North Kensington is in a state of political, legal and emotional limbo. How and why? Here are summaries of some of the stories already published and the arguments already won….
This article contains references to the 14th June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.
Two Significant Events
After the initial post-fire outpouring of grief, energy and hope, things have slowed to a crawl in North Kensington. The most significant developments have been with the Conservative leadership of the council (RBKC); its survival and consolidation of power.
Neither of these things was inevitable, with RBKC having to make promises of “change” to stay in power, then having to break the promises to prevent the dilution of its power in the north of the borough.
Two things will happen soon which could impact the current unsatisfactory and traumatising deadlock in North Kensington: The first is on October 9th when Kensington Labour party Councillors launch a People’s Convention in a bid to undercut RBKC’s business-as-usual approach.
This push for a greater say in decision making for Northern residents will be ignored by the Council, who will kick any devolution proposal into the long grass when Labour and groups of residents persist. Expect RBKC to employ its tried and tested bureaucratic mechanisms, outlined in detail in our previous article.
The Labour-led campaign for modest devolution is augmented by other moves aimed at balancing RBKC’s power with a more prominent role for residents.
Lynton Crosby-style tactics of calculating the absolute minimum they need to appear to be doing to pacify the population have carried RBKC this far. But their latest recovery gimmick, a gameshow-style decision-making process to distribute Grenfell-related funds, has only added to the sense that the local authority is unable to act in the interests of residents they hold in contempt.
Along with the devolution push, the upcoming findings of the Tutu Foundation’s investigation into alleged institutional racism, and the selection of a new Chair, at the Westway Trust could revive the sense that North Kensington is an area still alive with the ability to force justice and political change in the face of entrenched power structures.
The second upcoming event is the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in January 2020. Phase two will consider the design, refurbishment, fire safety and management of Grenfell Tower. It will also look at how the authorities communicated with residents, the immediate causes of the fire and the response to the fire by the relevant bodies.
The ability or otherwise of this phase of the Inquiry to move towards genuine justice will go a long way to determining whether North Kensington will ever be given the space it needs to recover from its collective and individual trauma.
While we wait for events to unfold, here are some truths that have been laid bare by our scrutiny of RBKC’s post-Grenfell performance so far:
1. The Tories Do Not Want to Change
The Kensington Conservatives will not change their approach any more than they have to. That much is evident from their performance since June 2017.
The post-fire Kensington Tories were smart enough to promise change. Without that promise, they might well have been removed or put into special measures by the national government. But the council’s record before the fire was so abysmal here in North Kensington that their piecemeal approach to change since has fallen woefully short of satisfying anybody.
Some people split hairs about RBKC’s performance over the past two years and identify some individual Tory Councillors or Council officers who at times appear sincere. This is probably more a reflection of how unbearable it is for some to acknowledge the reality of an uncaring culture operating within an indifferent system. Can it really be that after 72 deaths and widespread trauma, that there is no real change to either the rules or the power balance? Rather than face the harsh reality of the answer, some choose the palliative of picking out hopeful signs of potential change.
The Tory promise of change was followed by political maneuvers to deny this change actually happening, highlighted on this website over the past two years, see the links below. The logic for this is that there is more incentive for the Tories to not change than to change. To alter the power balance, even a little bit, would dilute Tory power in Kensington and might set an ideological precedent for other downtrodden areas to demand their own devolution and liberation.
On an individual level, these Councillors’ future careers as property developers, consultants (to property developers) and politicians (representing big capital – including property developers) hinge on their loyalty to one class at the expense of another. No horror changes this equation.
So while the people of North Kensington are retraumatised by unmet promises, RBKC has been able to get back to business-as-usual, with enough superficial ‘change’ peppering their work to satisfy the national government (represented by the implausibly meek Grenfell taskforce) and to convince themselves that they are doing good deeds on behalf of the ungrateful hordes.
2. Post-Grenfell Systems are Structurally Weak
RBKC cannot be persuaded or pleaded with to change. They could only be coerced by a rigorous system of checks and balances, so they avoid such a system. As we detailed in our investigation, How RBKC Subverts Democracy to Prevent Change, the policies put in place following the worst fire in Britain since World War Two lacked an implementation mechanism – it was left to the goodwill of Councillors with vested interests in keeping the status quo.
The Conservatives in Kensington Town Hall have manipulated the political system to avoid scrutiny. This is outlined, blow by blow, in our article. To do this was a political choice made by Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, her deputy Cllr Taylor-Smith and a host of highly-paid RBKC officers, starting with chief executive Barry Quirk and including many under him who have been complicit.
Nationally, the Conservatives need the Council in place. And at this point, Labour doesn’t see Grenfell as a big vote winner. Where is their outreach? Where is their mayor?
