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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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