Council ‘misled’ tenants over cladding removal decision

Tenants at a Leytonstone estate say the council implied the London Fire Brigade (LFB) had ordered the removal of external insulation. The LFB has however clarified that it did not issue a directive, reports Marco Marcelline

The Montague Road Estate in Leytonstone has been beset by construction works for years

Tenants at a Leytonstone estate have accused the council of “misleading” them about the removal of external combustible cladding.

On 6th February, the council wrote to residents of the Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers to announce that cladding insulation will be removed from the estate “following” the results of an inspection by the London Fire Brigade (LFB).

However, the LFB’s fire inspection notice in November 2023 does not order the removal of the insulation. It instead “strongly” recommends the council to consider the presence of combustible facade cladding as part of a risk assessment for the towers.

In an email seen by the Echo, an LFB official tells residents that “[Waltham Forest] is aware that we didn’t direct the removal of the cladding”.

Work to remove the insulation began in mid-March, but its replacement is yet to be confirmed, with the council insisting in a letter to residents that a newly-installed heating system is enough to ward off the cold.

A fire risk assessment by the council’s consultants S3 Environmental recommends that cladding should be “replaced” and not simply removed, and that this should be completed in the “long term” and not immediately.

The residents and tenants association (TRA) told the Echo that the cladding’s removal would lead to “colder, damper” flats and “bigger fuel bills”.

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In 2019 the council began an as-yet unfinished refurbishment and safety works programme that has cost at least £10million.

Last July, council staff told residents of plans to rebuild the towers to create “circa 450-500 new homes”. But in February these plans were put on indefinite hold due to a “challenging economic climate”.

Peter O’Kane, a housing activist and campaigner, said the council’s actions had led residents to conclude it was “deliberately running down the towers until living conditions are so bad that they get fed up and demand to leave”.

He questioned the council’s motivations for removing cladding despite the lack of an LFB directive to do so. “Tenants are genuinely puzzled as well as alarmed. Why is the council doing this? They have had to endure the quality of their flats and home environment often badly degraded by poor quality project works. They have had to live for years on a poorly managed building site.”

Cabinet member for housing Ahsan Khan promised that residents will not be charged for any extra communal heating cost stemming from the insulation removal.

In a statement that does not acknowledge the tenants’ claims of being misled, he said: “The council is taking the action needed to comply with all the LFB’s recommendations regarding the fire safety works required at the towers. We want to minimise the risk to residents and to do this have taken the decision to remove the combustible external wall insulation from both blocks.”

Cllr Khan added that the cladding removal meant the council would no longer need 24 hour waking watch wardens, thus saving “a considerable amount of money”.

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