3. Trauma is Being Perpetuated
People in North Kensington have engaged with the process but have been re-traumatised and exhausted by their efforts being met with a lack of tangible change. They might not know what change looks like (revolution, devolution, evolution…), but they know what it isn’t.
A lack of seriousness when it comes to delivering change in North Kensington has left us in this purgatory, unable to move on. There is no argument about where the blame lies for this failure.
Attention now falls on political and legal efforts to deliver change and justice to a community that deserves both.
How does a local authority go from being a national embarrassment on the verge of special measures to being secure in its position and back to business-as-usual in under two years?
The 2017 Grenfell Tower fire was the worst domestic fire in Britain since world war two and it happened in the richest borough in the country. Seventy-two lives were taken, more have been lost in the fall-out. There have been no arrests of politicians, council officers or others who made fateful decisions and ignored warnings in the run-up to the fire.
In 2018 Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) commissioned the Centre for Public Scrutiny and the Democratic Society to carry out a review of the Council and to produce recommendations to enable the local authority to move forward. The ‘Change’ programme that resulted has suffered from a severe lack of public scrutiny and has been anything but democratic…
Urban Dandy uses RBKC’s own documents to reveal how the Council adopted a policy known as the Twelve Principles of Good Governance, then proceeded to bury it in a complex bureaucratic system. The article shows how opportunities to apply the principles were spurned, and worse, how Councillors often seemed determined to ensure there would be no real change.
Overseeing the process has been the leader of RBKC, Elizabeth Campbell, who promised ‘change’ to survivors and the bereaved but who has appeared at key moments and in key meetings to help ensure no fundamental change has been implemented. We are awaiting comment from her on her role and the performance of her Council in delivering on her promises.
We also reveal the rising costs of the ‘Change’ programme, the methods by which RBKC has managed to stifle meaningful challenge to its approach and how they have been aided by the media and the national government. Questions are also raised about the role of the local Labour party and we look at the calls for devolution for North Kensington.
The article is a defence of democracy and transparency in Kensington and will be published at the start of September.
Our previous articles following this story can be found here.
The future is unwritten…events this week at Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) could have triggered a political realignment in the north of the borough. Or they could have consolidated Tory power…
On 15th July at RBKC’s regular administration committee meeting, Councillors voted to scrap a council committee that scrutinises RBKC’s response to the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.
The decision to abandon the scrutiny committee is based on a “residents’ conference” to which 15 people turned up, in addition to 77 who contributed to the consultation in writing.
The two Labour members of the council administration committee joined residents in walking out of Monday’s meeting in protest at the move, leaving four Conservative Councillors to vote through the recommendations. The Tory Councillors had been whipped (compelled) to vote to abandon the scrutiny committee.
The plan for the changes to scrutiny was made by a council panel made up of four Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat, effectively bypassing North Kensington, where all elected Councillors are from the Labour party.
The scrapping of the committee, which will be ratified at full council meeting on 24th July, is part of a review of the council’s scrutiny committee structure which will see the current six specialist committees shrink to four “select committees” overseen by an overview and scrutiny body.Continue reading →
The second in a series of posts about scrutiny of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC)…
Since the June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, North Kensington residents, campaigners and writers have attended RBKC meetings to challenge the local authority, bear witness and watch for any signs of a return to business as usual. The latest meeting revealed a local authority losing its credibility, and possibly its grip, on North Kensington.Continue reading →
In 2018, Urban Dandy was the recipient of an apparent leak regarding the Westway Trust. Emailing anonymously and identifying themselves only as “someone recently connected with the Trust” the whistle blower presented us with a “summary of events” that allegedly led to the Trust’s 2018 CEO appointments, its decision to allow the BBC to build at Bay 20 for the DIY SOS Grenfell specials and the overlap between these two stories.
A bit of background…
What is the Westway Trust?
The Westway Trust (formerly North Kensington Amenities Trust) is responsible for one mile / 23 acres of land under the Westway section of the A40 in North Kensington, crossing Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove, passing close to the Grenfell Tower and ending at Latimer Road. This custodianship began when the Westway was opened in 1970. The Trust’s remit is to ensure the land is used for the benefit of the local community as compensation for the concrete eye sore that dominates, darkens and pollutes the areas underneath it.
Westway Trust’s relationship with the local community is a complex one. The Trust provides vital services, including spaces for charities and supplementary schools. However, there is rancour among many local residents at aspects of the Trust’s work and approach, some of which has been covered by us, see the links at the end of the article. The Westway Trust is currently undergoing a review by the Tutu Foundation following claims of institutional racism.
What is Bay 20?
