Change at RBKC? Case Study 1

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 Review

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? 

Scrutiny  

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.

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Canalside House (right)

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.

Conclusion

Have the principles been put in to practice? Has change arrived? No.

 

 

By Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

 

RBKC Bites Back @ Canalside House & the Community

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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.

Background Continue reading

The Curious Case of the Council & Canalside

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On becoming leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council a month after the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, Elizabeth Campbell promised change. In a brief speech to fellow councillors and victims of the fire in July, Campbell used the word ‘change’ eleven times. Considering Campbell’s own role in the council’s sustained asset strip of North Kensington, the words were never convincing. But they were rendered meaningless in January when the council tried to sell a vital community building to property developers to build flats for the rich. In failing to push through the sale, the Conservative council now looks weaker than ever.

 
Early this year K & C council were moving full steam ahead with their plans to sell Canalside House, home to numerous local charities, community groups, small businesses, and a hub of support for victims of the June 14th fire. Plans to sell the historic building on Ladbroke Grove and move its residents to a wholly unsuitable replacement on Latimer Road were put on hold following the fire, after resident organisations pointed out to the council that they had been filling in the gaps vacated by the local authority in providing emergency relief work and supporting the North Kensington community.

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How do we know about the plans to sell? A council scrutiny committee meeting was filmed and posted online (the Canalside section starts after two hours). The details are in this Urban Dandy article. Continue reading

RBKC Council Selling Vital Community As$et

By Urban Dandy

 

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Canalside House on Ladbroke Grove

 

 

Less than eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire disaster and Kensington and Chelsea Council’s money grab in the North Kensington community is back in full flow. Canalside House, one of the last remaining spaces utilised by charities, the voluntary sector, small businesses and other local enterprises, is to be sold to property developers. The decision raises questions about whether the Conservative council has learned any of the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire, which was the culmination of years of neglect, indifference and wilful ignorance by the local authority. In the run up to the crucial local elections in May, the decision to sell Canalside represents a calculation by the local authority that the local population will be apathetic as one of the community’s last assets is stripped.

Context

Canalside House, less than a mile from Grenfell Tower, is home to almost 20 organisations, most of which have played a direct and ongoing role in supporting the community in the aftermath of the unprecedented fire on Lancaster West estate on June 14th. In the absence of a serious local authority response to the disaster, local organisations and their volunteers stepped into the void left by the Tory council. The council is widely believed to be responsible for the 71 deaths and incalculable trauma in North Kensington.

Kensington and Chelsea has a large number of charities, but it is a borough that needs them, owing to the grotesque levels of inequality and high levels of poverty, much of which is concentrated in North Kensington. Canalside House is one of the main hubs for community organisations, serving hundreds of local people.

Backstory Continue reading