Chalcots: Builder claims Camden's fire safety bill is £26m over the odds

Chalcots estate and Pete Hillyard

Peter Hillyard (inset), of D+B Facades, claims he could have delivered legally compliant cladding systems at the Chalcots estate for over £20m less than Camden Council is paying - Credit: Archant / D+B Facades

A building firm has accused Camden Council of wasting taxpayers’ money, saying it offered to fix-up four tower blocks for £26 million less than authority is paying.

Pete Hillyard, managing director of D+B Facades, spoke out after the council refused to consider his bid to re-clad buildings on the Chalcots Estate because it did not match the council’s design.

But residents say the council’s design is unpopular and the alternative should have been consulted over.

Chalcots estate, Camden

After the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, blocks on Camden's Chalcots estate were evacuated until their own fire safety issues could be remediated. Residents still face years of work - Credit: Charles Thomson

In 2017, the estate was evacuated over fire hazards, including cladding which has since been removed.

Last year Camden agreed to pay £77m to remediate four blocks – Bray, Burnham, Dorney and Taplow.

But Mr Hillyard said the council rejected his regulation-compliant bid of £51m.

"Amongst a myriad of concerns that we have is that they're wasting £26m of taxpayers' money," he said. "In my opinion, my design is also safer to construct."

Pete Hillyard, managing director of D+B Facades

Pete Hillyard, managing director of D+B Facades, said Camden Council's design for the new Chalcots exteriors looked 'like a bag of spanners' - Credit: D+B Facades

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Mast-climbers

Residents had told Camden that they did not want to live under scaffolding for months and would prefer a less invasive “mast-climber” option.

But in an online meeting with the council this year, residents said, they were told no compliant bidders had offered mast-climbers.

Mast-climbers on a D+B Facades cladding job in Slough

D+B Facades proposed a scheme using mast-climbers - seen here working on a D+B Facades job in Slough - rather than scaffolding - Credit: Pete Doherty / Doherty Associates

This was true, claimed Mr Hillyard, but only because Camden’s “overly-complex” design could not be delivered without scaffolding.

Residents were never told his firm had offered a cheaper alternative, delivered by mast-climbers, because it was “non-compliant” with the council’s design.

Mr Hillyard said the council’s contract imposed a design so specific that it required the use of certain materials, yet also asked bidders to take responsibility for it and give a lengthy warranty.

“Camden paid a load of consultants millions to come up with a design,” he said.

“It all looks like a bag of spanners to me. They’ve spent a fortune.

“Then they say: ‘Let’s get somebody to build this design – but let’s make them responsible for it as well.' It doesn’t make sense."

He proposed a cladding system he has used on other buildings, which comes with a 25-year warranty and can be built by mast-climbers.

D+B Facades' cladding work in Slough

Pete Hillyard, managing director of D+B Facades, proposed cladding the Chalcots towers with the same system had had used at other sites, like this one in Slough - Credit: Pete Doherty / Doherty Associates

“Non-compliant”

Camden said it felt using mast-climbers might increase the chance of delays due to bad weather.

Meric Apak, Labour cabinet member for better homes, said the council’s design was drawn up “following extensive discussions with residents” and included “windows that have been carefully designed to meet the highest standards of ventilation”.

“The proposals submitted by D+B Facades did not take full account of these essential requirements,” he said.

“The most suitable contractor was appointed and their preparations to begin work at the Chalcots are now under way.”

Cllr Meric Apak

Meric Apak, Camden Council's Labour cabinet member for better homes, insisted the right bidder had got the Chalcots job - Credit: Archant

“I’m not chasing the work,” Mr Hillyard responded. “I’ve got stacks of work on. I don’t want to throw handbags around. But what I do want to do is achieve value for money when they are recladding these buildings.”

“Fatuous”

Representatives from three blocks’ Tenants & Residents Associations (TRAs) said residents disliked the windows in both designs, as they opened inwards.

“I’m not confident that either of them is entirely right,” agreed Conservative councillor Steve Adams.

But he added that rejecting D+B’s bid for non-compliance, rather than considering its merits, was “fatuous”.

“Camden is essentially playing an incredibly straight, defensive, boring bat against some very creative bowling,” he said.

Camden Conservative councillor Steve Adams

Conservative councillor Steve Adams said he believed Camden Council should have investigated D+B Facades' proposal for Chalcots further - Credit: Cllr Steve Adams

Mr Hillyard said the windows in his design opened inwards at the council’s request, but switching to outward opening would be “cost neutral".

Residents

“I’m glad they spoke out,” said Burnham TRA chair Hasan Shah, who claimed there was no meaningful consultation.

“They tell you what you’re getting, take your feedback and that’s it,” he said.

“They keep saying that’s resident engagement, but it’s not,” agreed Lance Perry, from Dorney.

“I think they should bring the TRAs on board and ask the democratically elected representatives to tell them what design we want.”

Mr Shah added: “When I clarify things to people, they are furious."

Chalcots Bray building TRA rep Nigel Rumble

Nigel Rumble, TRA rep for Bray building, said the tender process for the Chalcots re-cladding should be started over - Credit: Polly Hancock

“I think the tender process should be re-run,” said Nigel Rumble, TRA rep for Bray.

He said residents were explicit about preferring mast-climbers and should not be forced to live under scaffolding.

“They’ve already had so much stress for all these years,” he said. “The council are imposing what they wish, rather than what the residents truly want.”

For more, read:

Camden Council agrees new £77m Chalcots contract for fire safety works

Chalcots residents: 'We have been victims of life-changing events'

'Frustrated' Chalcots' residents claim Camden Council is ignoring fears