Greenwich councillors escape questioning over New Capital Quay fire risk and housing issues

New Capital Quay
New Capital Quay has similar cladding to that used in Grenfell Tower

Wednesday night at the council: Residents at the New Capital Quay development, which is covered in flammable cladding, were denied the chance to quiz Greenwich councillors about the issue at last week’s council meeting.

Snowy and icy conditions led to the cancellation of most of Greenwich Council’s full meeting last week, meaning all parts of the event that involved the public were withdrawn.

This meant a number of issues went without further scrutiny – including New Capital Quay, the amount of “affordable” housing in the borough, and various questions about issues around Plumstead, where hacked-off residents have started their own political party.

The decision was taken to ensure people didn’t have to venture out in the snow and ice, although the following night, with Storm Emma approaching, the conditions didn’t prevent Greenwich cabinet members enjoying a night out at the re-opening of Woolwich Public Market…

It’d be a shame to think some of these issues wouldn’t get noticed, so here are some of the issues that were kicked into the snow last Wednesday.

Fear for your life? Never mind, we’ll hear from you next month

Residents can put issues to the council in three ways: a public question (you get two per month), a petition, or a deputation – where you can address the council on a topic.

Residents of New Capital Quay, where the developer and its insurers are squabbling over who pays the multi-million pound cost of making their homes safe, feel Greenwich Council could do more, such as forcing the issue by declaring the buildings unsafe.

They’ve had great assistance from local MP Matt Pennycook, who has spoken twice in the House of Commons on the issue, and is lining up to do it again on Tuesday. But getting a hearing in Woolwich Town Hall proved harder.

Residents wanted to address the council – but despite the urgency of the issue, their deputation was postponed because of the snow. Probably not a good look when the local MP says the government isn’t giving the issue the priority it deserves.

They did get a couple of written questions in, though. In a written answer, council leader Denise Hyland said: “The council fully appreciates that the immediate safety of residents is causing concern, however the lead agency and experts in this area, the London Fire Brigade, assures the council that the buildings remain safe to live in.

“If the LFB inform the council that fire safety measures are inadequate and the residents are at an unacceptable level of risk then the LFB or the council will move towards formal enforcement action.

“The council considers that the building owner should remove the cladding as soon as possible and not rely long-term upon interim measures such as waking watch. The Council continues to seek details from the building owners about their intentions and understand that there are on-going discussions between the freeholder and the [insurer] NHBC which may indicate who will pay for the replacement and therefore the timescale.”

Residents are content to wait until March’s meeting to have their say – but allowing the deputation to take place would have shown the council was taking the New Capital Quay crisis seriously.

How many council homes have been lost in Woolwich? We’re not saying

Trinity Walk, Woolwich
Trinity Walk is now replacing Woolwich’s old Connaught Estate

Meanwhile, Hyland’s deputy Danny Thorpe was able to completely evade answering one question from Eileen Glover, a former Conservative councillor who still regularly asks questions at meetings.

If nothing else, his response proves the impossibility of getting a straight answer on the redevelopment of the Connaught Estate, Morris Walk and Maryon Road estates.

Glover asked: “How many council properties will be lost and how many replaced in the Regeneration programme of the Woolwich Estates?”

Thorpe’s non-response: “The Woolwich Estates programme involves the demolition of 1064 properties.

“The number of new properties will be in excess of 1500 with the final figure being determined when the reserved matters planning applications for Morris Walk and Maryon Grove are submitted.”

If you ever wondered why the more engaged residents of Greenwich borough felt ignored and patronised by their council, that answer should remove any doubts you had.

No, we won’t answer any questions about Meridian Home Start either

Much of Greenwich’s “affordable” housing has been outsourced to Meridian Home Start – which started life as a council subsidiary but is now, officially, an independent company, albeit one that is in line to be given huge amounts of council land and million pounds in council loans. The council even collects rent from its tenants.

This didn’t stop Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland tweeting about a scheme where Meridian Home Start residents can save for a home deposit and get each pound matched by Meridian Home Start… what was that again?

Sounds very generous. Who’s paying, though? A public question asking for more details, however, hit a blank. Danny Thorpe again:

“The council recognises it is hard for many local people to be able to purchase their own home and save enough for a deposit whilst also having to pay rent. The council’s support for Meridian Home Start is based on the principle that Meridian Home Start will be able to offer good quality housing at truly affordable rents.

“Meridian are an independent organisation, known as a Community Benefit Society. It is a matter for Meridian how they operate any such scheme.”

In short: “Not going to tell you, even though the council leader has tweeted about it, we collect its rent, and we’re about to lob millions of pounds at it.”

This issue may be harmless and easily explained – indeed, it’s nice to have good news stories to tell from council meetings. But the knee-jerk evasiveness of Greenwich Council’s leadership only causes even more suspicion and ramps up even more bad feeling.

A series of issues in Plumstead were also raised, and you can read the full answers here, along with answers to councillors’ questions.

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