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Thursday, 22 June 2017



Dear Members,

A journalist has approached the Kensington Society with the specific interest in “a tale of two cities” – two Kensingtons.  I asked our president, Nick Ross, if he could respond.  Please see below his reply:

Amanda tells me you wanted to do a story on a divided community in Kensington, and perhaps one about fire safety.

On the first, though I know editors generally aren’t keen on nuance, a warning about clichés. There aren’t two communities in Kensington; there are many, and sometimes few in the sense that neighbours might not know each other well. It’s true there are very big wealth disparities in close geographical proximity, with Kensington and Chelsea having some of the most expensive housing in Britain, though arguably that’s better than having rich boroughs separated from poor ones. It’s also true there is a general wealth gap between the north and the south of the borough, although there is social housing mixed with private housing in every ward. It’s not true to say than only poor people live in high rise, or that the Grenfell tragedy was caused because of the wealth gap. Flats are on sale in Campden Hill Towers, one of the tallest blocks in the borough, at over £1m for little more than 800 sq feet - and that tower block doesn’t have sprinklers either.

What’s more Labour councillors and Labour ministers have been as slow about updating fire regulations, and as resistant to requiring sprinklers, as Conservative ones. I’ve been to see three ministers over the past thirteen years, urging the compulsory fitting of sprinklers in all social housing, and the Labour ones were as dismissive as the Tories. It’s true Kensington and Chelsea were like rabbits in headlights when the catastrophe unfolded, but I suspect most other boroughs, run by any or all political parties, are just as bad about contingency planning for this sort of thing. It’s true RBKC have huge financial reserves, and it’s questionable whether that’s a sensible policy given there is so much deprivation in the borough, but it’s also true that the decisions on how to upgrade Grenfell were taken by a committee with a big majority of tenants and independent members.

So it would be good if you could avoid oversimplifications.

The disgrace about Grenfell is actually complicated. While I and many fire chiefs have been passionate about sprinklers and are angry about what has happened – and you may have seen from Monday’s Panorama the specific warnings given to ministers by the All Party group, as I did to the Local Government Association in 2013 – nevertheless some other fire experts were half-hearted and wondered, given that fire deaths were declining for many years, whether it was worth the investment. Chief fire and rescue advisers to successive governments neither pressed hard for updating building regulations or for fitting sprinklers at least on the most vulnerable housing, and nor did they resign over what I saw as safety lapses. They were all good people, all trying to balance risk against expenditure. I disagreed with them and I think they gave bad advice, but they were not evil and they should not be cast as villains.

The task now is to make sure this never happens again. You could help by pressing the case for sprinklers, especially in social housing where there is often multi-occupation, where people tend not to afford the most up to date electrical equipment, and more residents tend to smoke more. We also need them in care homes, hospitals and schools – in fact everywhere where people rely on someone else for their own safety. Most of the 300 or so who die from fire each year do so in low-rise, so let’s not get fixated on tower block, cladding or ventilation systems, important as they are. No one has ever died in a home protected by a sprinkler. They’re cheap, at around £1,200 to £2,000 per dwelling, around the same as fitted carpets. In around 95% of cases they control the fire before the fire brigade arrives, only one sprinkler head triggers at a time as needed, they cause far less water damage, and they almost never go wrong. At Grenfell they would have put the fire out before it spread, and even if flames got unnoticed to the cladding, sprinklers would have stopped it gaining a foothold in other flats and would have washed the smoke from stairways and kept the temperatures down.

The real story is not one about a divided community but about how, with fire safety, it always takes a tragedy to get us all to act: north, south, rich, poor, left and right.

All good wishes.
Nick Ross, President
The Kensington Society


  1. Tale of them and us.

    Residents v. Council

    Now the residents have the upper hand

    1. Angry Resident23 June 2017 at 11:29

      Councillors who seek the glory of public office and enjoy the trappings of privilege and pomp, have to resign when they publicly fail to perform and bring the Royal Borough into disrepute. The whole Cabinet should resign following the Grenfell Tower fire.