Bay 20 is one small section of the land under the A40 in the care of the Westway Trust and had remained undeveloped by the Trust. The space was once used by Carnival Industrial Enterprise as a steel pan yard; highly skilled musicians would make and tune pans, maintaining important local heritage and offering apprenticeships. This was abandoned by the Trust who inserted an art installation: a bleached-purple moonscape, which remained the only inhabitant of Bay 20 for over a decade.
The BBC built two community spaces on Bay 20 in 2018: one was the Dale Youth boxing club, a replacement for the facility destroyed in the June 14th 2017 Grenfell fire; the other a community centre and meeting space, to be run by a community operator, not the Westway Trust due to its historic inability to secure the confidence of the local population. The building work and subsequent grand openings were subjects of the BBC prime time programme, DIY SOS. There were serious concerns raised about the BBC’s involvement at Bay 20 including over the light tone of the programmes and the fact that community land was being used to replace a gym lost in an entirely preventable fire. See the links at the end of the article for more.
Bay 20’s close proximity to Grenfell Tower and the fact that it lay unused made it an attractive choice for the BBC to tell a Grenfell-related story.
Who leaked the stories to us?
Our Mr/Ms X said that for legal reasons (Westway Trust has confidentiality agreements with staff and trustees) they could not go on the record with what they called their “summary” of events.
We had no way of verifying X’s credentials, but we checked the information with another person “recently connected with the Trust” and they responded that “this guy is so right!!”
X told us: “I have been connected with the Westway Trust for a number of years, I was appalled by Angela McConville the last CEO of the Trust and further appalled, that when she left she was given a glowing endorsement by Alan Brown (Westway Trust Chair) and a hefty chunk of her bonus – allegedly £12k.”
There is more background on Angela McConville’s time at Westway Trust here.
X presented us with some allegations against the Westway Trust:
The Trust conducted a CEO appointment process that was deliberately closed and “directly connected” to sealing a deal with the BBC for Bay 20
Of the two members of the four-person Westway Trust Executive Team who argued for an open CEO appointment process, one left with immediate effect while the other was being “performance managed” out at the time of the leak. The other two executive members are now the joint CEOs
The BBC wanted maximum value for its ‘Grenfell special’ and so made two programmes rather than the usual one, leading to a halving of the potential space used for the new community centre
X told us:
“Many hoped both inside and outside of WT that there would be a chance of a new approach, fresh ideas and a fresh beginning (a promised CEO selection with an open process at last December’s (2017’s) AGM – this promise was recorded by Westway 23) – Many were completely devastated to understand very recently that the WT chair and board, with the aid of the interim CEOs, had decided to undertake a “closed and secret internal process” to appoint (from interim role to permanent) as joint CEOs.”
The joint CEOs appointed in 2018 were Mark Lockhart and Alex Russell.,
X: “Mark Lockhart (at WT for 25 years), was involved from one bad administration to the next. Alex Russell – who Angela McConville recruited and personally mentored – is from a professional private sector Communications Consultancy and was hired to gain the upper hand in the comms war (as Angela saw it) with the Community.
“The Westway Trust Chair and the Westway Board (not including the community trustee who completed her resignation in protest at such a closed process) decided against the promised “Open and Inclusive Process” of CEO appointment, and instead decided to pursue a closed campaign to appoint long serving Mark Lockhart (who knows where the bodies are buried!) and Alex Russell. They are both seen as a safe pair of hands who will not make any radical changes at the Trust.
“Post Grenfell and with the BBC DIY/SOS sniffing around the area for a Grenfell branded project, the BBC proposition for Bay 20 was seen by the two interim CEO’s as a “gold-plated opportunity” to make their role’s permanent (within a closed system of appointment and with an absence of competition), by rapidly developing a site that had remained dormant for some 47 years. Thereby impressing their paymasters and appointers on the Board and giving Alan Brown an immediate good news story – much needed after his glowing endorsement of Angela McConville’s tenure.
“The interim CEOs seized upon the BBC need for the DIY/SOS light entertainment show and threw their full energy behind the Bay 20 project, diverting WT resources to make it happen, they wanted success and to impress at all costs…to show the Board that they could deliver a development (any development) and that’s why there was no community consultation.
“Unfortunately, this ambition was at all costs, they conceded on point after point to the BBC and encouraged the BBC to stick with the project despite very mixed community sentiment, they ploughed on, not listening to the displeasure of their own staff and the doubts of other stakeholders – that this project was not representative of the Community, was in bad taste and could be seen as exploitative of the Grenfell disaster. They sold out the land (and community) in a heartbeat (for their own self-promotion), land that had been left unused and wasted by the Trust for the last 47 years.”
