KC-Local News Kensington & Chelsea

Residents Demand Transparency in Lancaster West Estate Refurbishment

  • July 2, 2024
  • 4 min read
Residents Demand Transparency in Lancaster West Estate Refurbishment

Residents of Lancaster West estate near Grenfell Tower are calling for increased transparency and scrutiny over the multi-million-pound refurbishment of their homes. Rising costs and incorrect service charges have eroded trust between the residents and Kensington and Chelsea Council, with some residents even billed for works related to a previous Grenfell anniversary event.

One leaseholder remarked, “These buildings were built in the ‘70s, they look like they were built in the ‘70s. Not much has been done.”

Following the tragic 2017 Grenfell fire that claimed 72 lives, the council committed to refurbishing the Lancaster West estate, initially set for completion by 2020. However, the project has faced numerous delays and escalating costs. The scope of the refurbishment expanded in January 2020 to include energy efficiency improvements, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2030. The first block is now expected to be completed in early 2025.

Walking through the estate today, the ongoing works are evident with scaffolding and visible internal alterations. However, many residents expressed frustration over delays, scope, and costs.

David O’Connell, a leaseholder, explained that he and his partner, who suffers from PTSD due to the fire, are unable to sell their home. The property’s value has dropped, and the option to sell back to the council at market value is no longer available. “We’ve had a lot of disruption,” he said. “But the biggest issue is that it’s still not possible to sell the flat, and now there’s no market at all because the council has stopped buying flats.”

Another leaseholder, Bilal Gommari, criticized the refurbishment works for failing to address longstanding issues, such as single-glazed windows and non-functional door entry systems. He also noted some new works have been poorly executed, further eroding trust in the project. “Seven years on, I’m not saying we should have a brand new, state-of-the-art estate immediately, but when the windows look the same and the door entry systems still don’t work, these are issues that should have been sorted at the start.”

O’Connell and Gommari also highlighted funding concerns. O’Connell mentioned the council is now facing a £100 million shortfall, up from an initial budget of £130 million. Kensington and Chelsea Council acknowledged the impact of inflation and high borrowing costs on the budget but did not recognize a purported new budget of £248 million.

A council spokesperson assured that the refurbishment is “fully underway” and aims to create a “21st-century model estate.” They noted, “The first block is due to be completed in early 2025. We have completed internal refurbishments at 59 percent of properties on the estate and replaced the roofs of four blocks.”

Amid delays and doubts, residents also voiced concerns over rising service charges. Gommari’s bill for 2024/25 is £6,625, up from £3,331 in 2020/21, while O’Connell’s charges increased from £2,130 two years ago to an estimated £2,996. Residents have challenged questionable items in the council’s charges, including poor repairs and costs associated with Grenfell anniversary events. The council has since refunded some of these charges and implemented a new assurance step to prevent future errors.

O’Connell suggested the council’s fear of appearing to give Lancaster West “special treatment” leads to inadequate services. “It’s their fear of what it would cost them to treat people in the right way,” he said, advocating for a pause and independent scrutiny of the refurbishment project.

Leighton Evans, another resident, attributed the issues to incompetence, saying, “They don’t mean bad, they just don’t have a clue what they’re doing and they don’t engage with residents enough to know what we want done and what our priorities are.”

The final report of the Grenfell Inquiry is anticipated in September, which may shed more light on the ongoing challenges faced by Lancaster West residents.

(Source: MyLondon)

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