Members of the Grenfell Action Group will be meeting our MP, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, at Westminster on 3rd September to discuss the continuing ill treatment of our community by Kensington and Chelsea Council and the TMO.
Sir Malcolm is well aware of the negligence shown by the Council and the TMO towards residents of Lancaster West Estate and the issues they face with the prospect of their homes being turned into a giant building site without any protection against dust or noise pollution. Sir Malcolm has come to our aid by demanding that;
“…residents who can show that the building works will have a qualitatively detrimental effect on their lives will be given adequate support from the Council, including the instillation of double glazing if necessary”.
Sir Malcolm has also promised to inquire into the state of residents windows that we have claimed are no longer fit for purpose. We thought we might be able to help by providing him with evidence of the dilapidated condition of the windows in properties on the frontline of the KALC project, so we wrote to the TMO and requested to see a report by Tudor Glass Ltd on the state of the windows in Verity Close. This survey was requested by Councillor Coleridge after he visited one of the properties in question and was reportedly shocked by what he saw.
Below is the TMO’s response to our request:
It looks like Sir Malcolm will be denied access to the contents of this report, unless he is able to use his own power and influence to force a U-turn. This is a great pity. Anyone familiar with the Freedom Of Information Act will know that the TMO don’t really have a leg to stand on in witholding this report, and they certainly have no right to release it to selected residents of their choice, but not to others.
The Freedom Of Information Act applies equally to all citizens of the United Kingdom, and there are very limited circumstances in which a refusal is allowed. Even if they think they have reason to withold, public bodies are required to apply a public interest test as the final arbiter, and in most cases the public interest in disclosure will trump any perceived public interest in non-disclosure. Indeed the presumption of the FOI Act always favours disclosure unless there are specific and compelling reasons to the contrary.
When responding to a request under the FOI Act public bodies are required to respond within 20 working days. On this occasion the TMO made the applicant wait 30 working days before they issued the refusal notice. This was a breach of the Act. When issuing a refusal notice public bodies are required by law to state their reasons for refusal. This the TMO clearly have not done, so they are in breach of the Act on this point also. Finally, as if the first two breaches weren’t enough, they are also required to inform the applicant of his right of appeal against the refusal. They have also breached the Act by failing to do this. Perhaps the TMO’s governance officers are simply ignorant of their responsibilities under the FOI Act, in which case we would suggest the TMO reconsider the fat salaries these officers are paid. We would also strongly suggest that they urgently need re-training.
However, anyone who has previously made FOI requests will be familiar with this routine, which is invariably designed to frustrate and discourage citizens from exercising their rights under the Act.
Another interesting detail of the TMO refusal notice is that it makes no mention of the EMB, the locally elected resident organisation who are supposedly the Council’s managing agents for Lancaster West Estate. They also should have sight of the report. EMB members will not be surprised by this omission, as the TMO often ignores the Lancaster West Management Agreement, and excludes the EMB, when making plans that affect Lancaster West. This is just another indicator of the basically authoritarian mindset of TMO managers, which is already evidenced by their refusal of Mr Daffarn’s perfectly legitimate request, on behalf of Lancaster West residents, to see the Tudor Glass report.
How can the Grenfell Action Group, or the EMB for that matter, negotiate appropriate improvements to the windows of properties on the frontline of the KALC development, if they are denied access to the recommendations of the consultants who conducted the most relevant survey?
Last week Cllr Coleridge, the Cabinet Member for Housing and Property, chastised us for criticising the TMO. He seems to have forgotten that it is the TMO, and not us, which has the POWER to abuse, obstruct, and deny the rights of local residents, including ourselves, and who do so with apparent impunity. We can, of course, complain to the Information Commissioners Office, and in possibly eight or nine months time the TMO will have their wrists (gently) slapped and be advised to release the report – with an implied threat that if they don’t they will be ordered to do so.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH!
WE NEED THE REPORT NOW!