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Five Acre residents continue to fight for justice over repair bills

Harlow Council / Mon 26th Sep 2022 am30 08:04am

THE RESIDENTS of Five Acres once again returned to the council chamber to plead their case regarding the bills imposed upon them by Harlow Council.

The residents are leaseholders, who have been given bills, in some cases, up to £26,000 for external repairs.

It certainly looks like they have not given up.

You can follow their questions in the film below from the 20 min mark to 36 minutes.

Questions

Question: Cliff Phillips to Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

“I am still fully not convinced that the only 2 tenders submitted were coincidently
almost identical. Previous quotes on other major works on The Hides and The
Hornbeams for example were 20-30% difference between the highest and lowest
estimate.

Therefore, my question is: Of the original 7 tenders for this work offered to various builders, 2 were dismissed as non-compliant.

Why were they non-compliant and why would they have been
offered to tender in the first place?

Reply from Councillor Dan Swords (Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for
Regeneration) on behalf of Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for
Housing)
:

Thank you for your additional question to Cllr Carter’s written response. As I set out
to Mr Phillips when we met last week, we fully recognise the concern these works
are causing leaseholders and I am committed to ensuring they receive all
information possible about the process.

Specifically on the point Mr Phillips raises, Financial Standing Orders for the Council
require that, for works with an estimated value in excess of £350,000, Officers must
seek at least five written tenders from suitably qualified suppliers. On this occasion,
seven suitably qualified suppliers from the initial investigation were identified and
invited to tender, using selective tendering from an Accredited Supplier List.
The Council received four tenders by the deadline, and upon careful review of all
submitted tenders, two of the four tenders received were found to be non-complaint,
either owing to the omission of quality information and/or being unable to deliver the
contractor design portion for elements of the works specified.

===============


Cliff Phillips to Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

One of my questions that mysteriously got lost before the last Council meeting
has now been answered by Councillor Carter’s. He stated “an intrusive survey of the
pitched roofs would be carried out by Harlow Councils specialist consultant Stace.
These would be analysed and communicated with leaseholders with next steps
outlined so there is clarity going forward before an instruction will be issued to the
contractor.”

We as leaseholders are not happy that the same company (Stace) who formalised
the specification, will also be carrying out the survey for the possible roof work.
Will we be able to fully inspect and possibly challenge the surveyors report before
the work goes ahead?

Reply from Councillor Dan Swords (Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for
Regeneration) on behalf of Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for
Housing):

I thank Mr Phillips for his further question. I would like to clarify the issues regarding
the surveys.

The surveys, such as the one he mentions, are being carried out by the contractors
appointed through the tender process.

The role of Stace is to independently review the surveys and subsequent findings to
advise the Council. Stace are not carrying out the surveys.

The surveys are underway now to identify exactly what works are required.
Once the surveys are complete, leaseholders will be written to with copies of the
survey reports and asked to comment before works commencing.

=====================


Sally Jones to Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

Unfortunately I find your last response to our questions at Cabinet in July are replies
not answers.

Yes indeed the leaseholders of Five Acres have received: A Notice of Intention; a
‘Notice of Estimate’; the intended works specification; and a breakdown of works
However, I ask you:

a) ‘Notice of Intention’ Surveys are still to be conducted, we look forward to
viewing the results.

b) My Notice of Estimate is one of the lower estimates but still comes in at
£26,000 – an amount of money that most people would struggle to pay back
even if extended to a period of 10 years. What guarantee can you give us
that the Council will work with us to understand our positions to pay any
monies owed?

c) The intended works specification is incomprehensible when clearly the
buildings appear not to have been visited before this being written. We state
we delighted to know the individual surveys will take place on each block.

Reply from Councillor Dan Swords (Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for
Regeneration) on behalf of Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for
Housing):

Thank you for your questions, Ms Jones. As I said to Mr Phillips, I fully recognise the
concern this has caused, and I hope that clarity on the process will be helpful.

The Notice of Intention (NOI) details is formed by information currently available, and
indicative list of works developed by the Council’s stock condition data and initial
external inspection. Further surveys, which are now underway, will develop
information for the particular works considered to be required for each block.
Each individual leaseholder will then be informed and will have the opportunity to
discuss their situation and positions. The Council, as outlined previously, has put in
place several repayment options to spread the cost and provide support.

Following the end of the Notice of Intention (NOI) stage and insight into the
observations received from consultation and shared with the surveyors, more
intrusive surveys are carried out in order to develop a specific schedule of works.


Sally Jones to Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

You state in your reply in July that “The formal consultation processes and
information provided are aimed to ensure that only works that are appropriate and
necessary are carried out.” Clearly the leaseholders and the Council have huge
discrepancies on this matter, so who will make the final decision about what is
appropriate and necessary?

Reply from Councillor Dan Swords (Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for
Regeneration) on behalf of Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for
Housing):

Thank you for your further question. I hope that the surveys and their findings will
help both parties in this case. As I have detailed, each individual leaseholder will be
written to. Ultimately, at the appropriate time, it is the responsibility of the Director of
Housing, in consultation with the Portfolio Holder, to approve Housing Contract
Awards and review their progress.

