Published: 13 August, 2010
by JAMIE WELHAM
HOUSING bosses are set on a collision course with leaseholders in Victoria after telling them they will have to foot the bill for delays to already overdue repair works caused by deafening noise from their own builders.
Residents in Emanuel House, who already face crippling repair bills of up to £50,000, are being asked to cough up thousands of pounds extra because a new timetable drawn up for builders to lessen disruption will run up “extension of time” costs.
It has been branded a “scandal” by residents, who have vowed to take legal action unless the council rethinks the move they say simply “punishes the victims”.
They are demanding the council meets the costs, and have been joined in their condemnation by opposition leaders, who have called for an urgent inquiry.
Robin Bridge, project manager at CityWest Homes – the council’s housing contractor in charge of the works to bring the 1960s block in Rochester Row up to date, wrote to residents this week saying: “The current programme of noisy construction works to accommodate the new building is now severely restricted and will run into delay. As a consequence additional costs will be incurred and I regret that these will be passed on to leaseholders to fund.”
Environmental health officers served builders with a notice to restrict work to three shifts a day last month because of complaints about heavy drilling.
Graham Thurston, who moved into the block in 1992, said: “This is an absolute disgrace. For five weeks, we put up with drilling that makes the whole building shake. You can’t hear yourself think. We complain. The council’s own people come down and say, ‘it’s not on’, and then we have to pay for it. What kind of madhouse logic is that? They are punishing the victims. I think they just want to use us as a cash cow.”
Of the 70 flats, 65 are leaseholders, many of whom bought their properties under the Right to Buy scheme and say they have been waiting 20 years for the repairs. They also contend the new work hours are no different to the former, with the enforced breaks from 10am to midday, and 2pm to 4pm, making little difference to early morning and evening noise.
Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous and moved into the block in the 1970s, said: “It’s ridiculous. This work should have been done 20 years ago instead of hitting us with a massive bill because they never looked after the building properly. At this stage we don’t know how much extra they want to charge, but when we know, we will fight it. The letter is a complete insult.”
The works, the bulk of which involve updating electrics and ventilation, were estimated to cost £2.3million when they started in April earlier this year.
Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour group in Westminster, said: “I have written to the council and CityWest Homes to demand that they immediately withdraw their threat to charge residents more for the major works. How can you justify charging leaseholders more because your contractors are making life impossible for residents?”
“I simply cannot believe the tone and arrogance of the letter to residents.
“Emanuel House residents have been treated shamefully by Westminster City Council for nearly 20 years and this latest incident in this long-running saga of Council incompetence is a total insult.”
David Harrison, director of property and development at City West said, “We intend to seek a decision from the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT) as to the reasonableness of charges to leaseholders in Emanuel House before any demands are issued to them. Therefore any costs incurred by leaseholders will be decided by the LVT.”