Saturday, October 18, 2014

Crossfields Major Works: Scaffolding debacle

As part of 'Decent Homes Major Works' the external refurbishment of our estate began on 18th August with the erection of scaffolding on Wilshaw House, one of the nine blocks on Crossfields. It was originally scheduled to go up on 28th July (if not before).

The scaffolding company, 1st Scaffolding, were very noisy. Three weeks later they were 'thrown off' the site for breaches in Health & Safety. In that time they had only managed to cover less than half the building. By this Monday, the half erected scaffolding will have been up – unalarmed – for NINE weeks.

No Decent Homes work has taken place on the block during this time, so affected residents have had to tolerate a reduction in light for two months for no reason at all

Lewisham Homes estimate that scaffolding on each block will be up for around 6 months whilst works take place. However, at Tanner's Hill, scaffolding has been up on Deloraine and Heston Houses since February – nearly 8 months. The most recent 'schedules' have Wilshaw House scaffolding commencing yet again on Monday 20th along with its neighbour Holden House.

Where Wilshaw were supposed to be the first block to receive the 'gift' of major works, it appears they will now be the last – without any explanation for the intervening time.

The only information given to Wilshaw residents was contained in a newsletter published by contractors MITIE (a massive out-sourcing company) in late September. It said "We have recently been in discussion with our scaffolding supply chain partners concerning their work practices, in particular their attention to specific details concerning health & safety. Therefore we have now sourced other suppliers to continue in their place." 

In the meantime, the scaffolding has not come down because there is a contractual dispute that has gone into litigation. We're not sure who's involved with the scaffolding company in this – MITIE or Lewisham Homes. The two have become an interchangeable mess of middle and senior managers saying different things. LH have out-sourced to out-sourcers MITIE, but seem to defer to them. Lewisham Homes defer even more so to surveyors Baily Garner, who earn 1.34% on the total cost of the works (last reckoned to be £36m of central government funds across the borough) and have therefore, unsurprisingly, specified unnecessary work that has gone unchallenged by LH.

A different scaffolding company arrived on the estate on 15th September and began work on Farrer House. Before finishing Farrer, they also worked on Browne House which was the first to be completed. Scaffolders are now working on Castell, Frankham and Finch and have been remarkably quiet and efficient. The contrast between the two companies has been huge – and much noted by residents who have hardly noticed the second company's presence whilst they stealthily cover the whole estate in scaffolding.

The noise made by 1st Scaffolding in the first week was so disturbing that some residents complained to the site office. The nuisance noise was from one scaffolder who never stopped talking/shouting and the vehicle they used to hoist their materials. One complaint was met with "That's scaffolders for you" from the MITIE resident liaison officer. That response was so poor that the complaining resident consequently shouted and swore at the scaffolders themselves, resulting in Lewisham Homes raising an Anti-Social Behaviour complaint against her whilst no action was taken against the scaffolders.

The issue of Wilshaw House scaffolding was raised at a meeting on 11th September, convened by Lewisham Homes' Director of Housing to discuss leaseholder's queries on the Schedule of Works. Leaseholders reported that they had heard that morning from their caretaker that the scaffolders had got the push and that new scaffolders were starting work on another block the following Monday.
The regional head of MITIE, Rod Sutherland, replied: "They have not been sacked. I have slowed the works down because of your queries". 

It was then suggested (and laughed about by some senior managers) that the caretaker was indulging in idle gossip. In fact, he had got the information from the MITIE site foreman and it was true. 

As well as shouting continuously onsite, 1st Scaffolding used a diesel hoist to lift poles and planks (the new company uses pulleys). The hoist was run 30 minutes at a time at intervals whilst they unloaded their materials. It appeared to have no silencer on its exhaust and was pumping diesel fumes into residents' homes. Both the shouting and the diesel hoist vehicle were breaking the guidelines outlined by Lewisham Council's Good Practice Guide, which also states that noise monitoring should be undertaken by the contractors (which it obviously wasn't). There was supposed to be a Scaffolding Inspector on site, but it was three weeks before 1st Scaffolding was asked to leave.

No actual work has started anywhere on the estate yet.

Update: Friday 24 October

No news on the Wilshaw House scaffolding which is still up. Work started on Browne on Wednesday.