  2. I think two cities meant this sort of thing...
    Some heartless people in the borough.

  3. I Hate Back Scratchers23 June 2017 at 07:36

    A mature comment from Nick Ross except for one important point. He goes soft on the Council.

    "but I suspect most other boroughs, run by any or all political parties, are just as bad about contingency planning for this sort of thing".

    79 people died from the terror and pain of fire in a high rise due to negligence. Hundreds more wandered around for days without support or comfort due to the incompetence of the Council. So much so that the Government stepped in and appointed neighbouring Councils to handle the crisis and Hornton Street was sidelined. Taken out of the loop. This is a resigning matter for the whole Cabinet. The Borough needs a fresh start under new Leadership.

    The Kensington Society loves friends in high places. The trustees love to schmooze. Following the intense criticism of the Council Leadership, Nick Ross saw a chance to creep.

    Shame on him. Modern day Uriah Heep.

    1. Fly On The Wall26 June 2017 at 08:46

      Of course the Kensington Society will take every opportunity to suck up to the Council. Every year they hold their AGM and sherry reception, gratis, in the Mayor's Parlour at the Kensington Town Hall. Drinks served by the Town Hall flunkys. Lots of shoulder rubbing with the in crowd.

      "Pro Bono", as disgraced ex Leader Cllr Cockle used to say.

  4. What about the repeated dismissal of tennant's concerns as per ?
    And what of the asbestos, cyanide so much more ...

  5. Retired Chief Executive23 June 2017 at 09:03

    Mr Ross is right that it is difficult to do contingency planning for specific and rare events. But Local Councils possess the resources of manpower, money and technology that are the raw materials of emergency response. And they have the ability to call on specialist operations (eg Fire Brigade, Red Cross, Hospitals) where necessary. The single most important ingredient to trigger this response is Leadership.

    In my experience, situations like Grenfell either produce a magnificent response and often personal careers are made. Or the response is hopeless. This is usually because an organisation has little or no Leadership and concentrates on writing memos.

    It is pertinent that the Council website today, on the front page, has a prominent and detailed feature entitled "Support for people affected". And goes on to provide telephone numbers and advice for pet support, bereavement support, updates etc. This is damning. Our Council still does not seem to understand that what is most useful is visible Leaders on the ground responding to what they find and directing resources. How many of those affected have a computer to access the Council website? And how many even know that a Council website exists? Maybe none.

    After events like Grenfell Tower, we find out about organisations. When the failure is on the current scale, then the right thing is for the whole Cabinet to resign and start afresh. There must be about a dozen peole in the current Cabinet. Not a single Leader has emerged.

    1. Many things have cropped up from the Grenfell tragedy one is that the staff have been cut at Horton street, which appears to be across all departments. Calls are being taken by those on switchboard from their own homes.

      Grenfell has shown how Boris Johnson as Mayor oversaw cuts to firemen wasting money on water canon, rather than getting essential equipment for the services. On top of that BoJo Sold of Police Stations and took away London's railings for scrap which helped in the attacks on the bridges.

      Though austerity has played a part in many aspects of peoples' lives it cannot be blamed for Grenfell tower fire. The blame is on the council who have safety regulations to follow but thought something like this would never happen.

      What has been highlighted is that penny pinching for emergency services and council does not work, that cutting jobs looks good on the balance sheet it does not work in effect.

      Lets sell the Rolls'!

    2. @14:21 and everyone better wake up now!
      In this crazy upside down world, those that are supposed to house homeless people make people homeless. Things like H&S, things that supposed to protect people actually create danger. I am certain, all the readers here don't belong to the 1%. The 1% don't care if you lived or not. Better wake up to it.

  6. Nick's statement is itself a massive oversimplification.

    He is far too lenient on the Council, who failed in their duty to residents in a truly spectacular manner. Others can no doubt go on about that at length, so I won't. Suffice is to say - they failed, the leadership is poor, many of the Councillors completely useless, the response was slow and inefficient, that other boroughs - and particularly a neighbouring Labour borough - had to step in should cause them all to hang their heads in shame, but it appears they does really care.

