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, if not next autumn.

Update: Monday 3 November

Wilshaw House scaffolding has now been half up and unalarmed for 11 weeks with no work taking place.

The TRA was told last Thursday that Lewisham Homes/MITIE are waiting for 1st Scaffolding to get the appropriate certification required in order to either come back and complete the job or take it down. The preference is for them to complete the job  – but only on the balcony sides of the block. Another company will erect the platforms at the back. That way it will take less time than if 1st Scaffolding take down what they've put up and then another company has to re-erect the front as well.

What beggars belief is how long this company has been allowed to operate without appropriate certification (CISRS or CSCS) or membership of any scaffolding associations. We found out weeks ago that 1st Scaffolding did not have NASC membership (the National Access and Scaffolding Federation is the main scaffolding association in the UK). In other words, MITIE/Lewisham Homes do not check.


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