RBKC fail to learn from Grenfell: A resident’s perspective

The Trellick Tower Development Proposals


RBKC stand accused of failing to listen to residents or heed the lessons of Grenfell.

I have serious questions about RBKC’s committment to learn from Grenfell. In particular, I see little evidence of a change in mind-set regarding the importance of residents’ voices.

Gill Kernick, August 2021
Author of ‘Catastrophe and Systemic Change, Learning from the Grenfell Tower and Other Disasters’

In her forward to the 2019 Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) Local Plan, leader of the council, Elizabeth Campbell maintains that the Council has changed dramatically since the Grenfell Tower Fire. She said:

The Council is genuinely committed to changing the way it works and putting local communities at the heart of everything it does. This means starting with community concerns and ambitions. It is developing new approaches to supporting communities, building local capabilities and co-designing sustainable development with communities. This shift in policy threads through all of the Council’s approach to policy, including planning and housing policy.

Elizabeth Campbell, Leader of RBKC, 2019

After the consultation process for a proposed development of the the Cheltenham Estate, I have serious questions about RBKC’s committment to learning from Grenfell. In particular, I see little evidence of a change in mind-set regarding the importance of residents voices.

  • A local alliance group CoMMET has accused the council of disregarding the views of residents and engaging in a fake consultation process
  • The proposal includes a high-rise building,
    • but the architects, Haworth Tompkins, seemingly have no experience of designing high-rise residential buildings (Updated on 5 September – I have now heard from 2 sources that they do in fact have experience of HRBs).
    • Haworth Tompkins were selected in 2014, and it does not appear as if residents were involved in their selection, nor is it clear how this decision was scrutinised post-Grenfell.
    • no specific conversations have been held about the fire safety of having two high rise buildings in such close proximity
    • I was told by the architects that the proposals have been bought to residents without the fire strategy being completed or consulting the local fire service (the first firefighters at Grenfell) .
The proposal includes a high-rise building, divides the estate and damages the iconic views of Trellick.

The Cheltenham Estate Development

The site is notable for two reasons. It is an important example of brualist artchitecture. With both Edenham and the (in)famous Trellick Tower having Grade II listings.

And, the estate looks onto Grenfell Tower. Many residents watched the fire in 2017 and every day we look onto the white shrouded remains, the green heart reminding us of the devestating consequences of the failure to listen to residents.

The key sticking point

The key sticking point is the inclusion of a high rise building on the site. 

A 2015 SPD adopted by the RBKC that has been ingored in the current proposals.
Extract from the 2015 SPD previously adopted by the council

A 2015 SPD making it clear that building heights should be limited to six storeys, to preserve the architectural heritage of Trellick.

Without any consultation with CoMMET or residents about whether or not to include a high-rise building, the council has pushed ahead with plans to do so, regardless of objections.

At no stage have viable proposals for a development without a high-rise been offered. The current proposal is for 110 units, nearly double the 60 mentioned in the SPD.

There are obviously concerns about life and fire safety given Grenfell and these have not been proactively addressed.

Additionally, a high-rise will cut the estate in half and destroy the views both from and of Trellick. 

A failure to properly consult

On 22nd June 2021, CoMMET, an alliance of local organisations set up specifically to collaborate with RBKC on the proposed development, sent a letter to the deputy leader of the council Cllr. Kim Taylor Smith, that concluded:

Local community group CoMMET accuse the RBKC of failing to listen to concerns and conducting a false consultation.

My husband, Keith Benton is the co-chair of the Trellick Tower Residents Association and a founder member of CoMMET. Since Grenfell he has attempted to collaborate with the RBKC to bring about much needed changes. When he told me that the consultation had broken down I knew we were in trouble.

This was further evidenced when, on the 14th July 2021, the 49 month anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire, I participated in a consultation call with the RBKC and architects. It was the first call since the above letter had been sent and a last ditch attempt to work with the council.

Kim Taylor-Smith, the deputy leader of the Council said that, despite residents strong objections they would be pushing ahead with plans to include a high rise building on the site. This was during a third round of consultations, and would indicate that a decision has already been made.

I left the call physically shaking – with rage, disappointment and disbelief.

The adverserial tone of the meeting reminded me starkly of a consulation about the Grenfell Tower refurbishment I’d attended, back in 2013/2014. Just before we’d left our beautiful apartment on the 21st floor of Grenfell to become leaseholders in Trellick. Of the failure to truly collaborate with residents or provide leadership that builds rather than destroys trust.

My concerns

I am particularly concerned about the selection process and qualifications of of the architects, Haworth Tompkins and the failure to include fire safety discussions during the consultation. These indicate a failure to heed lessons emerging from the Grenfell Inquiry.

My letter to the deputy leader of the council, Kim Taylor Smith, lays these out in detail.

I have yet to receive a response.

Predictions about the political ‘spin’

Based on what I’ve seen and heard to date, my predictions are that the decision to push ahead will be spun as follows:

  • The desperate need for housing. This narrative subtly attemps to ‘silence’ residents concerns by saying we are privileged to have homes. And goes with a subtext that we should be ashamed of ourselves for objecting to such a high density development.
  • We’ve made concessions. The original proposal was for a 20-storey and a 14-storey building and comprised 168 units. This was never presented to residents and I have it on good authority that Kim Taylor-Smith has said they knew these would be unacceptable but included them to ‘see what they could get away with’. The current proposal is for a 14-storey and a 6-storey building and 110 units and this will likely be spun as ‘having listened to residents’.
  • The green space and community facilities included in the current proposal will likely be spun in a similar way. ‘Yes you have a high-rise building you don’t want, but look at the nice gardens and community centre.’
  • You’re using Grenfell to stop the development. I’ve been accused of using Grenfell to stop the development. As someone who witnessed the fire and campaigns for change, this is one of the most distressing narratives I’ve yet to encounter.
Twitter thread with architectural journalist Tim Abrahams
  • We tried to consult with you. The RBKC gave seed funding for CoMMET and will likely use this as evidence that it did consult the community. That this was unsuccessfull will predictably be blamed on the residents and community.

And it is this last point that takes us full circle back to Elisabeth Campbells promise to co-design sustainable development with communities. I engage in a lot of co-design as a consultant and it takes a level of skill and leadership to do succesfully. At it’s heart it involves coming to the table with no pre-determined ideas and ensuring all parties involved have equal power.

More of which in future blogs.

How you can you help

We are calling on the RBKC to go back to the drawing board and work with residents to select an architect and authentically co-design something we will all be proud of and that is a demonstration of what is possible through collaboration

Please sign our petition

https://www.change.org/p/the-royal-borough-of-kensington-chelsea-save-trellick-tower-and-cheltenham-estate-from-cultural-vandals

And follow us on Twitter and Instagram. If you want to participate in our campaign please get hold of us.

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2 Comments »

  1. The people using these arguments (especially that those speaking out against repeating the mistakes of the past because they are freeloaders, ambulance chasers and culturally ignorant) should really take a look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if their architectural education and political roles have poisoned their ability to be rational, empathetic and decent. I am appalled tbh Gill.

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