chelsea Social Council when they’ve asked about Canalside”.
4. “Acting with Integrity”
Kim Taylor-Smith, 9th February 2018: “Kensington and Chelsea Council has no plans whatsoever to sell off Canalside House”.
RBKC Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee, 13th September 2018: For a proposed new housing development, “part or all of the Canalside House site will require demolition”.
5. “Involving Before Deciding”
“We have not been involved at all”.
6. “Communicating What We Are Doing”
“We find out about their decisions by watching videos of scrutiny committee meetings or waiting for the documents from a scrutiny committee meeting. That isn’t communicating with us”
7. “Inviting Residents to Take Part”
“We’ve had no invitation. In 2016 we were presented with a fait accompli when they wanted us out. Despite this Centre for Public Scrutiny report, what has changed in two years?
The wider community, who used Canalside House after the fire, have not been consulted. This is a council building, but the council are ignorant about what goes on here”
8. “Being Clearly Accountable”
“The council staff we’ve spoken to are in agreement that Canalside House shouldn’t be under threat. But the decision makers are not present, they don’t get back to us. We emailed Taylor-Smith a month ago, he promised a full reply. Nothing. Who are they accountable to? Where is the scrutiny of the lead councilors?”
9. “Responding Fairly to Everyone’s Needs”
“To completely ignore the needs of the resident groups at Canalside and everyone they represent is not responsive or fair. It suggests another agenda. We’ve attended their ‘listening exercises’ around North Ken but what difference do they make?”
10. “Working as Team”
“You know they’re not doing that”
11. “Managing Responsibly”
“This is the very antithesis of taking social and economic responsibility. Their approach disregards the needs of the population they are supposed to serve.”
People who use Canalside are a mix of people. A lot of children who use the services are from seriously overcrowded homes, sometimes double figures in a two bed flat. This is the council’s responsibility, but we are the ones helping these people. Small businesses come here that benefit the local economy. Innocent Smoothies started at Canalside House, so they can’t claim it’s not a successful place. If it’s valuable, why treat it with contempt?”
Principle 12, “Having the Support we Need” is an internal council principle and not relevant to the Canalside House example.
Have the principles been put in to practice? Has change arrived? No.
By Tom Charles
©M.C. Bolton, October 2018
Photo by Angel Lewis, All Saints Road, October 2018
People in North Kensington have been raising health concerns since the Grenfell Tower fire. Following Friday’s news that ‘huge concentrations’ of toxins have been found in the soil around the tower, fellow local bloggers, THis Is North Kensington – THINK, have some more concerning news for local residents, which they have shared with Urban Dandy…
On Friday, The Guardian reported that Public Health England have not acted upon a report of early findings by toxicology expert Dr Anna Stec showing huge concentrations of potential carcinogens in the air and the soil around Grenfell Tower. Prof Stec has urged PHE, the Department of Heath the Police and RBKC to organise tests on local residents so health risks in our local North Kensington community can be assessed properly. Read about it here
Many of us here have long held these concerns, and they appear to be validated in Prof Stec’s early findings. Sadly, we can’t exactly say we are surprised – local residents have been voicing very real anxieties about health here for well over a year – concerns that have mainly fallen on the deaf ears of our government, Public Health England and our council.
We could remind them of the cyanide gases released by the burning insulation from the Tower in the fire, of numerous local residents calling for soil and water and cladding to be tested on countless occasions since the fire, of people from Grenfell Tower suffering cyanide poisoning after the fire, of the “Grenfell cough” which is no figment of peoples’ imagination in North Kensington (several locals had respiratory problems after the fire), of the burnt cladding and insulation that landed in people’s homes and gardens up to a mile away, or of this post of ours from August last year:
Public Health England were delayed in their responses at the very least, relied on air quality tests alone (again ignoring residents’ concerns) and flat-out refused to investigate the rest of the environment surrounding Grenfell Tower. Many concerned local residents at public meetings were dismissed by PHE – utterly shameful.
We sat at one meeting where one of them was saying that the air and soil here were perfectly safe and made out that we had nothing to worry about. It is bad enough that they refuse to take our concerns seriously, but they really should at least now listen to the concerns of a world-leading expert….
It also appears to many of us in our community that there have been concerted efforts on the parts of both this government and the leadership of our council from day one to minimise what has been a not just a local but a national disaster – shame on them.
We warn RBKC, Public Health England and the government that failing to act upon this is in itself a neglect of duty of care at the very least.
Local Labour Notting Dale Ward councillor Judith Blakeman has also constantly raised concerns over this and she informed us that she has also again raised these matters with RBKC.
Some might remember Sir Derek Myers, former joint Chief Executive of both RBKC and Hammersmith and Fulham. He stepped down, coincidentally – or not – enough at the same time Sir Merrick Cockell quit as leader of our council. Back in 2013, The Guardian published an interview with Myers in which he downplayed this council’s then-policy of negotiating the purchase of properties in Peterborough and then relocating local families there (Peterborough’s then Conservative MP Stewart Jackson condemned this at the time and said: “This is about social cleansing in Kensington and Chelsea. It’s about getting rid of people they don’t want in their borough, who are on benefits, who they have a responsibility for – to house – who are statutorily homeless.”)
Well, talking of homeless people, after his departure from the Rotten Borough, Myers then ended up chair of the board of trustees at Shelter until resigning last year alongside then trustee of Shelter, Tony Rice, who was also chairman and sole shareholder of Omnis Exteriors – who allegedly sold the Grenfell cladding – disgraceful.
But if last year’s news was shocking enough, some readers might be wondering why we are bringing all these old revelations up. We remind them that Sir Derek Myers’ “home” now is on the board of PHE.
We will also remind people of the Notting Barns South Masterplan, obtained by the Grenfell Action Group under the Freedom of Information Act and that Derek Myers was chief executive of this borough at the exact same time these plans, which proposed the demolition of Grenfell Tower, were drawn up.
No, we are not going into “conspiracy theory territory”, but Myers’ involvement with PHE certainly raises more than a few red flags here. His Guardian interview finishes with the line “like all natural leaders, where others see a problem, Myers sees an opportunity” – make of that what you will…
THINK believe it to be a real conflict of interest for Sir Derek Myers to be in such a position given his former role at RBKC and we say that it is time that he takes the “opportunity” to resign from Public Health England now.
We also say it is time for the government and the council to take the very real concerns about our health raised by residents, local councillors, health professionals and toxicology experts seriously and to act upon this immediately.
As things stand it appears to us that some in authority have not learnt anything after Grenfell; about listening to this community and its concerns and acting upon them responsibly. And we are less than reassured with the very important matters of our health, our environment and our futures being their call.
By THINK for Urban Dandy
A BLOG FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKS ...
Curiosity Ends Here
a collection of words about my average, bog-standard life accompanied by some sub-par illustrations that depict selected moments in said life
Beauty Blogger + Lifestyle Blogger+ Food Blogger+ Travel Blogger+ Recipe Blogger
Books, Reviews and More!
A little something for you.
An Archive of Curious Facts for the Curious