Brick by Brick contractor in asbestos scare on Purley Oaks site

Contractors working for Brick by Brick, the council-owned house-builders who have yet to build a single home, were today accused of neglect, potentially endangering the long-term health of residents and their children on a building site in Purley Oaks.

The building site on Montpelier Road this morning, with corrugated roofing lying around unsecured. The council’s own planning report had stated there was asbestos on the site

The site, between Montpelier Road and Kingsdown Avenue, is among the more contentious for local residents in Brick by Brick’s mission to concrete over large swathes of suburbia, because it is using what was previously public open space.

The council’s house-builder has been granted planning permission by Croydon Council to build an ugly-looking, barrack-like block consisting of 34 flats.

As well as the green space, there were also on the site some garages which had corrugated roofing which residents understand may have been made from materials including asbestos.

The planning report, prepared by council officials ahead of the foregone conclusion that Brick by Brick would be granted planning permission, had included mention of “loose asbestos” being on the site.

Yet when residents raised the matter with Brick by Brick today, and highlighted the presence on the site of asbestos, the official planning report suddenly vanished from the council’s website.

Asbestos was used widely by builders in the 1950s and 1960s as an effective fire-retardant material, but more recent research has shown that asbestos dust, when inhaled and entering the lungs, can have long-term damage on a person’s health, including the disease asbestosis and forms of cancer. The substance’s use is now carefully controlled and subject to strict conditions and monitoring, especially on demolition sites.

This image, by resident Ian Goodwin, shows the sheets of roofing on the site

It is understood that complications over the removal of asbestos from the 1950s-built Ashcroft Theatre in the Fairfield Halls have caused serious delays in that regeneration project, which was supposed to have been completed in two years and is now running at least nine months late. The Fairfield Halls redevelopment, a £30million project funded by Croydon Council, is being managed by Brick by Brick.

On the home-building site in Purley Oaks, the Brick by Brick contractor is Henry Construction.

They moved in this week and began demolishing the garages without any special precautions normally expected of this delicate and hazardous waste removal task.

Sheets of the corrugated sheeting were observed  lying around the site. Site workers did not appear to have any special protective clothing or breathing gear.

Brick by Brick is already subject to a potential High Court legal action over another site, in South Norwood, where they are accused of flouting planning laws and one resident is bringing a Judicial Review against the builders.

The Kingsdown Avenue/Montpelier Road site, where the council has authorised the building on a public open space. Photograph: Ian Goodwin

In Purley Oaks, parents who were taking their young children to nearby schools reacted angrily when they saw the apparent lack of care being taken on the building site. Many are convinced that the garage roofs may contain asbestos.

“Nice start to the build for Montpelier Road and Kingsdown residents today by Brick by Brick,” one tweeted. “Asbestos garage roofs just casually laying there broken up! Health and Safety breach at its absolute worst!”

“This is appalling and needs addressing immediately. Disgraceful,” said another.

Whoever operates Brick by Brick’s corporate Twitter account responded to the concerned messages by saying: “We are finding out what is happening now.”

This did little to reassure residents that Brick by Brick was on top of the matter.

Brick by Brick say there’s no asbestos here. The council’s report said that there is

One local resident, Ian Goodwin, responded with undisguised disdain, and a touch of sarcasm: “That’s comforting. You just take your time to ‘find out’ then, while the poisonous substance you’ve left just sits there… If there isn’t a licensed contractor on site to remove this safely by this afternoon I will report it formally to the LA, ORR and HSE,” he wrote, meaning local authority, the Office of Rail and Road, and the Health and Safety Executive.

Brick by Brick’s response was to stall, again, saying that they “are speaking to the contractor now and we will respond when we have all the correct information”.

Residents were demanding that the site should be shut down and sealed off until any risk of asbestos contamination was removed.

By mid-morning, Brick by Brick’s public relations staff had finally got the “correct information”, and as if by magic, hey presto!, they’d discovered that there was no asbestos on the site and the building work could continue.

“We have now confirmed with Henry Construction they carried out an asbestos survey that include samples from the garages and there is no asbestos on site,” BxB’s PR officer wrote, contradicting entirely the environmental study conducted as part of Croydon Council’s own planning department’s report, which had indeed found asbestos on site and prescribed the measures necessary for its safe removal as part of the planning conditions.

