You are presently proposing to resurface the painted staircases at Holden, Wilshaw, Castell and Browne Houses as part of your Decent Homes programme of Major Works. The stairs were never part of the original Schedule of Works, and are only now included at our request. The problem is that they are discoloured and unhygenic due to several years' build up of dirt and detergent as a result of the one-size-fits-all cleaning methods employed across of the borough (a mop and bucket of water) which is unsuitable for this gritty (non-slip) painted surface installed by the Council in 1996.
We asked that they be thoroughly cleaned and repainted, but instead you want to spend a lot of free money (the Decent Homes grant, courtesy of the tax-payer) on resurfacing them with the same product – Polyurea – that you have recently applied to our walkways. As you may or may not have been told by your Project Manager, there have already been considerable problems with that resurfacing.
Since your Project Manager was determined to proceed, your "partners", MITIE, did a 'test patch' on Castell House earlier in the week, and everyone has been horrified at the result. It looks like a tart's boudoir! As one resident has complained, "We were told that 'aesthetics' would be one of the criteria by which the test would be judged, but unless you consider Barbie's dollhouse the apex of western beauty I'm sure you'll agree this fails the test comprehensively".
Indeed, last Friday, the old paint was removed from one of the treads (and a bit of the next one down) with hi-pressure 3000psi jet washing. On the following Monday, the lurid red surface was applied to the three steps below that were not jetwashed. A resident witnessed this jet washing take 30 minutes to complete. If you count the risers that would be an hour per step. There are on average 65 steps. So it would take 65 hours – or two weeks in building terms – to get rid of the old paint using this method on just one staircase. There are nine.
Since the product was applied to the three steps below that had not been jetwashed, this test is obviously not to find out how well the Polyurea adheres. No doubt a better colour match can be achieved, and the shininess reduced, after several further test patches – so perhaps this particular test patch will be ripped up and a new one applied. But what would be the point? It's easy to see that most of the costs of this procedure will be in the time it takes to remove the original paint.
However, adherence needs to be tested, since the grey Polyurea applied to our balcony walkways is already lifting. There have been numerous examples of it coming away from the walls and the landings and having to be redone several times in one or two instances.
In addition the walkways are now extremely difficult to clean. Both rain and tap water no longer drain effectively down the gulleys and instead evaporate after a few days leaving a stain. Lewisham Homes has still to explain how this product can be cleaned. The Lewisham Homes Project Manager claims that "Estate Services have approved this surface", but the Caretakers do not have to actually clean them, they are just required to sweep them.
However, they do have to clean the stairs – with a mop and a bucket. The stairs endure significantly more traffic than the walkways. By Monday night, the new red test patch was stained. However, it was re-sprayed in the morning for the benefit of senior managers who came to view it. There was also a cleaning demonstration. The result was that the gritty surface tore at the mop, leaving bits of mop behind on the stairs. The caretakers are not at all happy with the test patch, but the Lewisham Homes Project Manager declared that "Everyone likes it".
Leaseholders are particularly frustrated by this attitude since the cost of the application will be added to the already large costs they are required to pay, as their share of all the Major Works. Lewisham Homes is attracted to using Polyurea because it dries quite quickly and is apparently "guaranteed" for 20-30 years. They believe it will last longer than a painted surface, despite the present surface having lasted for 18 years. In fact there is no actual guarantee available because the work has three parts to it that could all cause the surface to fail: MITIE have to guarantee the jet washing preparation, the manufacturer guarantees the product, and the subcontractor the application. All three could blame the other for any failures (which are already apparent) and no one would be responsible.
Lots of complaints have gone to the Project Manager, and residents have enlisted the help of the Conservation Officer. When appraising the estate to apply Conservation status to the Creekside area (ratified by the Council in 2012 but of which Lewisham Homes had no idea), she identified Crossfields for its special architectural and historic interest. But as one resident has recently commented, "Crossfields is a beautiful estate that was ageing gracefully until you lot stepped in. The stairs proposal is the equivalent of me forcing my 100 year old granny into a red tracksuit and kinky boots".
Residents requested the Conservation Officer's input last year when you proposed to jetwash our buildings, using the same aggressive methods as you used to remove the skin of the brickwork at Tanner's Hill estate in their Major Works. The aim of Decent Homes funding is to make our homes "dry, safe and warm", but when challenged how jetwashing masonry fitted this remit, your surveyors Baily Garner finally admitted that it was for purely cosmetic reasons, to achieve "a Wow factor".
The Conservation Officer's advice not to go ahead with jetwashing, or otherwise to use the least aggressive method, was roundly ignored – in fact, in the absence of her being required (or indeed having the time and resources) to write a report, both your "partners" tried to misrepresent which method she had advised – by changing its name, and effectively lying at meetings and on paper. You went ahead anyway with a method which we warned you would make no visible difference because the only areas that were noticeably dirty were due to atmospheric soiling which is not water soluable. A waste of time and money, though no doubt your "partners" MITIE will have made a tidy profit on the subcontracting.
So will you make the same mistakes again?
Your "partners" continue to mismanage the work on our buildings with no monitoring from you and total deference to them from your freelance Project Manager. Like the non-existent guarantees, no one is responsible and the other "partner" is always blamed, so residents have no recourse. Because you have a "partnership" with them rather than a straightforward contractual arrangement, all the mistakes they make – too numerous to mention and endlessly pointed out to you – are brushed off. "Shit happens" shrugs the incompetent and arrogant MITIE contracts manager when challenged.
Although emailed complaints go unanswered, we note that a notice has just gone up on our outdoor noticeboards which, among other things, says the decision on what type of coating to be used on the stairs has yet to be made. Let's hope you make the RIGHT decision – one that residents can actually live with.
UPDATE: 3rd July 2015
Residents received a letter purporting to be from Mark Agnew which said:
Polyurea will not be used on the staircases based on the following factors:
• The preparation required to the existing surface
• The problems that Estate Services would encounter when cleaning the stairs
Lewisham Homes would like to ensure that the stairs are being brought up to a good standard and are therefore further exploring suitable products.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all residents who have contacted us with their views.Update: 29th July 2015
It will take them forever to work out what to do. Meanwhile, we are stuck with the test patch eyesore, which just gets dirtier and dirtier the more it is cleaned – as do the old painted surfaces, which also look worse since they were patched up with concrete repairs...