We've been told there's a set fee for scaffolding. Some residents have asked for reassurances that just because it makes no difference to the cost how long the scaffolding stays up, works should not be delayed or prolonged because of this, and should be managed so that it is up for the minimum amount of time. The reply given was "the documentation presented to MITIE for tendering purposes required them to charge for scaffolding based on its dimensions alone. However scaffolding companies commonly charge based on dimensions, erection charge, dismantling charge and weekly hire charge. Consequently there is an incentive for MITIE to leave the scaffolding in place for the minimum period necessary to complete the works and have it accepted."

There are only a few items for which scaffolding is required – roof works, brick cleaning, brick and masonry repairs, renewing (undamaged) sealant around windows. Even if these are done first, it seems other works (which don't need scaffolding) must be completed before all works can be 'signed off'. On other estates, inadequate work has had to be done again in order to be fully signed off (usually where residents have intervened), and 'snagging' seems to take a long time. So Crossfields residents can expect to remain in the dark (with a 35% loss of light for those on the lower floors) well into the middle of next summer.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Cycle path plans revealed long after work started

We reported on the cycle path improvement works back in July, and now they are almost complete twelve weeks later. Whilst the actual pavement works finished sooner than this and new (red) tarmac was laid at the main entrance to the estate before the end of September, there are still a couple of items to complete – and there appears to be no sign of the project's finishing touches being applied in any hurry.

Railings and gates are yet to be installed to replace those which were removed. Guard rails were also removed from the pavement outside the gate. Some safety conscious residents are now concerned that the new opening, whilst very convenient for cyclists, is dangerous for children who may run excitedly out of the estate and directly into the road.

In July we requested a copy of the plans for this project from both Lewisham (the road is in the borough) and Greenwich (who were doing the work). We finally received these rather belatedly from Lewisham on 23rd September after a reminder. There was no response at all from Greenwich.

The following illustration shows how the entrance was proposed to be modified (click on the image below to enlarge). 

The intention was to "take down and reconstruct pier [pillar] with same bricks and coping stone. Procure and fix new wrought iron gate and hinges". In typical planning cock-up stylee, this drawing was Photoshopped by someone who hadn't actually been anywhere near the proposed area and therefore didn't take into account the fact that the wall on the right – that they suggested should be "reduced in height to relocate existing railing" – is actually supporting a railing on the other side of the wall, which borders the garden area behind the wall and runs alongside the path into the estate (see the photo at the top of this post taken from inside the estate).

Meanwhile, on the plan we were sent (marked "not to be used for construction"), the entrance is shown as being widened on either side to a width of 3 metres:

This would have involved taking down both pillars and re-constructing them wider apart after removing the railings either side of them. Those railings (and low walls they are embedded in) would then have to be cut down in order to fit them back into smaller gaps. And a gate "double in width" 'procured'.

When it actually came to construction, only one pillar was taken down and reconstructed (as per the first illustration), and only one railing needs cutting down and re-installing, albeit a shorter width than in the illustration. A new gate (or pair of gates?) is yet to be 'procured' and fitted. In addition, the grey metal guardrail between pavement and road (the 'baffle') is to be "replaced with 6 metres of new 'visi-rail' panels". How long will it take for all these to be fitted?

Of course, the real completion of the project will be when the signs go up. If the time it took to put up the one-way signs in Deptford High Street after the new paving works is anything to go by, we've a long wait.

Rapman returns

Residents wondering about the flash cars and the noisy, but well-dressed and very polite youths outside Farrer House all day on Thursday will have witnessed the return of Rapman. He was making the third of his Blue Story videos partly set on the estate. You can view the first two episodes on Youtube at link
The video tells the tale of two young people whose friendship goes badly and violently wrong when they find themselves associated with opposing postcode-based gangs. For the purposes of this story Crossfields is the Ghetto and the opponents are from Peckham. Whatever you think of that, the videos and the rap are very polished and the acting is also surprisingly strong. And, of course, the issue is a very live one. But there seems to be some irony in using Crossfields as the location since the actors are clearly not from here but were warmly and excitedly welcomed by pretty much everyone - young and old. I guess that's one comforting thing about our postcode.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Deptford X continues + Fun Palace weekend

Lots happening this weekend in and around Deptford town centre. Exhibitions and open studios continue as part of Deptford X – apologies that we have not had time to pick out the best! It sounds like it's worth visiting both St Nick's and St Paul's churches, just two of the non-gallery spaces where artists are showing their work, but what else is going on?

