Kensington and Chelsea council had to find an urgent £8.5m for works on properties acquired for households displaced by the Grenfell disaster – with much of that work covering fire safety.
Council papers confirm the project presented “many unique and unforeseen challenges” that led to the identification of additional works and compliance requirements.
Some of the properties not accepted were placed to the back of the programme allowing the contractor to focus on delivery of works to accepted properties.
An £8.5m sum – which boosted the project contract value to £10,786,789.30 from £2.5m – was signed off under Special Urgency provisions by council deputy leader Cllr Kim Taylor Smith – who has Grenfell and Housing and Property within his portfolio responsibilities.
The sign-off was supported by the chair of the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which agreed with its urgency and exemption for call-in.
A related report says that, if the council were to run a new procurement in accordance with the normal process, without obtaining a cost approval, works would be delayed extensively impacting on residents and availability of properties.
That report reveals the extent of works required to convert private-sector residences to a standard that met social landlord statutory requirements was more than originally envisaged, particularly in respect of fire compartmentation, escape route provision, and fire-door installation.
As part of the council’s commitment to the residents, doorsets were provided that were fully certified and third party checked.
The council report concedes they required additional temporary works and an additional cost in supply and fitting over the normal statutory requirements.
The report says stock condition impacts many of the acquired properties have been found to be cosmetically good.
But closer inspection identified underlying issues that have had to be addressed ,which could not have been foreseen – including damp and structural issues.
Seeking a revised value Purchase Order to cover budgeted cost to complete the works to the acquired properties, the report recommends approval of the additional cost of £8.5m.
This revised value would, the report says, be accommodated within existing budgets and ensured any homes that are not accepted by displaced residents are also upgraded to the empty-homes standard to cut future investment costs.
In the wake of the disaster, the council sourced properties from the open market to provide new homes for affected residents, and these required a programme of works to bring them to an appropriate standard that met statutory requirements and resident expectations.
Mitie Property Management Limited – now MPS Housing – was appointed to deliver the works to support the council in this delivery.
MPS started work in February last year with a contract for works signed at the end of March last year.
Surveys and works started, with a focus on delivery of accepted properties first.
The speed of delivery resulted in all teams – including the council and MPS – having to learn as works were delivered.
The report acknowledges that it was clear from an early stage that each property presented “unique challenges” negating the normal process of the first properties acting as pilots to develop a standard specification, which would be used as a base going forward.
This, the report says, was as a direct result of the different standards of properties purchased and the unique requirements of the residents who were moving into these homes.
It was also acknowledged as important to carry out works to these properties to meet Landlord requirements.
The report says some properties were seen as having had refurbishment works carried out by the previous private owners, which meant future upgrades were needed including replacement pipework and boxing in boilers with fire-safe compartmentation.
According to the report, the project can be assessed as being very successful in delivering “safe and secure” properties with most displaced residents now moved into new accommodation.
Kensington and Chelsea council has said it is ready to offer fire-safety training to residents after initial discussions confirmed the extent of interest.
Any such initiative would run alongside additional fire-safety training for council staff – with the council acknowledging staff training needs to be improved for what housing staff specifically need to know.
Council papers also pitch the prospect of offering residents apprenticeships in fire-safety practice based on talks with London Fire Brigade (LFB), the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), and Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), which offers a Fire Risk Engineering degree programme.
Engagement is on-going, with a view to launching an internal council scheme in September next year.