Saturday, 4 July 2015

“Considerate Constructors” in South Kilburn – Really?

Guest blog from Pete Firmin, Chair, Alpha and Gorefield Houses and Canterbury Court Tenants and residents association
Readers of Wembley Matters may have noticed on many building sites around Brent posters showing “this site is registered with the Considerate Constructors Scheme” [CCS]. Very impressive, and their website    sounds good too: “Considerate constructors seek to improve the image of the construction industry by striving to promote and achieve best practice under the Code of Considerate Practice”. My understanding is that being registered under this scheme is a requirement for getting contracts with Brent Council (and many others).
Having had problems with how (in)considerate Wilmott Dixon are towards those neighbouring their site behind Kilburn Park station in South Kilburn, members of our Tenants and Residents Association checked further.
The code of practice has various sections “Care About Appearance”, “Respect the Community”, “Protect the Environment”, “Secure Everyone’s Safety” and “Value their Workforce”. It would be interesting to know to what extent Councils monitor any of this, but our concern is with the “Respect the Community” section, where it states “Constructors should give utmost consideration to their impact on neighbours and the public; Informing, respecting and showing courtesy to those affected by the work; minimising the impact of deliveries, parking and work on the public highway; contributing to and supporting the local community and economy; working to create a positive and enduring impression, and promoting the Code.”
Having felt over the 3 years in which Wilmott Dixon have been our neighbours that we have not been treated with anything like the implied levels of consideration, we decided to submit a complaint to the scheme. Easily done via the CSC website, which also says
“When a complaint is received that is relevant to the Scheme’s Code of Considerate Practice, the site manager or company contact will be told what the complaint is about, and given the name and contact details of the complainant (with the complainant’s permission). Advice might also be offered as to how they might deal with the complaint.
The Scheme will stay in contact with the complainant until the site or company has investigated and responded to the complaint and until the Scheme is satisfied that the site is adhering to the Code of Considerate Practice, at which point the complaint will be taken off the ‘active’ list.”

Inconsiderate vehicle movements endanger children in South Kilburn development
 We submitted a lengthy complaint, covering a multitude of issues, such as frequent arrival of delivery vehicles before the permitted time of 8 a.m., , frequent working outside of permitted hours, building workers parking in residents’ spaces, construction vehicles moved via a footpath which is supposed to be only used by emergency vehicles, operations being carried out in a narrow street during times when parents and children were passing on the way to the local primary school, refusal to pay compensation to residents when cables have been cut. That’s the shortened version.
To be absolutely clear, all of these relate to issues (except not cutting cables) which Willmott Dixon committed to even before they began work on the site. Breaches have been complained about to Willmott Dixon, Catalyst Housing, Brent Council officers and Councillors throughout (usually with photographic evidence where appropriate). Very little has changed, even though occasional promises were made that it would. Rather, we found that Council officers had sanctioned some of these practices – they endorsed the idea that Wilmott Dixon did not need to pay compensation to those whose utilities were cut off (we were told that WD “didn’t mean to do it”). Council officers gave permission for WD to move vehicles between site entrances along the footpath (this was eventually reversed, but only after vehement complaints by residents).
We submitted that catalogue of complaints to the Considerate Constructors Scheme in April. We immediately got a response saying the registration of that site under the scheme had lapsed! Interestingly, the first response of the senior Council officer this was referred to was to suggest it be on the table for a future meeting. It had to be pointed out to him that maybe Brent should enquire as to why this had happened, which he subsequently did. The posters proclaiming the site a registered one came down sharpish. The registration fee was later paid retrospectively.
Early in May, because of concerns about our complaints, a meeting was held with TRA representatives, a senior Council Officer, local Councillors, a Brent Housing Partnership representative and local and senior representatives of both Catalyst Housing and Wilmott Dixon, at which we laid out our complaints fairly comprehensively. During the course of this meeting it emerged that there had been several site visits by the Considerate Constructors Scheme during the course of the work. However, WD had not thought (!) to inform tenants and residents reps of this, when we could have raised our complaints. They undertook, under pressure from their more senior representatives present, to invite us to a future such site visit (apparently they are known as ‘Open Days’).
Under the CCS, a registered site is under obligation to log all complaints received about their behaviour. At this meeting they undertook to provide us with a copy of this log and a full response to our catalogue of complaints, both of which we duly received. It should be noted that the log only contains those complaints sent by email, not those made by phone or verbally, clearly a shortcoming.
Not long after, there was indeed a visit by an investigator from the CSC. However, it turned out that he did not know we would be present, had not seen our list of complaints, and what’s more he had not known the size of the site he was visiting! We were treated as unwelcome guests and shunted out after a brief exchange. We have yet to hear anything further from CSC.
Just before this site visit, Wilmott Dixon excelled themselves. At the meeting one of the issues which came up was their poor communications, often informing residents late in the day about progress in the work, changes to access etc.. Our TRA had its Annual General Meeting coming up, and as ever, invited WD, Catalyst BHP etc. to give reports. WD asked if we wanted them to distribute our notices, to which we replied “no thank you”, we would distribute them ourselves to all residents as usual. A few days later WD put out their occasional bulletin with an update through residents doors, except that this time the second sheet was an adulterated version of our AGM notice changed to appear as if it came from WD! When we complained that, among other things, this made it appear we are somehow linked to WD they just didn’t “get it”. In fact they claimed that they were “being helpful”. How helpful is it when you are asked not to do it and go ahead anyway?
Have things improved since that meeting? Not really, we still have vehicles arriving early, we still have building workers using residents’ parking spaces and we still have work carried out outside ‘permitted’ hours, and cut cables again.  What has changed is that the building work is nearing completion (though it is still the case that every estimated completion date we are given is overshot), so not so much heavy work is taking place. Moreover, many of those who have complained have now given up because nothing changes and are just hoping it is all over soon.
Brent Council? There has never been any sign that Council officers monitor the performance of the developers. If we are lucky they occasionally respond to our complaints, encouraging WD to pull their socks up. If they are doing more, they certainly don’t tell us.
Last year our frustration was such that we passed a lengthy motion at our Annual General meeting in July covering 3 aspects – regeneration as social cleansing; problems with the proximity of new buildings to existing ones; and the attitude of the developers to local residents. Readers may have seen the article in the Kilburn Times about this. That resolution was sent to the lead member for regeneration, Councillor Margaret McLennan. Despite promising a written response on several occasions, we have yet to have one from her nearly one year on.
To be clear, our Kilburn Councillors have taken up our complaints strongly and have got as frustrated as us with the response from Council officers.
CCS? It is a self-regulated scheme, so maybe we shouldn’t have expected anything anyway. And WD sits on its board and has received awards under the scheme. But given that Brent and other Councils expect builders to be members of the scheme, you might expect (hope?) that they would pay some attention as to whether they fulfil their commitments under the scheme. Rather, Brent turns a blind eye, if anything siding with the builders in their inconsiderate behaviour.
To add insult to injury, after 3 years of this, Brent is pushing for HS2 to build its vent shaft next to our flats and the local primary school. So after 3 years of living on a building site, we are expected to accept another 6 years of the same. Or, rather, worse, given the vehicle movements predicted for the building of the vent shaft.
One last point, Brent like some other Councils, has taken a stand against blacklisting, saying it will not award contracts to any company that blacklists. Excellent, but maybe Councils should push for such a commitment against blacklisting to be written into the CCS, especially as so many companies which are known to have blacklisted in the past (including Willmott Dixon) are members.

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