Thursday, October 29, 2015

Flooding and gas leaks...a bad night for Lewisham Homes...

Farrer House ceiling. Already bad, just made worse.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, residents at Farrer House were woken by the fire brigade. Two fire engines and ten firefighters had responded to a call from a very worried resident on the top floor who was afraid a fire would break out because rain water was pouring through his ceilings and sparking the electrics.

The roof of the top floor balconies is being rebuilt by MITIE, the contractors working in partnership with Lewisham Homes to refurbish the estate buildings with Decent Homes public funding. The exposed roof work had been left uncovered, resulting in flooding in the flats below.

The fire brigade disconnected the electrics, but were astonished to find there were no signs on site giving the number of the contractor in case of emergencies. They tried to contact Lewisham Homes and Lewisham Council to no avail. When they finally got through to someone, the response was that they were not 'overly interested' and no one was available to come out to deal with the problem.

Perhaps they were too busy dealing with the gas leak occuring at the Tanner's Hill estate, where the residents of 60 flats had to spend Tuesday night on camp beds in the Deptford Lounge after an emergency evacuation. On Wednesday a crisis team and even the Red Cross were in attendance at the Lounge during the day, but we hear that SGNGas had sorted hotels, meals and transport for the residents' second night away from home. We hope they are now all home safe, and look forward to hearing more about what actually happened soon (possibly in the local papers!).

Crisis team meets Red Cross, Deptford Lounge. Everyone gone already?

Red Cross outside library

It would appear the trauma suffered by Tanner's Hill residents cannot be blamed (as yet) on any one body in particular. But at Crossfields – where the tenant who has been keeping a bucket in one of his rooms to collect dripping water for several months now and has still not been offered alternative hotel accommodation for him and his family as far as we know – the blame is easy to aportion.

Collecting water on the fourth floor

The Background

Crossfields residents have been complaining all year about the appalling sub-standard levels of work being done by the contractor – further compounded by their lack of supervision and monitoring of workers, and the absence of a Lewisham Homes Clerk of Works to check work in progress.

Worse still, the schedule of works drawn up by the surveyors Baily Garner (and approved by Lewisham Homes) seemed mostly cosmetic or the results of a prediction of what would be required to maintain the buildings some several years hence, as if no funding at all would be available in the next 5-20 years. There appeared very little relation to any problems that the buildings might actually have as experienced by those living here.

Lewisham Homes claimed consistently early on that the Repairs team were consulted on the schedules but have since admitted (behind closed doors) that the bids had had to be prepared very hurriedly to gain access to funding, and Repairs – who would have a record of persistent reported problems – were not consulted at all.
One such historic problem is damp, but tenants who complain about mould on their walls and ceilings are constantly told the problem is condensation – they must avoid drying washing indoors without ventilation, for instance. However, it is often caused by unrepaired guttering or leaking pipes close to walls. Problems usually occur on the ground floor, especially in corner flats with more than one outside wall, but can affect the first floor if the problem is a leaking gutter. Historically, these problems have been ignored by the Repairs Service.

The water penetration on the top floor at Farrer is caused by a leaky flat roofed canopy and has been going on for years. Residents affected by the damage caused have been made to claim on their own insurance on an annual basis to make their own decorative repairs since the problem with the roof has never been fixed properly by Lewisham Homes.

How long? So long...
Getting worse, the pink room...

Already bad, the blue room

Dry, Warm and Safe

Decent Homes funding is awarded to local authorities to bring homes up to standard – the aims are to make homes dry, warm and safe. The roof issue at Farrer was pointed out to both Lewisham Homes and the contractor at the beginning of the works last summer, but little attention seemed to be paid. Scaffolding went up and unnecessary cosmetic items like jet washing brickwork went ahead despite protests that creating a 'Wow factor' (to quote a Baily Garner employee) had nothing to do with making the flats 'dry, warm and safe'.

A proper survey was not carried out until after cracks in the canopy ceilings had been dug out and re-concreted and then re-painted – only to be ruined a few days later by water penetration. The flat roof was then treated with an application of 'polyurea' which was also used to seal the walkways. (Incidentally, water penetration into the seams where the walkways meet the walls of the flats has also been a cause of damp interior walls, but the main reason the walkways were treated was to stop water deteriorating the concrete supporting the balconies to avoid the rather paranoid Health & Safety issue of them collapsing. The gaps that cause interior damp have only recently been filled with mastic when the problem of water egress into the flats below was finally acknowledged.)