We popped into the Deptford X HQ on Creekside (next to APT Gallery) earlier to find out what we've been missing. Co-ordinator Caz Underwood told us that Luis Rodriguez's "Dancing Builder" (see the short video above) has been very popular. Rodriguez has been dancing – like no one is watching – at regular intervals (peak travel times) on the roof of the Bird's Nest in full view of passing DLR trains. He's up there right now (singing to himself as well), and tomorrow he can be seen between 8-9am and 4-6pm. You can also watch him at these times on a live stream.

Caz also suggested we go see Jessica Voorsanger's show "It's about the hair" at the temporary gallery space on Brookmill Road. Jessica's large format photographs are self portraits of herself dressed as various celebrities, a project she embarked on after her hair grew back strangely curly following a period of baldness when she was undergoing chemotherapy recently. "Witty but dark" is how Caz describes the work.

There is far too much to see all over Deptford to list here, but to find out what else is going on, head to the HQ to pick up a map. You'll still need to refer to the website to find out about the artists and times and you can also check the map online – which Caz says is more up-to-date. Over the weekend at the HQ, lead artist Bob and Roberta Smith will be finishing his "Vote" painting, and you can try your hand at screen printing. There'll be live music here on Sunday (12-5pm) and banners are being made to carry on "a march" from the HQ to the Job Centre pub at around 5.30pm. Later, there's Fred's Art Quiz at the Dog and Bell (9pm), or if electronic music is your thing, spend the day at Vinyl cafe (2-11pm). Follow Deptford X on Twitter @DeptfordX.

Meanwhile, local theatre folk are taking part in and presenting "a weekend-long celebration of arts, science and culture" as part of the nationwide Fun Palace weekend (also see coverage in The Guardian). Pop-up performances, story-telling, food fights, circus, music – find out what's going on at the information point in the market square next to the Albany – or download the timetable and map.

We noticed this anchor last night and wondered if a new campaign to bring our anchor back had started, but it's part of the Fun Palace weekend... "Deptford's newest street theatre troop" The Red Anchors will be presenting pop-up theatre wherever you see a red anchor – "on the ground, in the trees, on lamp posts and on people" is where things might suddenly happen from midday on Saturday and Sunday...

Incidentally, last year's Deptford Is Forever art project are selling their tattoo-inspired Anchor T-shirts at the Deptford X HQ on Creekside on Saturday and Sunday (Unisex or Ladyfit – scooped neck, capped sleeves – all sizes @£10 with 10% going to Deptford X). Other Deptford X merchandise will be available at reduced prices, including silk screen prints of the festival poster "What is the value of art?" and limited edition signed prints of "Art makes people powerful" by Bob & Roberta Smith.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Amber Tree Café and other high street news

Meet Jolanda and Virginia at the Amber Tree Café, a new delightful new addition to the south of the high street (number 45). Proprietor Virginia is Lithuanian and the cafe has got off to a great start, offering a varied lunch and breakfast menu (eat in or takeaway) at very reasonable prices. Virginia says all their food is handmade, freshly produced and uses only natural ingredients, and the cafe's speciality is their amazing homemade cakes, which include gluten free, dairy free and eggless recipes.

Co-incidentally, you can watch a live performance of traditional Lithuanian music at 1pm on Saturday 27th at the Deptford Lounge. Part of Deptford X festival, more info here.
Amber Tree has replaced the ill-fated Slices pizza restaurant which set up shop around the same time as the Pizza Bus down the road – the latter may have usurped Slices' USP. In a similar manner, the lovely Lithuanian women's lunchtime trade may about to get unwanted competition. A couple of doors down, the former Abermarle & Bond is now being refitted, and the builders have told us it's to become a new (franchised) branch of Subway, the bread-based food outlet that seems to be set on massive expansion.

At least it's not another pawnbroker. However, Subway don't offer hot meals and homemade cakes like Amber, or spicey Caribbean bites and breads like the great Chaconia bakery opposite, but the new store may give Percy Ingles another two doors down – and Greggs up the road – a run for their money.

Abermarle & Bond went bust earlier this year after the price of gold dropped dramatically last year (although their main trade was in Pay-Day loans). When the branch opened in late 2011 it became the fourth pawnbroker on the high street in a betting-shop-and-pay-day-loan cluster, as we reported at the time.

A later addition to the cluster was Cash Converters which took over the old Halifax premises, after locals campaigned against it becoming a Betfred (and which the Council managed to stop due to an unusual planning clause that applied to the building). But along with Abermarle & Bond, the Deptford Cash Converters branch has now inexplicably closed, having denied earlier in the year that their "Big Sale" was a "closing down sale"...