    And it's full of basic factual errors. There isn't a significant amount of social housing in every ward. Social housing is concentrated in the north and particular areas of the south. The middle of the borough is devoid of significant amounts of social housing. I suggest he take the time to look at the relevant section of the last census. What he'd see: lots in W11 and W10, some in SW10, bit less in SW3 and SW5, virtually none in W8. A far from even distribution of social housing. Nick needs to actually look, rather than assume.

    He also appears to have no real experience of what it is like to live in the Council's social housing beyond the most superficial knowledge of "what it must be like". He should do himself a favour and actually talk to the people living there. There are plenty of Residents Associations he could talk to if he can't manage to speak to individual residents.

    He has no appreciate of how the Council was actually managing it's homes. No, decisions aren't taken by "a committee with a majority of tenants and independent members" because the TMO Board is dysfunctional as has been reported on this blog since day one. I suggest he read some of those articles and comments before pontificating on the ability of "a committee with a majority of tenants and independent members" to make any decisions, let alone decisions over the refurbishment of a block in a part of the borough that the Council is intent of gentrifying come what may, even if it involves shafting all its tenants and leaseholders in the process.

    Nick paints a nice picture - it's not as bad as it seems. Bollocks to that! It is. He should get out more.

    And the Kensington Society should admit to itself that it fails represent much of Kensington. Just look at the composition of its own management committee and it's membership. They're not exactly overflowing with representation from those living in social housing is it? How often does it comment on anything taking place in the furthers corners of north Kensington rather than Kensington High Street or Notting Hill Gate? Does it consider much of North Kensington to be Kensington at all?

    [For completeness the Chelsea Society suffers from the same problem; despite all the recent noise about Crossrail and the like for most of the society Chelsea is just SW3, and nothing west of Beaufort Street does not appear to exist.]

    1. Campden resident23 June 2017 at 11:32

      The comparison with Campden Hill Towers by Mr Ross is ridiculous. There are multiple escape routes, there is no combustible cladding,fire safety measures are in operation, and the estate is well managed. This is the first line of defense against fire - not sprinklers.

    2. Exactly.

      By far the biggest complaint most TMO tenants and leaseholders have with the TMO is their complete inability to manage and maintain the buildings properly.

      Yes, Grenfell Tower had been covered in flammable cladding (for which many heads should most definitely roll) but odds are that many of the other fire safety measures that should have been in place - fire doors, emergency lights, etc. - probably weren't there or weren't effective due to a lack of proper care and maintenance of the building. And that is by far the biggest difference between a private high rise development and those owned by the Council and managed by the TMO.

      And given the many, many hundreds if not thousands of complaints made to both the Council and TMO about such issues over the years they simply cannot be allowed to plead ignorance.

    3. Unfortunately, Grenfell Tower residents complained (quite rightly so!) and they were bullied and safety measures such as horizontal and vertical fire blocks removed! Every step of the way, safety measures were breached.

  7. Angry Resident23 June 2017 at 11:26

    The Kensington Society is suffering from a cancer that needs to be cut out. Of late, there is too much priority on being important and sucking up to VIPs. For example, trying to excuse the Council Leadership after Grenfell. Voting with developers rather than residents over the proposed skyscraper in Nottinghill Gate. Quietly championing the huge Kensington Palace basement in the public park - where the KS patron (The Duke of Gloucester) happens to live......

    The Society is losing its way and needs to read its own Charter.

  8. Could there be a sinister mastermind behind the offer of 68 flats in Kensington? According to Independent, the flats are bought by the City of London Corporation and not by RBKC. Although the location is still in RBKC, could it be possible that the residents be subjected to the law of City of London Corporation which is like a country of its own? If so, this could be the end of the residents to be able to voice their concern about anything.

    1. That article has it spot on. The development was always going to have some social housing on site as part of the development's section 106 but as is the norm these days would have been handed over to a housing association to manage upon completion rather than form part of the Council's housing stock (to be managed by the TMO). Depending on the housing association this might be good or bad (believe it or not some housing associations are even more inept than the TMO; which is some feat!).