Work finished on Farrer House and to everyone's relief scaffolding came down before summer ended, but the roof problem and water penetration remained unresolved. The survey revealed structural damage that meant the entire balcony canopy would need to be rebuilt, something that must have been known about before scaffolding came down. The scaffolding went up again – and leaseholders were issued with a further notice to pay extra costs (a further £4-£5k each) that included a second round of very expensive scaffolding as well as the work itself.

A second round of scaffolding for Farrer House, plunging homes into darkness once more.

It is likely that MITIE, in their relentless pursuit of profit, are also now cutting corners with these new repairs...From their compound on Crossfields, they are not only sending out painters to splodge paint on the same pipes for the fourth time or supposedly qualified brickies to mortar 'refaced' bricks at the last minute before an official inspection, they are also working on cocking up other estates in the area.

Despite employing unskilled and unsupervised labour that has meant most jobs have had to be redone several times, MITIE will probably still be laughing all the way to the bank with public money. A painter was recently overheard complaining to his foreman that he was being made to paint some pipes for the fourth time – the reply was "Don't worry, the government is paying".

Meanwhile Lewisham Homes have obfuscated and failed to listen to their residents throughout – communications have been dreadful and their Complaints Procedure has proved not fit for purpose (see Residents Scrutiny Committee Review: Major Works Resident Liaison Review July 2015).

Residents Scrutiny Committee - Resident Liaison Review

Both tenants and leaseholders have been unhappy; tenants have not been kept informed as to why scaffolding was up for over six months and can't see any real improvements made to the outside of their homes (the exterior environment was not part of the works and is as shabby as ever), but leaseholders, who have to pay for the works, have been most vocal. The RSC noted that Lewisham is failing to monitor satisfaction with external works. Whilst they closely monitored tenants' satisfaction with internal works (tenants were given new kitchens, bathrooms, loos and front doors which they did not have to pay for) they paid more attention to the happy outcome and less to the trauma of the process (and here). Tenants were obviously happy with outcomes, but much less so about the process. With external works, no measuring has taken place at all except to register leaseholders' complaints, many of which remain unrecorded because they've fallen into a vacuum of incompetency.

The MITIE compound at Crossfields was established in April 2013 to cater to the tenants' internal works and takes up 16 parking spaces. The TRA was promised it would be gone by February 2014.

Official complaints lodged have been answered by the Project Manager from the Customer Relations (Complaints) email address, and email responses from the Director of Property Services were also written by her (sent from his email address). The RSC noted that "...(there is) an expectation that Lewisham Homes will closely (monitor) contractors to ensure quality and cost control...the perception is that this is not happening...the perception is that Lewisham Homes has become defensive and is 'terrified' of complaints" (p63). So they should be.

Problems were supposed to be referred to the Resident Liaison Officer, but he worked for MITIE, so that was the last person people wanted to go to with complaints about the contractor, especially as he often got things wrong – missing keys (by putting them through the wrong letterboxes), badly made and missed appointments (by putting notes through the wrong doors), numerous pandering promises that he couldn't keep, and an over-cocky attitude to residents who had been picked out by the cabal in the MITIE compound office as 'trouble'....

The vigour with which the freelance Lewisham Homes Project Manager (only appointed after complaints had reached unmanageable proportions) has defended the contractor's shoddy work has also disappointed those who thought she might have been employed to act on residents' behalf – as if Lewisham Homes were the employer and the contractor was not fulfilling its obligations. But the arrangement is not as straightforward as that: it's a 'partnership' with seemingly no one responsible while the work is going on...or indeed after. Don't worry, the government is paying.

Vincent's ceiling in the pink room the next day

Too little too late. Bye bye MITIE?...

The inclusion of a couple of Lewisham Homes 'accountants' on a recent walkabout to 'sign off' work (where Baily Garner have previously acted in this role, signing off their own work) gave the attending resident block rep the impression that more scrutiny is now being applied to achieve 'value for money'. It was even suggested that leaseholders' bills might be reduced from the original estimates. This might seem like a recognition of the poor work done by MITIE, but complaints about the original estimates so poorly drawn by Baily Garner (seemingly unchecked by Lewisham Homes) might have led LH to shift blame to their partner contractors. Such is the nature of partnerships. Don't worry, the government is paying.

