Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Thursday 2 July – Thames Tideway Tunnel 'Community Liaison Working Group' + UPDATE

Not everyone will have received the leaflet from Thames Tideway Tunnel inviting them to 'join' their "Working Group". Those who did – and registered their interest – should by now have received an email invitation to attend a meeting this Thursday.

Thursday 2 July, 7-9pm, Deptford Lounge

The invitation says "If you are no longer able to attend or wish to bring somebody with you, please let us know by return email or by calling our 24 hour customer helpline on 0800 0721 086".

They make it sound like it's by appointment only!

The original leaflet read:

Deptford Church Street
Are you interested in playing a key role in your community? Have you taken an interest in the Thames Tideway Tunnel project and how it needs to work with residents, organisations and groups in your local area? If so, now is your chance to join the Deptford Church Street Community Liaison Working Group.

The first meeting will take place in July so don't wait, if you are interested in being involved or would like to find out more call our helpline on 0800 0721 086, email: getinvolved@tidewaytunnels.co.uk or go to our website www.thamestidewaytunnel.co.uk.

UPDATE: 5th July 2015, post-meeting

This blogger turned up at 7.15 to find herself the only attendee. There were 8-10 TW people sat around a large table area in the centre of the big hall. Asked if it was a drop-in or an agenda meeting, they said it was intended to be the latter, but couldn't be since no one had turned up.

The team was split between engineers and PR people. Another local resident turned up at around 7.30, so we asked how they had managed to arrive at such a low turnout (only 2 people by 8pm). How many had been sent the initial green leaflet? A PR person said everyone within a 100m radius had been posted the (green) invitation to register their interest – we forgot to ask how many that might be, but suggested that the impetus on people having to register ensured the numbers would be kept small, and that both Deptford's Heart and the Garden Association had not received sufficient notice, if any at all.

In fact Deptford's Heart has since posted that they only found out via a local councillor and had requested the meeting be rescheduled if response to the invitation looked likely to be low. Councillors were also not given sufficient notice. But the meeting went ahead anyway, and Deptford's Heart records a total attendance of four people from the community.

A 'Project Manager' explained to us that there would be "Early Works" beginning in "late autumn" this year. However, as Deptford's Heart has also posted, a letter recently went out notifying works that will happen in late July. No mention was made of this at the meeting.

The later "Early Works" are a preliminary to the "Major Works" in 2017, when they start digging the huge ventilator shaft on the green. The aim of the Early Works is to reroute BT and Virgin cables without damaging other utilities. This work will last 12-14 months in total as follows:

• First 3 months – Crossfield St will be dug up (closed)
• Second 3 months – Coffey St will be dug up (closed, while Crossfield St will reopen)
Third 6 months – Contraflow (partial closure) on Deptford Church St (between Crossfield St and Coffey St), April/May 2016

We brought up the subject of pollution. The largest vehicle used will be 71/2 tons (equivalent to large white van, apparently), plus a grab lorry for spoil "once or twice" a day. Their vehicles will be Euro-6 (latest 'super-clean' diesel) to produce less pollution. When the main work starts mid 2017 (to go on till 2020), there would be 9 lorries per day (a reduction on the previous figure).

They have been collecting data to establish a pollution baseline – you may have noticed the equipment positioned on the green at the St Joseph's School end. We were told the data will be collected, processed and passed to Environmental Health (at Lewisham?) BEFORE the work starts in Autumn. The road hasn't been monitored though, and we pointed out that any baselines established there would already be breaking EU limits (see our pollution test results from May last year), and that their enquiry evidence on the impact of the proposed partial closure (or 'contraflow') of Deptford Church Street was based on out-of-date stats from TfL. They still have no idea (nor any data on) what the impact is of an accident in Blackwall or Rotherhithe Tunnel.

We learned that in the main works, the tunnel (to Chambers Wharf) will be dug from Greenwich Pumping Station, which means spoil will not be coming out of the main shaft at Deptford Church Street. This might explain the reduction in lorries originally proposed. Spoil may well be carried away via the Creek but this is not confirmed.

