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

 

Grenfell & Not Just the Air that we Breathe

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…

 

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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:

https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/grenfell-the-rotten-borough-and-the-terrible-mismanagement-organisation-now-is-the-summer-of-our-discontent/

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.

https://grenfellactiongroup.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/notting-barns-south-masterplan.pdf

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.

 

Tower block fire in London

By THINK for Urban Dandy

@THisIsNorthKensington

 

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

June 14th

Our community has been painted as work-shy immigrants, sub-letting; it could not be further from the truth; we were eloquent, hard working…we deserve to be respected

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Urban Dandy is a North Kensington-based blog. It was born on the Lancaster West estate where the Grenfell Tower still stands. That estate, North Kensington and all of us who live here were forever changed on June 14th 2017. Our articles and poems from the aftermath of the fire can be found by clicking urbandandylondon.com/tag/grenfell-tower/ . We hope that all of our pieces on Grenfell convey some of the heartbreak experienced here in North Kensington, provide some context for the reader as well as serving as a tribute to the community we are proud to be a part of. 

 

Children
From St Thomas’ School newsletter

 

 

Questions

 

For example: why

and

1944

But

Silence

The Limits of Politics in the Shadow of Disaster

At al Manaar last week, Jeremy Corbyn focused on his ‘Another World Is Possible’ message. The visit to North Kensington was part of the strategy of taking Labour to the heart of communities to build grassroots support and pick up campaign volunteers. On both these macro and micro levels, Corbyn is underestimated by the media.

But in North Kensington, these are not our primary concerns. World peace and another world being possible don’t seem that important when there is no sign of justice for the crime at Grenfell Tower, when the Conservative council easily won the local election and when the survivors’ treatment has been appalling, surreal and bureaucratic.

Corbyn’s speech at the mosque was pleasant enough, but whoever wrote it failed to linger on the any specifics about the community response to the Grenfell Tower fire, the only positive in the nightmare. Where were his personal recollections? What are the implications for how another world could be moulded based on the collective efforts we saw here last year?

The situation in North Kensington is not one that powerful politicians can pay lip service to before heading back to the Commons or City Hall. It asks fundamental questions of how we deal with an appalling man-made disaster and how we see the future of this society.

Perhaps the words of Sadiq Khan, like Corbyn’s, are a tacit acknowledgment that London is over for many people who cannot thrive in a punitive property market. Nowhere is this more stark than in North Kensington. Where are the fresh ideas, beyond a call for survivors to be treated a bit better within the failed system? 

The Labour leaders should feel free to use their power to speak and act against the Conservatives and their deadly policies. Unlike the community, these politicians have a platform and a voice, but if Labour cannot seize the moment in North Kensington, then rather than creating false hope, they should leave it to the locals and focus elsewhere instead.   

 

 

We were abandoned…

It was the community that offered sanctuary to us

Ed, Grenfell Action Group

 

Big green hearts are in contrast to the derisory RBKC Council, the TMO, Theresa May and Sajid Javid. A desperate, grasping, corrupt political elite and their bureaucratic quislings.

What can be said about those whose symbols are on every lamppost, estate entrance, whose dead eyes stare out from the free newspapers? The Tory council just a human shield for Theresa May, the TMO likewise for the council. 

How do we tell our children that their rulers are hateful? It might be better to tell them: ‘Look at what you did last year, at how you supported each other’ or ‘Look at the community you are part of’.

Naughty schoolboys, written off by the system but handing out water to distressed people long into the night, kindness everywhere. The purity of children – their big hearts in contrast to their presumed superiors. Unity not an empty slogan to be manipulated and used as a tool for power, but as real as it gets…

Green

 

“Men aren’t gonna talk about it. They want to fix things, so they’re repressing their emotions.”

Rajaa Chellat, counselor for the My Shepherd therapy service.

Women led us on June 14th 2017, at Acklam Village and some of the other centres for relief, women led and men followed

We men want to fix or protect, but we can’t bring back 72 people, we couldn’t protect them…

On June 14th 2018 in North Kensington, just like last year, all we’ll have is each other.

 

 

Tom Charles for Urban Dandy

Poetry written and preformed by Mark Bolton

Bay 20 Latest – Establishment Chaos

DIY – Do It Yourself – “The activity of decorating, building, and making repairs at home by oneself…avoids the difficult relationship between householder and professional decorator

SOS – Save Our Souls – An international code signal of extreme distress

The harassed North Kensington community is facing up to 14th June 2018, the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people and traumatised thousands more. Desperate for change, North Kensington remains under the yoke of the disgraced Conservative council after the May 3rd local elections. And now, more troubling developments: The BBC DIY SOS team is in town filming the “Grenfell community” for the lightest of light entertainment programmes, and the people of North Ken are once again trying to mitigate what could become a mess; Will they succeed?

Hooray
Screen grab from the BBC DIY SOS website here

The situation now

Bay 20, under the Westway dual carriageway and near the Grenfell Tower, is undergoing a rapid building development for the DIY SOS programme. The BBC have secured donations to pay for the Dale Youth Boxing Gym, lost in the fire, to be rehoused at Bay 20, alongside new community spaces, meeting rooms and a café. The building work begins on 15th May and the grand opening is slated for 28th May. 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