MITIE have no particular expertise other than outsourcing cheap labour (mainly for prisons, security and cleaning) and already have a reputation for defrauding local authorities. They were not among the contractors mentioned the last time leaseholders were consulted about anything to do with major works three years ago, bringing into doubt the validity of the Section 20 notices served by Lewisham Homes last May.

Previous LH managerial responses to complaints (especially from the freelance Project Manager) have been that leaseholders must go through the costly and time consuming business of challenging everything via Leasehold Tribunal (ie "La,la,la, not listening, you can argue about that when the bills come in!"). Those are challenges that Lewisham Homes, backed by Council lawyers, historically win.

But while there may be optimistic standards to be met at 'handover', absence of task monitoring by both MITIE and LH throughout has caused work to go on long after it should have finished. The only monitoring has been as a result of leaseholder complaints. In fact, 15 months after MITIE began external works – and 18 months after leaseholders were ambushed by Lewisham Homes with the first news in three years that Major Works would take place and that they would each have to find sums of up to £13k to pay for them – only two blocks out of nine have been 'passed' as completed.

This means MITIE are likely to be with us well into the new year, patching up their mistakes and cocking up as yet unfinished work and working on other estates from their compound on our estate. They still have to finish what they started in the north area despite the good news that their partnering contract has not been renewed. Only two tiny references to this can be found in the July 2015 Lewisham Homes Board Minutes (only visible by visiting October's meeting papers).

p60, Lewisham Homes Board Minutes, July 2015 (October papers)

On p146 it is noted that "all outstanding and future internal Decent Homes works will be undertaken by the in-house Repairs Service...". Gawd 'elp us! Presumably Repairs will not be managing the millions that were put at MITIE's disposal via Decent Homes funding, and repair budgets will be as squeezed as they were before – which resulted in the running down of the Council's housing stock that required the injection of Decent Homes funding. The opportunities presented by that funding have mostly been wasted through bad management and partnering with MITIE.

Ceiling collapses on your daughter's bed...whatever...

At least public cash would no longer end up in MITIE shareholders' pockets and workers might be paid a living wage and not get picked up outside Wickes by gang masters every morning. But some may lament the contract extension with Baily Garner, who still have three more years to nonchalantly do irrelevant desk studies that bear no relation to the real state of the Lewisham stock. They are earning less than 2% of the final value of Major Works, which surely makes it within their interest to ensure the final costs are as high as possible.

For Decent Homes funding they advised their client to bid for the most astronomical figures they could get away with, and then once awarded, they were given the freedom to sign off on the works they themselves had prescribed. In the obvious absence of any direction from Lewisham Homes, they prescribed Health & Safety measures designed to last 20 years to stop the buildings falling on anybody but did not prevent killing them with damp, whilst ordering a cosmetic facelift to brickwork without even knowing this is a Conservation Area.
Oh yes, let's have the Wow factor and jetwash everything to buggery, scrape the skin off the bricks and blow out all the mortar, so they all have to be refaced and repointed. What's that? Damp? Ugh, you mean people actually want to live here?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Plans for Tidemill site – second consultation 10th October

Family Mosaic & Sherrygreen Homes are holding a second public consultation about their proposals for the regeneration of the old Tidemill School site, before submitting a planning application.

Saturday 10th October, 1-4pm, Deptford Lounge

A lo-res pdf of the exhibition boards presented in the previous exhibition in July is available to view on the dedicated website. The second consultation may (or may not) show some changes incorporated as a result of feedback from the first. Residents in Frankham House may want to see if there are any alterations to the proposal to build a five storey extension onto the old school that will butt up against the north end of Frankham. See previous post.

And recent visitors to Tidemill Garden during Deptford X 2015 may wonder which of the "mature trees" will be kept – in particular, two fantastic Indian bean trees that were probably planted by the late Jani Llewellyn, a Crossfields resident and Tidemill teacher who created the garden originally.

The developers will also be consulting on their plans for Amersham Vale on the same day (10am–1pm at the Moonshot Centre).