X: “There were four members of the Trust Executive Team, including the two current CEOs, the other two Executive Directors advocated strongly for an open process. One has now left (by immediate agreement), the second one is currently being performance managed out the door…”
X: “The BBC wanted to get their money’s worth and make “two (DIY SOS) programmes,” the interim CEOs gave them two buildings – one for each programme. That explains the curious design – two buildings with a big road through the middle which serves no purpose but to make two TV programmes for DIY SOS. No matter that the one third of the site is not developed and could have been used to “double the size of the Community Room building” (does this really make best use of a charity asset?) – the BBC demanded, and the Trust CEOs willingly gave, to keep them from walking away. This would be Mark Lockhart and Alex Russell’s crowning project, one that would surely confirm their permanent CEO appointment and keep the process closed to competition and safeguard the Trust from change.
“The CEOs also willingly signed-off all the building contract “defects liability” clauses to allow Galliard Homes (the builder) to leave them completely free of any responsibility on putting right defects over the first year of operation despite knowing that the building was being thrown-up in double quick time. Galliard Homes now have no liability to come back and put defects right! Defects will be paid for out of the Trust’s coffers – No matter! – continue building…’we need to impress.’
“The builders built the overhang too low – no matter – let’s build round it on Maxilla Gardens – screw the environment to build over some of the grass on Maxilla Garden. No consultation or community publicity for this additional planning submission…”
X ‘s Summary
X gave his/her summary: “This is a very sad story…leaving the Community unconsulted and exploited again! And the Grenfell legacy “exploited” to serve an ambition of becoming a CEO of the Westway Trust – it’s ironic that for 47 years Bay 20 remained a wasted asset, despite community representations and then when it really suited those in power it was all hastily made to happen!
“It is a clear example of how secrecy and one bad decision leads to another and another….
“BUT it worked! The Westway Trust Board and Chair now has two new permanent CEOs appointed in a closed process and in the most terrible fashion.
“This is all terrible, however there is a bigger story of how a ‘closed CEO process’ gives rise to many a bad decision, concealment of the Truth and was actually a “key driver” of WT getting into bed so quickly with the BBC DIY SOS, concealing bad decisions and arriving with the peculiar, inefficient design of two buildings and the curious internal road that takes up a third of the site…..very wasteful”.
Westway Trust Response
Charles Howgego, spokesman for the Westway Trust responded to X’s claims:
On the allegation that the Trust conducted a CEO appointment process that was deliberately closed and “directly connected” to sealing a deal with the BBC for Bay 20:
“This was not the case… there was never any discussion about how the BBC project would impact the making of those appointments…the Board of Trustees would never make an appointment based on one project such as the BBC build, a project with no guarantees until it was built particularly given the voluntary basis on which people involved were working.
“During this time Mark and Alex also impressed the board with the strategy they put forward of community first, of openness and responsiveness, and it was felt that was what the Trust needed to mend relationships with some parts of the community, and to create an organisation that works with and for the community – an approach that has seen some notable developments already:
The commissioning of Tutu Foundation’s institutional racism review
The establishment of the Charity Purposes Community to oversee community benefit in our projects
Change in approach to property development making it more community-determined
A new staff council to democratise decision-making
A new Equalities Working Group and a new focus on equality and diversity training
Establishing a steering group of local people to run the Bay 20 community centre (who will shortly appoint a local operator)
All grant making now devolved to local people”.
On the claim that the the two non-CEO members of the four-person Westway Trust Executive Team who argued for an open CEO appointment process left because of the CEO recruitment process:
“It is true one member of the executive team felt disappointed by the Board’s decision and resigned a month after. It is absolutely not the case that another person was being performance managed – that second member of the executive team left the organisation when roles were reorganised around current activities and the new strategy, and they declined to take on one of the new positions created.”
On the BBC’s making of two ‘Grenfell special’ allegedly ‘halving’ the space used for the new community centre:
“The BBC approached us with proposals for building a boxing gym and a community centre. There was never a proposal on the table to build one big community centre that was then halved.
“The BBC approached the Trust in September 2017 and we engaged with the community throughout November. The BBC wanted to move at a faster pace than we would have liked but it was decided that a community-run community space and a new home for Dale Youth Boxing Club would be an amazing opportunity”.
The Westway Trust told us: “The Board has sanctioned a programme of profound change in the Trust’s approach to its work, which is an ongoing process. The Trust’s constitution is being reviewed next year as part of this new approach and will create further change.
“The Trust has been accused of a lack of transparency and this has been a key driver in the changes undertaken by the new leadership team. Openness is now one of the Trust’s operating values and it is encumbent on all Trust staff to be open, to engage and consult wherever possible”.
Links to Previous Westway Trust and Bay 20 Stories