Brick by Brick, the loss-making council-owned house-builder, has announced that it intends to continue work on at least four of its building sites – despite pleas from the government, the Mayor of London and NHS chiefs to halt all non-essential work for the duration of the coronavirus emergency to avoid spreading the deadly disease.
In a statement released last night, the company admitted that it has been working on at least 15 sites around Croydon for the past week, despite the government-ordered covid-19 lockdown. It claimed that it would continue working at “a handful of sites”, identifying four. It gave as its reason: “it would be at a significant business risk to close them”.
Most of the country was placed on lockdown more than a week ago, with only those providing essential services having permission to continue using public transport to travel to work, and provided that they comply with strict social distancing rules.
The company has, however, shut up its expensively refurbished sales shop on George Street and is not conducting any viewings for prospective buyers of any of its as-yet-unsold homes – of which there are many, according to the company’s chief executive, former council employee Colm Lacey.
And while the government has avoided specifying that construction sites must close, advice from Whitehall and the Construction Leadership Council emphases that “work can continue if it is done safely”.
The government advice states, “Employers should ensure their workers on-site are able to follow the public health guidance, and they should consider responsible arrangements for ensuring their workers can travel… to reduce public transport use during peak periods.”
Only today will Brick by Brick and its contractors shut down operations across 11 sites – something which the majority of businesses were first asked to do on March 23.
The BxB statement said, “In these challenging times of lockdown, we understand that many Croydon residents are staying at home as instructed by the Government, to help curb the spread of Coronavirus and ease the strain on the NHS.
“Those working within the construction industry across the UK have been faced with a dliemma [sic] as most of them can’t work from home, and many are on zero hours contracts. Brick By Brick works with several different main construction companies who manage our sites under contract. They are responsible for health and safety on their sites and obliged to follow Government guidelines, and any site closures are at their direction.
“We have been in ongoing communication with them about the importance of safety and following Government guidelines, and it has now been agreed that the following sites will be closed: Thorneloe Gardens, Tollgate, Montpelier Road, Tollers Lane, Oxford Road, Warbank Crescent, Chertsey Crescent, Ravensdale and Rushden, Auckland Rise and Sylvan Hill
“In addition, Windmill Place and Flora Court will be closed from 5pm on Tuesday 31st March 2020.
“There are a handful of sites that will remain operational as they are extremely close to completion. The contractors have advised that works can be carried out safely and it would be at a significant business risk to close them, for example Longheath Gardens, Pump House, Heathfield Gardens and Drummond Road.”
The development in Longheath Gardens, close to South Norwood Country Park, had been intended by Brick by Brick to go for shared ownership sales, but when the company discovered that it is not recognised by mortgage lenders as a registered supplier of shared ownership properties, Croydon Council said that they would step in to buy the flats for social housing in a bail-out worth at least £6million to the struggling company.
The Drummond Road site is close to Old Town, near the tram network and Church Street and Surrey Street, where some still shop for fresh fruit and vegetables.
The announcement that BxB is continuing building works at all has caused outrage among councillors, including from the majority group at the Labour-controlled Town Hall.
“This is a scandal,” one told Inside Croydon.
“There are businesses across this borough that are doing the right thing, and have shut up shop for the duration of the coronavirus emergency because they are judged not to provide essential services.
“But here we have the council-owned builders saying that they are above all that, and that they know better than the government’s medical advisers, and that it is alright for hundreds of construction workers to travel across Croydon every day, to get to their building sites. And all because of ‘a significant business risk’.
“What about the risk to people’s lives and the risk to the NHS that Brick by Brick and their contractors are causing by their reckless decision over the past week to continue their building works?”
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