TMO Freedom of Information Fiasco – Part 2

pipesThe pictures illustrating today’s blog show what appear to be heavy duty heating pipes exposed along ceilings, and up and down the walls, on the landings and other public areas of Grenfell Tower. The intention appears to be to leave these pipes exposed, perhaps as an example of some pretentious post-modern industrial style of architecture, except that in the present context they are completely lacking in any aesthetic value. We think it more likely that the pipework is designed this way because Grenfell Tower is regarded merely as warehousing for the poor (ie for the non-rich) of the Rotten Borough. Furthermore we are unable to recall any consultation exercise in which this feature was disclosed to, or discussed with, the residents who will have to live with it. In fact we struggle to recall anything at all that might reasonably be described as genuine public consultation.

003These metallic monstrosities have lately become one of the main topics of conversation among Grenfell residents coming and going from their homes, who are both outraged and horrified by this horrendous imposition, like a cancerous growth, throughout the tower. We need answers urgently to some basic questions about this piping. Firstly, do the planners, and their contractors, really intend to leave this monkey puzzle exposed as it would currently appear they do, and if so how do they intend to justify this to the residents of Grenfell Tower?

The Grenfell Action Group has already written to Councillor Paget-Brown, Leader of the Royal Borough, to alert him to our concerns regarding the Grenfell Tower Improvement Works, and how the TMO are brazenly breaking the law by failing to consult with residents. In particular we wish to highlight the fact that we believe the TMO have acted illegally by not consulting with residents regarding the latest type of windows they plan to install in our properties and we believe that the TMO and their building contractor, Rydon, are planning to replace their original choice of window with an inferior and cheaper aluminium model much to the detriment of residents long-term welfare.

We believe that residents have a right to know what is really going on with regards the proposed works to our properties and that the TMO and Rydons have a duty to consult and be open with us. However, our recent attempts under Freedom of Information legislation to obtain the minutes to the “end of month” meetings between the TMO, Rydons and the architects Studio E have been refused by Fola Kafiydia, Head of Governance at the TMO.

Her reasons for witholding these documents do not withstand any serious scrutiny. For instance, in an email dated 5th December she claims the information;

“…is not held on behalf of a public authority or by the TMO on behalf of a public authority…”

This is simply not true. The sole function of the TMO is to serve as managing agents for the social housing estates owned by the Royal Borough. It follows from this that all information the TMO hold is held on behalf of the Royal Borough. Furthermore , when it comes to the Grenfell Tower improvement works, the Planning Department at RBKC registered the controversial recent changes to the planning application (ref. NMA/14/08597 ) on 10th December and the applicant for planning permission is named in this document as none other than The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Need we say more?

Ms Kafidya goes on to argue regardless that;

“… although Rydons is providing a service in the public interest, the TMO’s commercial communications with its contractors are sensitive and the disclosure of such commercial communication would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of the contractor. By virtue of section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act, such information is exempt from disclosure”

According to her published CV Ms Kafidya is well experienced in handliing FoI and data protection matters. She will therefore know full well that the correct use of this particular exemption, assuming that the minutes in question do in fact contain some ‘commercially sensitive’ information (?) would be to simply redact the sensitive material and release  redacted versions of the requested documents. This is generally the view taken by the Information Commissioner’s Office, to whom we have complained on previous occasions when refused material by RBKC. Unfortunately for us appealing to the ICO is a lengthy process, which Ms Kafidya will also know full well, and we suspect that her intention may be to delay, obstruct and discourage us.

Anyone who has previously made FoI requests from local authorities, and is familiar with the pitfalls of the process, will immediately recognise the misuse of section 42(3) as the typical response of many local authorities who wish to obstruct, delay and therefore discourage those who make such bothersome requests in the first place. They may use this tactic to conceal errors or wrongdoing by their staff or agents (even those of a minor nature), to avoid embarrassment that might arise should any incompetence or ineptitude of their systems or staff become apparent, and we suspect also that they frequently do so simply out of sheer arrogance and bloody minded obstructivism.


FOOTNOTE: Since posting this item we have been informed that the complex of heating pipes throughout Grenfell Tower will be boxed in by lowering ceilings and building protective cupboards around the vertical pipework. This should satisfy some health and safety issues, by eliminating the burn risk (particularly to children) from touching hot pipes, and we assume the pipes will also be lagged to prevent heat energy loss. However, the concentration of so many heating pipes in such small lobbies may create significant public safety risks in the event of any technical failures in the pipework system, and the proposed protective measures will significantly reduce the amount of public space on the landings, and may thus create additional problems of cramped space and reduced access to emergency exits etc.

Again we would argue that all these issues need careful consideration, and require proper consultation with affected residents, which has not been happening to any remotely acceptable or satisfactory degree!  



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