In another piece of Paul Daniels-esque magic, it was around this time that the planning report disappeared from the council website.

So that’s alright then…

The contractors’ own site report has never yet been made publicly available. Clearly, stripping a load of garage roofs and getting rid quickly, before anyone notices, is a considerably cheaper demolition option than the careful and time-consuming process of removing asbestos under strictly controlled conditions.

By mid-afternoon, Brick by Brick’s social media response to Helen Redfern, one of the ward councillors, was more measured in its wording.

Oddly, the planning report containing the council’s environmental assessment that found asbestos on the site, has been removed today

They wrote: “The Construction Management Plan is very clear for this site. No asbestos is present in the material photographed from the garages or in this phase of the development,” Brick by Brick claimed.

“When and if any asbestos is required to be managed from any future phases, the appropriate methodology will be used. BxB and the contractor will continue to keep residents informed as we progress via the Resident Liason Officer, meetings etc.”

But soon after Redfern conducted her visit to the site, work ceased and the contractors downed tools.

“The asbestos remains untouched and contained by only a tape barrier,” local resident Goodwin told Inside Croydon.

“The matter has now been reported to HSE under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, due to breach of handling, disposal, safety and lack of appropriate risk assessment reports on site,” said Goodwin. Contractors found to be in breach of these building regulations can face criminal charges and possible imprisonment.

Has anyone mentioned this to “regeneration practitioner” Jo Negrini?

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3 Responses to Brick by Brick contractor in asbestos scare on Purley Oaks site

  1. Not all corrugated cement roofing contains asbestos. When asbestos was removed from use, and even before, other materials were commonly used to provide the matrix within the cement. Having worked for an organisation which provided rigorous annual training for it’s operatives to update and refresh our knowledge of how to deal with asbestos, even if it had been there [and there is no reason to disbelieve the formal report that it is not, these are subject to public scrutiny and very unlikely to be untrue] ordinary means of dealing with asbestos contained in cement roofing while working on or disturbing it are normal – such as just keeping it wet. That specific material carries a comparitively low-level of risk even if being disturbed. And, while your campaign against Brick-for-Brick may have some justifications, you have shot yourself in the foot here, as the photo clearly shows an area with little to recommend it in conservation or amenity value terms when compared to the overwhelming need for housing. It is appalling and to be deplored that council house building should include so little social housing, but even the most affluent and socially committed Housing Associations – and Councils – are compelled to include a self-funding element in developments these days because of the complete lack of the central government funding grant that previously supported housing development for social rent.

  2. I agree with the accurate and knowledgeable comments by Anthony Mills. Whilst ithe use of asbestos cement roofing materials (both corrugated sheets and slates) was common prior to the 1970’s it was largely replaced by non-asbestos fibre cement materials thereafter. Some contractors did continue to use the asbestos cement panels as they were cheaper, often not informing their clients, which is a complication. It is almost impossible to tell the difference between asbestos cement panels and non-asbestos fibre ones without testing a sample. Environmental health or other assessments of building sites for a planning application would not be able to tell the difference so assume the worst is possible and warn of the risk in their reports. That is probably why the Council report initially made the warning and has now withdrawn it as now being incorrect. Nevertheless, having required asbestos (insulation) removal myself, I know that tests to confirm whether asbestos is present need to be done before it is disturbed and not after it has been removed and left on site, even when it is fairly low risk as in this case.

    • Adrian: Let’s not distort the known facts to fit with a “theory”.
      The planning report had an environmental survey which found evidence of “loose asbestos” on the site, which the report suggested would require removal by a licensed operator.
      The council has never amended or withdrawn that report, nor ever stated, as you claim, that it was incorrect. That report simply vanished from the council website on Wednesday, soon after residents had raised their concerns about what was going on with Bricj by Brick.
      Now, the public are being fobbed off with a partial report, commissioned by the contractors, and which makes no reference to the previous environmental report.
      Neither you, Anthony Mills, nor I know whether there is asbestos on the site.
      But I know that Inside Croydon, ward councillors, and the residents and their families living near the site find it very sinister that an officiall council planning report should disappear from public view just at a time when a contractor’s activities are brought into question.

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