      The role of the City of London Corporation is unclear. They do already provide social housing within the City of London and so are probably as good a choice as any. Why they were chosen instead of another social housing provider with an existing presence in the borough is a mystery. Perhaps they're the only ones willing to cough up the money to get those flats ready for occupation ASAP? I would certainly not assume anything nefarious. And the City of London Corporation may well turn out to be a far better landlord than RBK&C.

    2. Victims will be given short-hold instead of assured tenancy agreement, won't they?

    3. This Agreement between RBKC and the developers show that, way back in May 2014, 58 units were already earmarked for social housing:

      It also answers some other questions about rents and tenancies, although that may be fudged subsequently.

    4. 16:49. Probably depends on who their landlord turns out to be - i.e. a housing association or a local authority.

  9. If you have participated in rubbish talk in the'd like this.


    It is official. Preliminary investigations confirm that the Fire at Grenfell Tower was caused by a faulty fridge freezer in one flat and that the fire spread to kill 78 people courtesy of the cladding specified by the Kensington and Chelsea TMO.

    Myers had Martyn Kingsford's resignation for much less.

    Why is Robert Black still in post? The buck stops with him.

    Why is Peter Maddison still in post when he did not report dangerous cladding or insist on its removal from the Tower - leading to the deaths of 78 people?

    Why is the Council allowing the incompetent TMO, (and let's face it it is incompetent) to manage 9, 000 homes?

    How can the Council be confident that there will not be more fatalities in other TMO managed properties.?

    1. The Council can't be confident. Not at all.

      In fact if they'd bothered to have a quick look through their inboxes, flush with complaints about the TMO, they shouldn't be able to sleep, let alone be confident!

    2. Psychopaths have no feelings or empathy, of course they sleep ok. They are always right no matter what.

  11. @16:18 Because, at the end of the day, the council has signed up to Agenda 21/2030 which means that the social cleansing, gentrification is a must. London wants 400K people (from social housing) out of the capital.

    I'd say, bring back fire extingisher on every floor and install sprinklers in the corridors for the time being. No more stupid idea like installing unboxed gas pipes in the only fire exits residents have.

    1. It is said here.
      "Vanishing act
      Research has shown that this type of redevelopment often destroys communities, displaces families and could one day ensure that working-class communities all but disappear from the capital."

  12. Hotpoint has been chosen as the scapegoat and all fingers point at them while other suspects sip their champagne. They are never wrong, are they? Friends in high places and all that.

  13. 17.07. The TMO would always blame someone else. Blame the faulty appliance and the resident who had that appliance; not the deathtrap cladding.

    A few years ago, I discovered a fire in a bin room in Elm Park Gardens. I called the fire brigade and the fire was extinguished. Black smoke had gone up the chute chamber of 93 Elm Park Gardens, just like a chimney. I wrote to the TMO to report the incident suggesting that the TMO should write to everyone living at 93 Elm Park Gardens pointing out the danger of putting smoking materials and naked flames in to the rubbish chute. When the TMO did not act in accordance with reasonable expectations, by writing pronto to the residents concerned, I made a complaint.

    Would you believe that the TMO had the effrontery to dispute my version of events by manipulating facts to distort the truth and show the TMO in the best possible light? A Freedom of Information Act request later revealed that the TMO had no evidence to dispute what I was saying from the Fire Brigade or any other competent authority. After all I was the only person there apart from the outstanding Firefighters who turned up to put the fire out.

    I complained to a Labour Councillor about the TMO disputing my version of events without any evidence to do so. This Councillor would not accept that a TMO Official had "clearly lied" by arguing the toss about what I was saying. However, by implication, I was being called a liar by the TMO. If only the Councillor concerned had the foresight to see what letting the TMO off the hook can lead to.

    16.55 What on earth did they think they were doing by not having sprinklers, fire alarms and fire extinguishers?

    I think the public enquiry should hear about the TMO's attitude to the fire that I reported.

    Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I should proceed?

