Residents 'concerned and scared and afraid'...
The utter confusion and mess created by the post-Grenfell tower block crisis took another turn at yesterday's full meeting of Salford City Council, when civic leaders admitted that solving the cladding problem could take years, cost £millions that the Council doesn't have, and might lead to people losing confidence and leaving the blocks completely.
"It is going to cost millions and millions of pounds" said Councillor Bill Hinds, Lead Member for Finance "There is a worry where the money is going to come from... we've got a serious problem here that will go on and on and on...It's the biggest single crisis that I've ever known in that sense.
"The time will come when they [residents] want to come out, and who is going to go in?" he asked "We've already got a housing crisis in this city where there are not enough homes for people, so if they vote with their feet...and I hope they don't...but it could happen and we've got to be ready for that."
The Tory Government and Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, were repeatedly criticised by councillors for 'contradictory advice' and refusing to confirm any finance towards the cladding safety operations
"The Government has behaved appallingly...we don't know where the money is coming from to continue the work to re-clad or re-render; whatever we do is going to cost a lot of money and as a city council we don't have that sort of money" said John Warmisham, Councillor for Langworthy which includes the nine tower blocks managed by Pendleton Together.
"I think we did the right thing in the way we acted, and I think we've been rightly congratulated for it" he added "Residents in Pendleton have been absolutely superb. Obviously they're really concerned and scared and afraid but I think the communication strategy we got out, working as a council with our local housing associations that run the blocks, we managed to allay people's fears....The way Councillor Merry has been handling the 'gold meetings', getting information out to ward councillors and to the public has been second to none..."
Deputy Mayor, John Merry, who is chairing the 'gold meetings', where the council and housing associations meet 'with advice from technical experts and the fire service', told councillors that, as of yesterday, concrete panels were being installed to protect the insulation on the exterior of the Pendleton blocks.
A previous Salford Star article quoted both the Government and fire service explaining that leaving insulation out in the rain could compromise fire safety. These insulation panels have been out in the rain for around two weeks (see previous Salford Star article – click here)
Meanwhile, nothing was said about the Salix Homes blocks, and little about City West blocks. Tory Councillor, Robin Garrido, who is a board member of ForViva, the holding company of City West, gave no new information, except to say that "We've made sure residents have been communicated with every step of the way" adding that this had "helped to create the right atmosphere and to allay people's fears."
City West, he informed, was to carry out its own 'expert report' before the end of the week. Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, said that the Council had commissioned an independent investigation into the procurement of the cladding materials and "the findings we will be making public".
The Council's initial independent fire safety report on the nine Pendleton blocks by Trident was never made public. Nor were the Government findings made public on the testing of materials on Salford blocks, despite promises.
John Merry added that, having reviewed all the documentation on the cladding process, there were "only two alternatives" to explain the mess...
"It was very clear about the specification required for the cladding to go on the blocks" he said "Either whoever put them on failed to procure the right ones in accordance with the specification. Or that somehow the regulations were defective, and that although these things met the regulations it doesn't necessarily mean that they didn't have any fire risk attached to them."
The person in overall charge of the Pendleton Together regeneration at the time was Paul Longshaw, then a Salford City Council officer, who subsequently left the Council, became Labour Party councillor for Langworthy, and is now Lead Member for Housing.
The Salford Star understands that Councillor Longshaw has been removed from any involvement surrounding the cladding crisis on the nine Pendleton blocks. As Lead Member for Housing he has made few statements during what Councillor Hinds calls "the biggest single crisis that I've ever known".
It is hoped that when Salford City Council's 'independent investigation' into the procurement of materials is made public, the role of Councillor Longshaw will not be airbrushed out...
...The Salford Star also understands that, originally, a material called Chameleon was considered for the cladding of the Pendleton blocks but, in the end, a product called Alucobond Spectra was used. This is a similar appearance to Chameleon but is an ACM, or Aluminium Composite Material, that subsequently failed Government fire safety tests. It is hoped that the 'independent investigation' will also look into this.