In the Oxford Mail on Tuesday, Oxford University researcher Roxana Willis raised the question of whether the use of different cladding on tower blocks in Blackbird Leys from the rest of the city council could have been a question of cost based on the social class of the area. Here, Oxford City Council board member for housing Mike Rowley responds.

OXFORD University researcher, Roxana Willis’ attempt to link cladding type on the city council’s tower blocks to social class in her article in Tuesday’s Oxford Mail (‘Question marks over class inequality in city resurface’) is frankly ludicrous.

Firstly, she wrongly assumes that the aluminium composite cladding used on Evenlode and Windrush towers is cheaper than the type installed on the other tower blocks.

It isn’t - there is no difference in cost between the aluminium composite (ACM) rain-screen cladding that was initially put on Evenlode and Windrush towers and the solid aluminium sheeting that has replaced it, which is also on Foresters and Plowman towers.

Secondly, she insinuates a connection between the installation of this cladding on the Blackbird Leys tower blocks and the fact that the area is one of the most socio-economically deprived in Oxford.

However, the demographics of all the tower blocks are largely similar. Council tenants are allocated homes from the same social housing waiting list and are considered on the basis of uniform criteria.

The ACM cladding originally used on the Blackbird Leys towers was specified by the contractor under a design and build contract and deemed in accordance with the building regulations at the time.

The two towers were the first to undergo repairs, and the decision to switch to the solid aluminium sheeting in respect of Foresters and Plowman towers was actually because the contractor considered it cost-effective to do so.

As was established by the Hackitt Review, the Grenfell fire disaster was caused by a systemic failure of the Government’s regulatory system, which is now under review.

Following the Grenfell disaster, the city council acted swiftly, working with Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service to review the fire safety measures in Evenlode and Windrush towers and ensure they were safe.

Under direction from Government, the city council sent samples of the rain-screen cladding on the towers, for the initial round of testing.

As the samples failed those tests, the city council committed to remove and replace the material - in compliance with Government guidance.

In July this year, we were one of the first councils in the country to complete the recladding of our tower blocks. But even more significantly, and well before the Grenfell tragedy, our five tower blocks were among only 18 across the country that were retrofitted with sprinkler systems as part of our £20 million tower blocks repairs project.

It’s ironic that Dr Willis picked Blackbird Leys as an illustration of social class discrimination by the council when it is the site of our largest regeneration investment in the city!

In 2014, the council opened a brand new £9 million Leys Pools & Leisure Centre for the community and in 2016 followed that up with the tower blocks repairs project, which includes Evenlode and Windrush. Earlier this year a Tory county councillor said the city council had spent so much money on Blackbird Leys that everyone had gold front doors – which of course is equally laughable!

This autumn, the council will announce the successful developer selected to carry forward the massive Blackbird Leys regeneration scheme, which will totally redevelop the district centre and public realm, deliver 300 new homes – including affordable homes – and build a new community centre.

Oxford City Council has a proud history of tackling inequality. It was the city council which was instrumental in tearing the Cutteslowe walls down in 1959 by performing a compulsory purchase on the strips of land they stood on. This allowed Labour councillor Olive Gibbs to start taking chunks out of them with her hammer and their ultimate removal.

Similarly, 60 years on, the Labour administration of the council has a programme to dismantle the divisions between rich and poor in the city and promote greater equality through our plans to deliver affordable homes, promotion of the Oxford Living Wage, our financial inclusion strategy which includes council tax support and help with rent for those in greatest need, and support for community groups, community facilities and community events.

This is a history we’re immensely proud of, and one that we fully commit to continue.