    1. Any dealings with TMO, must be recorded e.g. video, photo, letters (recorded or hand deliver and request a receipt of it). If you are lucky that postman delivered your letter to TMO office, TMO will loose it internally. The staff have no concerns what so ever. The fire safety procedure letter that was distributed to tower block residents AFTER the fire. The TMO LINK magainze, board members...they are all decorations as if TMO is a credible, responsible management company. Disgraceful!...really what I mean is Kiss my a$$.

      btw, they've removed fire extinguishers years back. I take it they didn't want to maintain it....cost must be great! But...they have millions in profit (40 million in expense, 55 million income 2016).

    2. Well said shane Carter, good to see you! Call the newspaper of your choice, give them the information pronto.

    3. 18.29 and 18.19. The "dealings" with the TMO and Councillor were by email.

    4. Excellent 19:11- you must make the information known

    5. Don't worry the London Fire Brigade will have details of the fire that Shane reported.

    6. I think 18:19 has an important piece of information to demonstrate how TMO consistantly failed to safeguard its residents, not just Grenfell but other estates too. The more these stuff comes out, TMO cannot say it was a one-off oversight.

  14. I found Nick's article empty on detail, without any understanding of how RBKC and KCTMO operate a cartel.

    It suits the wealthy of RBKC to house their migrant household staff and workers in council blocks throughout the Borough and the rest of London.

    1. I bet he's a mouth piece i.e. empty words.

  15. Look how Camden Council is acting. 161 households evacuated.

  16. How you are railroaded in public meetings.
    Learn about Delphi Technique

    1. How to resist Delphi Technique (to shut you what happened to Grenfell residents)

    2. Think of TMO AGM...
      How many of this list ticks?! Now you know.

      Resisting Delphi technique

    3. We shouldn't have to put up with an AGM. The Council should unilaterally terminate the management agreement with the TMO. The TMO will be dead in the water. A sorry chapter in the borough's history will finally come to an end.

    4. 23.38. I agree. The TMO "should be dead in the water." A sorry chapter in the Council's history.

  17. On what basis can Ross write the following?: "in social housing where there is often multi-occupation, where people tend not to afford the most up to date electrical equipment, and more residents tend to smoke more". How does he know there are more smokers amongst social housing tenants than private home owners? Has there been a scientific study or is this just a lazy and opportunistic piece of writing? Although he is billed as the President of the Kensington Society, looks like Nick doesn't even live in the Royal Borough:

    1. Who gives a damn what this fop thinks about anything? Who gives a damn what the Kensington Society (who they?) think about anything?

      This old boysngirls club nonsense is sadly inevitable but could we not curb it? I mean, just for the sake of reducing the cringeworthiness of it?

      Who approached the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation to manage the donations resulting from the Grenfell fire? They couldn't cope with it, the webpage melted, of course. Who are these worthies that believe they are entitled to rule whilst being demonstrably incompetent? "Going For Lunch With Interesting Contacts" is not the purpose of any organisation but it is all these polite organisations seem to manage.

      This borough needs to get itself in order PDQ, top down. It was ordinary local people in North Kensington, people most of the rest of Kensington treat with contempt and fear, who have opened their homes and purses in the wake of this tragedy, while our well dressed worthies import themselves, break down, soak up attention and time and bugger off.

      Jump straight to Bugger Off and save us all a lot of time.

  18. What on earth is the Kensington Societ doing writing this trash. They should stick to their job of preserving architecture in Kensington. Instead they see an opportunity to puff and take the public stage. Prats.

    Like Pooter, anything for a bit of publicity.

  19. Another example of the great and the good with their pet, historical projects. Too many Councillors, including Labour in N. Kensington, have been in their jobs far too long. Btw is Emma Dent Coad MP still a Councillor?

  20. When Ross pontificates about sprinklers and says:
    "They’re cheap, at around £1,200 to £2,000 per dwelling, around the same as fitted carpets".

    he is hopelessly in the clouds. Retrofitting a sprinkler system, and making good, to a high rise block of flats would cost £18k, minimum. And who could supply carpet, underlay and fitting for £2k for a two bed flat?

    Ross is speaking for effect - the worst type Kensington dinner party chatter


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