A meeting arranged for tonight by Brick by Brick to discuss a mounting volume of complaints over the mismanagement and poor conduct of one of their sites in the south of the borough has been cancelled, at barely 24 hours’ notice.
Brick by Brick is the council’s loss-making in-house house-builders. They have been handed a range of sites around the borough, all previously council-owned land or buildings, usually against strong opposition from existing local residents.
For the residents living along Kingsdown Avenue and Montpelier Road in Purley Oaks, they have been forced to endure three years of uncertainty and disruption, as the council, through Brick by Brick, has turned their previously quiet and green corner of the borough into a massive building site. Roads have been closed, children’s walking routes to local schools have been blocked, and since Brick by Brick’s construction works started in early 2018, there has been a continuing range of serious health and safety issues.
This started with the demolition of a row of old garages, with no precautions being taken to first remove potentially highly toxic asbestos or to reduce the clouds of dust which the works produced.
Despite complaints, the poor standards of building works on site have continued ever since, with various promises over construction standards and conditions included in the planning consent being broken or ignored. And of course, since Brick by Brick is the council’s own house-building company, Croydon Council has done nothing to enforce building regulations or planning conditions.
Tonight’s meeting was organised after long and detailed letters of complaint were sent to Catherine Radziwonik, Brick by Brick’s head of development.
Radziwonik is one of several former Croydon Council employees now working for Brick by Brick, effectively playing at being “in the private sector”, although her profile on the company’s website makes no reference to her previous job.
It does, however, state that Radziwonik is “a former director of the Croydon local asset-backed vehicle ‘CCURV’,” as if that was any kind of recommendation at all. It was CCURV, for example, which delivered Fisher’s Folly, the council office building, for at least £100million more in costs than any comparable office block.
“Please, can something be done, as the residents are fed up to their back teeth with it all,” was the plaintive appeal from the residents’ association which seemed to prompt the meeting.
Then yesterday, the meeting was cancelled, with little notice and no explanation or apology. Brick by Brick’s building contractors, Henry – who appear to have grabbed the lion’s share of building works on BxB sites around the borough – meanwhile are allowed to carry on with impunity.
The Kingsdown and Montpelier sites – it is three plots of land – all use what was public green space between existing homes, and the site of the former garages. Since arriving on site 18 months ago, residents feel that the builders have shown little concern, or respect, for protecting the remaining fabric of the neighbourhood.
“We had a lot of healthy, mature trees on our green space,” one resident told Inside Croydon. “The builders have gone around like mad axemen, chopping down and killing anything that got in their way, or came even close to being on their building sites.”
‘Blatant disregard to conditions’
“It looks like another tree has had its roots damaged,” another resident wrote to Radziwonik earlier this month.
“There is a blatant disregard to the conditions stated in the method statement about the preservation of the remaining trees. They have used it to support the hoarding, they have dug deep trenches very close to the tree to run the drains, and piled up chalk against it and then put equipment on top.
“We were all very disappointed to see the tree surgeons reduce the trees outside plots A to C by 50 per cent following the damage caused by the builders, instead of the recognised ‘safe’ reduction of 30 per cent. This was queried at the time with one of the tree surgeons by a resident with knowledge and experience of trees in relation to buildings works.
“The tree surgeon admitted that they would usually recommend reducing trees by 30 per cent, but the council had asked them to reduce by 50 per cent because the builders had dug the trench too close to the trees making them unsafe.
“We are told that while the action of the tree roots (and potential future damage to drains and buildings) would be curtailed by reducing the spread of the branches, reducing the spread by 50 per cent may damage the trees and cause them to die.
“The council has ignored our concerns and granted planning permission for buildings which are too close to existing trees. We have lost valuable grassy areas and the building work has already resulted in the loss of several trees which were more than 100 years old and damaged other trees.”
Recent heavy rainfall has also caused localised flooding which has been made worse by some careless building works.
According to the residents’ association official, “All the drains have been blocked up yet again, as they do not sweep the road. All the site detritus gets washed down to the drains leaving thick sludge in all the kerbs and pooled, as it cannot flow down the drain.”
Residents have been reduced to lending their own tools and a wheelbarrow to Brick by Brick’s professional workmen. But still, the residential street looks like a muddy building site.
According to residents, when the builders started digging up the road at the T-junction between Kingsdown and Montpelier, they contrived to block all the pathways on both sides of the road. The explanation offered was that they had forgotten to allow for pedestrians in the plans submitted for the works. There had been a site meeting for residents as recently as September 18, but no mention was made about digging up the road.
Building works in already densely populated residential areas usually have very strict limits on the times when works can be undertaken – no 6am starts or weekend working, for instance, and certainly not without suitably apologetic advance warning of any such disruption.
But that doesn’t seem to be required in Croydon for Brick by Brick’s developers, and certainly not on the Kingsdown and Montpelier sites.
Brick by Brick, of course, is the developer who was responsible for the £41million refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, which re-opened in September, 15 months late, and which is still not finished. Works on most of the BxB sites around the borough are also running late.
Kingsdown and Montpelier is also behind schedule, which is why the overtime fund is being raided for weekend working. Trouble is, no one bothered informing the neighbours. “It was not until the Saturday afternoon when we had asked them to stop that we got a message to say they are working to 6pm that day and all-day Sunday,” according to the resident.
“We asked where is the notification or licence? There was none on display on any of the notice boards nor in the public domain.”
When confronted with this, the site manager produced a works schedule which was his application to the council to work across the weekend dates, along with a licence which had a different licence number and referred to a different part of the site. And while the licence provided for traffic management, with “Stop and Go” boards, “There was no evidence of this over this weekend,” according to one of the residents having to live with the disruption and disturbance.
‘So much for high-quality builders’
The resident has also found that there is a fundamental problem with one of the buildings and a particular feature included by one of Brick by Brick’s favoured architects.
“On Plot A, for a six-storey building, the works have all but stopped. We are led to believe that the architects forgot to allow for the green roof load, which is about seven tons in their construction calculations.
“So much for high-quality builders. But it’s been like this from the start.”
Among the lengthening list of complaints is that the site is left open at night, noisy generators are left on, a water hose pipe has been left across an unlit footpath all night with water running all weekend, and alarms go off all the time, night and day.
And despite all the assurances that were given to Paul Scott and the planning committee, it appears that Brick by Brick is trying to build even larger buildings than were included in their application.
“There is mounting concern by many residents that the final roof height of houses on Plots C and on D2 will be higher than the final height shown on the plans that were submitted and approved at the Planning Committee meeting,” the resident told Inside Croydon.
And residents still have to contend with more of this misery. As recently as last February, Brick by Brick, in its own business plan submitted to Croydon Council, had its Kingsdown sites down for completion by November 2019. Now, neighbours have been told it will take at least another six months to finish on site.
Not that this Brick by Brick project will do much to solve the housing crisis. On the cramped site on a hillside in Purley Oaks, on what used to be residents’ green space, they are squeezing in four two-bed houses and 13 three-bed houses, plus 19 flats – a total of 34 new homes, all built on publicly owned land with public money.
And 28 of those 34 homes will immediately be put up for private sale. That’s 82 per cent of the homes on the site being for the private market. The other six will be sold under a not-very=affordable shared ownership scheme. Brick by Brick’s supposed target for providing affordable housing is 50 per cent.
Brick by Brick was formed by Croydon’s Labour-run council in 2015. To date, they have built zero council homes.
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