The Independent London Newspaper
21st September 2018

Sale of fatal fire flat attacked as ‘shortsighted’

    Countess Road flat

    The Countess Road flat

    Published: 7 August, 2014
    by TOM FOOT

    A GROUND-floor council flat where an elderly woman died in a fire last year is to be sold by Camden Council.

    Councillors are due to make a decision on the property in Countess Road after a family living upstairs put in an offer to the Town Hall.

    Housing activists have criticised the sale as “shortsighted” with more than 25,000 people on the waiting list and a desperate shortage of disability access homes.

    But the council insists it cannot afford to revamp the flat after it was destroyed in a blaze that killed the previous tenant, a 74-year-old disabled woman, last year.

    A report sent to councillors last week said the council was considering allowing the neighbours to buy another nearby flat on the private market and then swap it for the one below, freeing up a home for the waiting list. 

    The report added: “If the property [Countess Road] is sold on within 10 years, all profits would go to the council.”

    The flat – inside the catchment area for the “outstanding” Eleanor Palmer Primary School – has been empty for more than a year since the tragic death of Valerie Willis.

    Ms Willis, who had breast cancer, did not have fire alarms fitted to her home, an inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard last year.

    Her neighbours, who had a new-born baby at the time of the blaze, were trapped because there is no fire escape other than down the communal staircase. They are lucky to be alive, according to the report sent to councillors.

    The report says they have become “paranoid” about another fire and have asked to buy the flat from the council so they could build a fire escape into the garden, and create a new home for their ­elderly parents.

    Housing chief Councillor Julian Fulbrook said that the Countess Road sale was “probably a unique set of circumstances” and “not a precedent for anything”. It showed that “the council can be flexible for individual family circumstances”.

    The report said that the offer followed a similar sale of a council home in Gayton Road, Hampstead, to neighbouring leaseholders last year.

    In that case, the council argued that a quirk of the building’s design meant that it could not remain as a stand-alone flat. The council has also sold council-owned flats in Southampton Road, Gospel Oak.

    The director of housing’s report says that another “dilapidated council home” in Torbay Street has been sold to the Hawley Wharf developer. 

    The council adds that funds from the sales are going towards refurbishing other homes as part of the council’s Community Improvement Programme. It points out that it is building hundreds of council homes in Camden, more than any other council has done since the 1970s.



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