Search This Blog

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Stripping Cladding from Elizabeth House in Brent

Media reports have claimed that cladding will be stripped from Elizabeth House in Wembley.  The Housing Association in charge, Octavia House, does not seem to support this.  In a press release yesterday Octavia stresses that Elizabeth House has been approved as safe.

With so many people worried, it is important not to misinform.

Brent now has a site for updates on housing and fire risk here.

Fall Out from Grenfell Tower

The Grenfell Tower fire looks as if it is going to become a major crisis, with several stages still to go.  The first stage affected blocks which had a similar cladding to the one in Kensington.  There seem to be few of those around which may be another indication that Kensington has not managed its housing well.

The DCLG then called for samples of the outer skin of the cladding (not the insulation, which is the bulk of it.  In particular DCLG was concerned about Aluminium Composite Material (ACM), which is two thin aluminium sheets with a filler in the middle.  I understand that most and perhaps all of these are failing a combustibility test.  This is leading to it being taken off a number of buildings.  If it turns out that a lot of buildings have this material there may be a real bottleneck in supplies of alternative cladding leading to delays in recladding and probably much higher prices for cladding.

Meanwhile, the Chalcots estate in Camden is being evacuated.  From the reports, it is not clear whether that is because of the cladding or not.  However, if this kind of evacuation becomes widespread it will lead to a crisis in temporary accommodation as demand outstrips supply.

At present the problem has had most publicity in Council Housing, but I assume Housing Associations and the private sector are carrying out similar checks.  Given that ACM has been a standard material for a decade, there may well be a number of buildings here and elsewhere that may be regarded as risky.

In a sense, this crisis can be seen as positive.  If the residents of the Chalcot estate were at risk, at least that is now being dealt with before disaster strikes, but it looks like a huge problem.

UPDATE

Media reports now cite Brent as one of the authorities where the wrong type of cladding has been found.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Income Generation and Libraries

The Libraries Task force has been looking at income generation for libraries.  This should be of great interest to Brent, as Willesden Library was intended to run as a self funding building.  Incidentally, one of the people quoted is none other than Sue McKenzie, the former head of Brent Libraries.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Preston Library Redevelopment

Brent Council's plans to redevelop the former Preston Library site for housing appear to be proceeding.  Consultation on the proposal closed back in early May just as the General Election began, so I imagine it will be coming back to the Council Cabinet before very long.

The consultation mentions the Council's obligation to achieve best value.  As I have pointed out before, this is made a bit more complicated by ACV status.  Everyone concerned would be much better served if they just faced up to these issues honestly

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Grenfell Tower and Brent Council

There still appears to be a lot of contradictory information going about in the wake of the Grenfell fire, such as whether the non fire retardant cladding is banned on UK buildings or not.  Brent Council appears not to be immune from this confusion, telling the Guardian in a story just after midnight last night that it was "were unable to say if they had carried out any inspections or even how many tower blocks they had," whilst telling the Kilburn Times three days before that checks were under way. 

This kind of contradiction will not put people's minds at rest.

I also notice that Brent Council is sticking to a line that the cladding used in Brent tower blocks is "compliant" with UK building regulations.  Until Philip Hammond's comments this morning I thought "compliant" meant that they could be made partly of plastic unlike tall buildings in Germany and the USA.  Brent Council really needs to get its messaging more together if it it is not going to make things worse.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Brent Council and Community Asset Privatisation

Whilst I was pre-occupied with the election campaign it seems Brent Council has changed its Community Asset Transfer policy, from being broadly in favour of transfers to reverting to its more established practice of putting things out to market.  I am more comfortable with new (and older) approach.

However well intentioned, transferring assets to groups at below market rates always looks dangerously close to favouritism and patronage.  There are far more potentially deserving groups out there than can possibly benefit from this form of largesse.  On what basis does the Council decide who to support?  There is also an automatic possibility that any decision to favour a particular group can be seen as bias towards a particular ethnicity, religion, area and so on. 

Far better to apply the same rules to everyone equally.

It does, however, leave potential for considerable embarrassment for politicians who appear to have made promises they can't keep to particular groups.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Brent Energy Business Plan

An area I had rather lost sight of during the General Election is Brent's energy plans.  There is now a steering group to help develop energy projects in the Borough, which is meeting tonight.  The group appears to be officer led and technocratic, which is a pity, but at least the Borough is taking the potential of the area seriously.

To some extent is rolls up long standing schemes for district heating into a new framework, but it also looks like it might take a much broader approach than hitherto. Hopefully, this will have a significant effect on carbon emissions, although I imagine revenue is a powerful motivator.

More detail can be found in the Energy Business Plan.