With all the money being thrown at the project by the taxpayer, and all the cash Thames Water owners – the Australian investment group Macquarie – have stowed away in offshore tax havens, they could afford to be 'creative' and use the Creek – as can the developers around the Creek (despite pleading poverty or "lack of viability" when requested to provide anything for the community that will eat into their 20% profits).

The PR person said they would set up another meeting for September. We requested that better notice be given, and that everyone who has registered interest (about five as far as we could tell from a glimpse at their expected attendance sheet) should get digital copies of the materials circulated at the meeting. Ideally, a radius greater than 100m should be used for any invitations, since it won't just be local residents affected by three-mile-long traffic tail backs that may occur when the 'contraflow' is in place.

We told them the CLWG was a 'tick-box' exercise and a waste of our time. The only reason locals might be interested in attending would be to argue for more compensation, and not to receive information that could easily be disseminated via leaflet drops or email. The Project Manager said we'd be able to swim in the Thames when they'd finished building the tunnel. Not with those currents, we said. Another said we'll be able to have a say in how they make the green look afterwards. We said we'd probably be asking for a Heart and Lung Hospital to go on it.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Dear Mark Agnew, Head of Property, Lewisham Homes...

Dear Mark,

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".

The product is supposed to be applied after the older painted surface has been removed. A previous sub-contractor had specified that all the paint must be removed in order for the primer to adhere effectively. Your present subcontractor says only "most of it" need be removed.

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...


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dear Nigel Tyrrell, Director of Environment, Lewisham...

Dear Nigel,

What is going on with your Recycling Team? They have not collected 9 13 of our 11 15 recycling bins on Crossfields Estate SE8 for two weeks.

We asked the Head of Estate Services at Lewisham Homes to find out. He had already been contacted by our caretakers but had not been informed by Recycling themselves.

He told us yesterday that "Lewisham have reported that the delay was apparently due to the bins being contaminated with non-recyclable waste and the volume of other recycling points across the Borough with the same issue". He was assured that the bins would be emptied first thing today. At close of play today, nine thirteen bins remain full to overflowing.

This begs the questions:

1. Why would Recycling promise to empty bins that they have previously refused to empty?
2. If the bins contain foodstuff, why has the issue not been referred to Refuse for collection?
3. Why did Recycling not inform Lewisham Homes (when they share the same depot)?
4. How did 9 13 out of 11 15 bins manage to become contaminated all at the same time?
5. How come people across the borough contaminated their bins all at the same time?

We have requested that Lewisham Homes work with Recycling to re-flyer our estate to remind residents of their responsibilities, with the focus on NOT including food in their recycling materials, rather than what they CAN put in.

However, it looks to us as if 'contamination' has been offered as an excuse for bad management. If Recycling had actually come out and found 9 13 bins contaminated, they should have put a sticker on each one indicating they would be picked up by Refuse. This was not done. It may be no co-incidence that the same thing occurred last year at roughly the same time – does the whole department just go on holiday at this time?

We hope you will able to get to the bottom of the problem as a matter of urgency, as all calls by residents and now other senior managers have met with no success. We know the Council are having to make some severe cuts, but this is one area that should not be allowed to fail.

Update 26 June: Bins were emptied the next day. Lewisham Homes is also now looking at working with the Council to get a leaflet out to residents.

Update 29 July: A leaflet went out to most residents on or around 24/25 July (printed by the Council's Environment team but distributed by Lewisham Homes caretakers), and Lewisham Homes' Head of Estate Services has promised to sort out improved communications between Recycling and Refuse, so that Refuse pick up when Recycling refuse (sorry!) to.


Gareth Malone is apparently on the hunt in Deptford for the country’s most impressive a cappella groups for a new BBC2 series. You can see some of most gifted, unsigned vocal groups from across the U.K. battle it out to stay in the contest, all overseen by the man himself, at The Laban Centre, Deptford, London at 4.45pm on Saturday 20th June.  Booking is open via http://www.sroaudiences.com.