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Thursday 24th
posted by Morning Star in Features

by Sara Callaway

MEMBERS of the Kilburn Branch of the Labour Party called a community meeting last month in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, for Brent tenants and residents to speak out.

About 80 women and men attended, from different tower blocks, estates and communities. Camden and Haringey tenants and the Fire Brigades Union were invited speakers. A message of support was sent to Grenfell.

The Grenfell Tower fire could have happened in Brent. Cladding on seven buildings in the borough failed fire safety tests; two are housing blocks in south Kilburn.

Despite opposition, Brent intends to build an 18-storey tower block in Wembley. We can’t allow another tragedy or for people to live in unsafe housing or be homeless while the 1 per cent hold 1,652 unoccupied properties in Kensington and Chelsea alone.

The Grenfell fire has shocked people into action about their own housing, as the courageous Grenfell survivors spell out the truth for themselves and everyone.

During the meeting news came in that the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Tenants Management Organisation can face corporate manslaughter charges.

One speaker said that in the US they call towers like Grenfell “racial stacking” because the worst housing is disproportionately allocated to people of colour.

A woman added that many survivors of Grenfell are people of colour or immigrants, and condemned the Home Office plan to only give one year’s right to remain for any survivors who may not have papers.

Kam Sandu and Phil Rose, Haringey campaigners, said communities of colour were most affected by the housing crisis.

They reported on Stop Haringey Development Vehicle, a community campaign against the council’s plan to transfer over 50 per cent of council homes — the biggest sell-off of public assets ever undertaken by a local council — into a £2 billion partnership with private developers.

They described how Haringey Council’s own overview and scrutiny committee has been ignored. The campaign is crowdfunding to bring a legal case to stop the development going forward.

Kilburn residents reported poor building standards, lack of repairs and information, council homes being torn down and replaced by private housing and poor people being dispersed.

There was objection to the way council tenants, leaseholders and other residents are played against each other and not listened to.

Pete Firmin, chair of a tenants’ association, gave a catalogue of problems local people face, including plans to drill and erect an HS2 vent shaft next to a primary school and housing estates. This has been promoted as part of south Kilburn’s “regeneration project.”

The issue of very high rents in rundown blocks was raised after the meeting: some tenants pay almost £300 weekly for tiny studio flats in some of the worst blocks, managed by Brent Housing Partnership, which is owned by Brent Council.

A Chalcots estate tenant described the chaos when Camden Council evacuated four tower blocks late at night. Many were left to sleep on the floor of a local community centre.

He raised concerns about how money is being spent and the council’s lack of accountability. Fearful Chalcots residents recently took the council to court complaining about shoddy and incomplete repairs.

A Fire Brigades Union representative, Gareth Beeton, condemned deregulation and privatisation, from Thatcher and Blair to Cameron and May. He said that while Boris Johnson was mayor, over 1,000 fire service jobs in London were lost. He called for resistance to government cuts to the fire service and raising safety standards to protect the public.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who called the Grenfell deaths “murder by political decisions,” describes the Labour Party as becoming a social movement.

This meeting, called by Labour’s Kilburn branch, was part of that movement. Local councillors Rita Conneely, Barbara Pitruzzella and John Duffy attended and there was a brief one-on-one Q&A with them after discussion.

Everyone was urged to support the Granville Centre, a precious community resource which hosted the meeting. The council planned to demolish the Granville despite the important services provided there.

Now there are plans to cut it up into a business hub, but there is fierce opposition from the local community. Please sign the petition to save the Granville, which is the area’s only heritage site and has served local residents for over 100 years:

  • Sara Callaway is a member of Kilburn branch Labour Party.