Chalcots: Builder claims Camden's fire safety bill is £26m over the odds
- 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.
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."
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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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
Mr Hillyard said the windows in his design opened inwards at the council’s request, but switching to outward opening would be “cost neutral".
“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."
“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.”
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