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Bridport House: Tenants told Hoxton block could be demolished rather than repaired

PUBLISHED: 17:58 29 August 2019 | UPDATED: 14:52 30 August 2019

Michael Jones outside Bridport House last year. Picture: Polly Hancock

Michael Jones outside Bridport House last year. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

The troubled Hoxton block whose tenants were last night told to leave due to a string of safety concerns could end up being demolished instead of repaired, Hackney Council has said.

Bridport House in Bridport Place, on the edge of Hoxton Park. Picture: Emma BartholomewBridport House in Bridport Place, on the edge of Hoxton Park. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Bridport House has been plagued with problems since opening in 2011, and people were told by mayor Phil Glanville they will need to move out for three years while all the brickwork and balconies are removed due to "potentially combustible insulation".

But a council booklet given to all 41 households states another option is to flatten it completely.

"While our intention is to repair Bridport House," it reads, "we will also be presenting to cabinet [at a town hall meeting next month] alternative possibilities, including rebuilding on the site.

"Work would begin once all residents have moved to alternative accommodation. All residents would be guaranteed the right to return to a brand new home at a social rent at whatever we build in its place."

Michael Jones outside Bridport House last year. Picture: Polly HancockMichael Jones outside Bridport House last year. Picture: Polly Hancock

The booklet also lists six options for the tenants:

- move to another council property temporarily

- move into another council property permanently

- move into a housing association property permanently

- move to a home outside of London through a council or GLA scheme

- buy a new home built by the council

- stay with friends and family

The tenants will also be given a "home loss payment" of £6,300 as well as "disturbance payments".

Michael Jones, who last year began taking photos of all the defects after "seven years of hell" at the scaffolding-covered block, said he will be asking for a move "26 miles away".

"I want to move to the country, away from it all," he told the Gazette. "I'm 70 years old, I can't handle this no more."

Michael says some tenants didn't bother going to the meeting because they are so fed up. But he admitted he stormed out after launching a foul-mouthed rant at the council contingent.

"I was swearing and everything," he said. "They've known about the problems for seven years because I've told them.

"The place is a death trap."

Housing Design Award-winning Bridport House opened to fanfare as it was the first council housing built in Hackney for 40 years.

But not long after tenants complained the building was "falling apart at the seams" and have complained about falling roof tiles, bricks crumbling and "pushing out", and flooding.

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In February, part of a second-storey balcony fell off and "could have killed" someone had they been on the floor below where it landed.

Then in April engineers repairing brickwork noticed defects in the cavity wall insulation. Fire wardens were posted to the block 24/7 and the "stay put" fire policy was switched in favour of evacuation.

Now investigations have revealed a host of other serious defects, including missing barriers to stop the spread of fire, flawed brickwork, balconies and windows.

Tenant Pauline Millgate isn't surprised.

"I always said I'd give this place 10 years because of the things that were going wrong," she said. "We got eight."

Pauline had a front and back garden at the old Bridport House, and was moved into another since-demolished block on the Colville Estate while the new one was built. She won't be returning this time, though.

"I don't want to come back," she continued. "I want to stay local but move to a permanent place.

"I've had leaks, a big hole in my shower, mice. It's been so stressful, I've done nothing but cry. I've not slept since Tuesday because I can't switch off, I don't know whether I'm coming or going. Everyone is upset."

Hackney Council says it will be taking legal action against Willmott Partnership Homes, which built the block.

Mr Glanville said: "We are sorry for the failures in the construction and for the huge disruption residents continue to face.

"We will do everything we can to ensure this process is as smooth as possible, with a dedicated team and independent advice to support tenants into the best homes we have available and compensation that recognises the immense upheaval.

"We will be taking legal action to hold those responsible for these failures to account. We also should have done a better job."

Michael says he was so angry last night because no one from Willmott was there.

Designed by Karakusevic Carson Architects, the building frame was made of timber to enable construction on top of the massive storm sewer that runs diagonally beneath the building.

Its foundations are shallower than a traditional concrete structure, and it took just eight weeks to erect rather than 22.

London Fire Brigade says due to the council's action in April, the risk is at an acceptable level. But the town hall has decided it would be dangerous and disruptive for tenants to stay while repairs are carried out.

Willmott Partnership Homes said it was "disappointed" at how the problems had been portrayed by the council.

A spokesperson said: "This is an extremely complicated matter, significantly exacerbated by various aspects of the Building Regulations recently being reinterpreted following the Grenfell tragedy. The insulation the council refers to was widely accepted as complying with Building Regulations at the time it was installed, and was specifically approved as being compliant by the council's building control team.

"Both the cross laminated timber frame structure and the insulation were both detailed within the council's tender specification upon which the building contract was entirely based.

"The council has made some very strong statements today, many of which we do not accept. However, in view of the threat of legal action, we are prevented from responding to them in detail at this stage.

"We too want to say how sorry we are that matters have turned out in this way, and of course for the concern this will have caused to the residents."

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