Hampstead scaffolding collapses, but wall of silence remains over ‘traumatic’ near miss on Pond Street
PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 March 2019
The overseas owner of the Hampstead building whose chimneys and scaffolding crashed into Pond Street amid high winds has remained tight-lipped over the horrifying near miss.
Berrymede Properties, the British Virgin Islands-based freeholder of the property to which the scaffolding was attached, has failed to return messages left with its lawyers, while the contractor running the building site has ignored repeated phone calls and messages from the Ham&High seeking an explanation,
The tower of scaffolding, along with up to three chimneys along the terrace, rained pipes, timber and bricks into the street yards from the busy Royal Free Hospital shortly before 2.45pm on Thursday last week.
Debris from the chimneys was this week still visible in a community garden. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors would give little away about their work when approached by this paper, but are likely to need to establish whether the chimneys or scaffolding gave way first.
Belsize Park mum Gergana Kabakova, 29, told the Ham&High she had been underneath the scaffolding with her six-week-old baby, waiting for her partner to get a coffee.
She said: “The minute he came out, we heard a strange noise and saw the scaffolding collapsing.
“We immediately started running with the pram towards the nearby bus which was stopped there.
“It was a truly traumatic experience.”
The incident is under investigation by the HSE. Somewhat unhelpfully, a spokesperson said: “We cannot and do not put timescales on our investigations nor can we provide running commentary.”
But a scaffolders trade association – the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (NASC) – told this newspaper the collapse “shouldn’t have happened”.
Michael Lloyd, vice-chairman of the NASC in London and the south-east, said: “The scaffolding should be designed to withstand even high winds. Under no circumstances should this have happened.”
According to the Land Registry, the freehold of 1, 3, 5 and 6 South End Road and 37 Pond Street is owned by Berrymede Properties.
No planning applications have been accepted or lodged with Camden Council for the properties, but the manager of the ground floor Le Pain Quotidien coffee shop said the scaffolding had been in place for “about a month”.
This newspaper contacted the firm’s solicitors, Holborn-based Russell-Cooke, asking if we could speak to Berrymede about what happened. The lawyers passed the message on, but we have not had a response from Berrymede.
The Ham&High has also called the contractor running the site, AOD Contracts, repeatedly, but was told “all members of staff are out on-site” and that there was no one appropriate to answer our questions every time.
The scaffolding was erected by West Drayton’s ALB Scaffolding.
The company, seen on site this week removing a second set of scaffolding from the rear of the building, said it was too early to tell why the scaffolding had collapsed.
Asked about the comments from the NASC, ALB director Behar Hafuzi said: “This incident is under investigation so I cannot really tell. The HSE are there and they are going to produce a full report so I am not in a position to say.”
But during the immediate aftermath of the collapse on Thursday, a member of ALB staff admitted: “It could well have just been the wind, because it will have caught the plastic sheeting and that can give it nowhere to go.”
Camden Council confirmed that responsibility for the clean-up operation fell to the scaffolding company, and that it would be seeking to recover the costs of removing a damaged street light from ALB.
Local councillor Maria Higson (Hampstead Town, Conservative), who stood down as trustee of the hospital in February, was on the scene shortly after the collapse.
She told this newspaper: “From what I’ve been told there was a little bit of warning, bricks falling from the building, and thank god that must’ve given everyone enough time to get out from underneath it.” She added: “The police have been sterling, as ever.”
The Heath and Hampstead Society’s Ron Vester was also among those nearby. “I can’t understand how no one’s been injured,” he said.
Another local man told the Ham&High his partner had been on a bus that was narrowly missed when the scaffolding collapsed. He said: “She just called me in a panic – said she’d nearly been killed.”