International property developer Ballymore has met with community groups from Canalside House to address anxieties over what will come next if the historic building is demolished as part of the transformation of the Kensal Gas Works site. While Ballymore has shown willingness to explore ways to maintain and enhance the vital work done at Canalside House, the building’s owner, Kensington & Chelsea Council, has remained conspicuously silent.
In February, we revealed that Kensington & Chelsea Council (RBKC) had struck a secret deal with Ballymore to sell one of North Kensington’s last remaining community hubs, Canalside House. Decided without democratic oversight, consultation with the affected communities or engagement with tenant organisations, the deal, if completed, will fulfil a long-held wish of the council to rid itself of a centre that was built in 1929. Canalside House has been an integral part of North Kensington, hosting a diverse range of events, charities, community groups and businesses, including being the starting point for Innocent Smoothies, a company now worth over £2 billion but still located directly opposite Canalside House on Ladbroke Grove.
In 2017, following the Grenfell Tower fire, RBKC commissioned a publicly-funded review by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny that produced policy recommendations that were adopted by the council and formed the basis of what was, in theory, to be a fundamental change of approach. Underpinning it all were the Twelve Principles of good Governance. The council’s leadership were to be held to account on their adherence to their 12 Principles by RBKC’s Executive and Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee.
During the same period, RBKC attempted to resurrect the plan of its disgraced former deputy-leader, Rock Feilding-Mellen, to sell Canalside House, but were forced into a U-turn by local residents. While Feilding-Mellen’s replacement, Cllr Kim Taylor-Smith then promised to invest in Canalside House, the building was kept in managed decline culminating in the residents being deprived of heat and hot water throughout last Winter. At the same time as refusing to invest in Canalside House, the council did continue to invest in its ‘Change Programme’ at a cost to the public of £2 million a year, including £271,000 allocated to RBKC’s response to the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny review in 2019-20, and just under £200,000 allocated to it in 2020-21. Over half a million pounds had been spent on the Twelve Principles policy by the end of 2020-21.
RBKC & Canalside House
But the investment in the Twelve Principles has amounted to naught. Here are the principles in full:
- “Connecting with Residents”
- “Focusing on What Matters”
- “Listening to Many Voices”
- “Acting with Integrity”
- “Involving Before Deciding”
- “Communicating What We Are Doing”
- “Inviting Residents to Take Part”
- “Being Clearly Accountable”
- “Responding Fairly to Everyone’s Needs”
- “Working as Team”
- “Managing Responsibly”
- “Having the support we need”
RBKC has not bothered to engage meaningfully over Canalside House. Council emails to resident organisations have been vaguely worded, containing no offers to meet and feature almost identical wording despite being some being signed by Kim Taylor-Smith and some by Gary Lisney, RBKC’s Head of Property. The same wording was used by the council’s press department when responding to our article on the secret deal.
RBKC has not honoured a single one of its twelve principles in its dealings with the community over Canalside House, a fact that has passed without democratic scrutiny at the Town Hall.
Last week Ballymore met with a delegation from Canalside House. The developer displayed a willingness to listen and to learn about the work undertaken at the building, how it requires a mixed space offering privacy and storage alongside communal space for classes and events.
Ballymore’s plans include provision of a replacement for Canalside House; a four-storey community building that would remain in public ownership under a 999-year lease. Ballymore are keen to create a green space and a place to engage with local residents on the land currently occupied by Canalside House. This means the building is set to be demolished early in the process and Canalside residents face seven years in temporary accommodation, to be allocated by RBKC. Previously, Ballymore had taken the council at its word that the community groups would be appropriately catered for, even stating “RBKC will work with the charities currently based at Canalside House to relocate them to better, more modern accommodation.”
RBKC has not lived up to this expectation. Aside from the council’s disregard for its own ‘Twelve Principles’ policy, RBKC has actively sought to minimise the number of organisations at Canalside House to reduce their own duty of care when the deal with Ballymore is rubber stamped.
RBKC’s silence on Canalside is deafening. The affected communities still don’t reach the status of an afterthought to a council that vowed “change.” We heard that when Ballymore suggested involving the Canalside organisations in discussions in early 2023, the idea was met with scorn from council officials.
As we prepare to mark the sixth anniversary of the atrocity at Grenfell Tower next week, it is noteworthy that a council that vowed that it would learn its lessons and “change” now lags far behind a foreign property developer when it comes to working with and serving the interests of the people of North Kensington.
by Tom Charles @tomhcharles