Leaseholders can challenge the intended work and/or costs through the First Tier
Tribunal (FTT). As I highlighted to Ms Jones last week, these challenges can be
undertaken at any time, even when the works are complete or when an invoice for
works has been received. They are an independent statutory body which will hear
the case for both the Applicant (leaseholders) and Respondent (the Council), and
consider all the evidence provided by both parties and reach a considered decision. I
will write to you with the details for the First Tier Tribunal.

==========================


Denise Gillies to Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

After my questions disappeared at the last Council meeting, I was told to resubmit
those questions and I would receive a reply within 10 days. It took over 3 weeks for
Councillor Carter to reply, but only after I sent an email stating that I would take it
further if I didn’t get a reply by the of the week.

My question to Councillor Carter is after waiting so long for a reply is, can you
explain to me why my answers are word for word identical to those of Mr Phillips
answers when we asked 4 completely different questions?

Reply from Councillor Dan Swords (Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for
Regeneration) on behalf of Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for
Housing):

Thank you for your further question, Ms Gillies. I am sorry to hear of the delay in
responses getting to you and I do sincerely recognise the concerns of all
leaseholders in these blocks. I understand that Cllr Carter grouped the responses for
clarity, but if you have any further questions or concerns, I would be more than
happy to discuss those, as we did last week.


Janet Jackman to Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

The pitched roof at 45 to 49 five acres does not need a new roof. I have photos & a
video evidence showing roof is in perfect order & just needs a few minor repairs on
valleys & verges. Can you guarantee work will not go ahead till we leaseholders get
our own surveyors in. When are roofs getting surveys done?

Why do we need a tin hat when other council properties in the same borough not
using them. In this current difficult climate surely you should be trying to keep costs
to a minimum.

Reply from Councillor Dan Swords (Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for
Regeneration) on behalf of Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for
Housing):

Thank you, Ms Jackman, for your further questions.

I have set out the process in terms of the surveys to previous questioners, but I
understand that it is expected for the roofing survey to be completed and reviewed
by middle of October. The surveys will be revised by Harlow Council and
independently assessed by Stace LLP. Stace LLP is a leading, independent property
consultancy, delivering services to local authorities across the country. The Council
will ensure works to be undertaken are required and completed to a satisfactory
standard.

It is important that under no circumstances must any persons not instructed or
employed by Harlow Council access the roof of any block as they are not insured for
their own safety or safety of others.

These works are to be completed with the aid of a tin-hat roof. This provision has
been put in place to protect the properties from the elements and potential damage
through bad weather. All projects are specified on an individual basis.

Janet Jackman to Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for Housing):

Our block is a unique block. It is totally different from the other blocks. It seems the
blocks have not been assessed individually.

It has UPVC Facias & cladding which is in perfectly good order & below the 11mts of
the fire regulations. It was renewed under 17 years ago to plastic.

Why are you replacing something that doesn’t need doing? It is unnecessary.

Can you answer how you are going to dispose of hundreds of feet of UPVC which
does not need replacing. Not very environmentally friendly.

Reply from Councillor Dan Swords (Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for
Regeneration) on behalf of Councillor Simon Carter (Portfolio Holder for
Housing):

Thank you for your further question. As I have set out the works will be informed by
surveys and the independent review. Therefore, until these surveys are complete, I
cannot comment on specific work is required. When the surveys are done,
leaseholders will be written to and have the opportunity to respond, as I have
already set out. Any leaseholder may also appeal this through the tribunal system I
detailed earlier.

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2 Comments for Five Acre residents continue to fight for justice over repair bills:

Nostradamus
2022-09-26 08:55:09

Why can't the Councillors be honest, they have an arrangement with a particular company and being deliberately evasive and obtuse to avoid independent scrutiny by surveys done by professionally qualified agents that represent the leaseholders. Councillors might apply a bit of common sense and take a look themselves. If Stace LLPs work given a blank cheque by the Council can't stand the rigors of examination by independent surveyors looking after the best interests of said leaseholders, then there are serious concerns about the whole process.

Cliff Phillips
2022-10-23 12:04:15

There is still so much confusion into how this show got the road and was allowed to continue against common-sense and fair play. We knew that some major works were required, mainly through almost total lack of maintenance over the past 20 years. When we received letters last year telling us of proposed work we were not surprised and expected to pay out maybe pay out 5 or even 10 thousand pounds. Therefore hardly anyone challenged it. What we hadn't expected was that it was put into the hands of Stace LLP and given a free hand to come up with such a complex and expensive specification of works. This then was put out to tender to 7 building companies of whom 3 didn't want the work, 2 did not comply and the only 2 that submitted bids were obviously not competitive, as the bids for total works came to over 1.2 million pounds but were only less than 2 thousand pounds apart. Why did 5 of those companies that were offered to tender, go to companies that were unable to bid? We still don't know. This has left us, the paying leaseholders with up to £30,000 per flat to find. The letter to confirm this was sent to us earlier this year. Can you imagine the distress and worry this has caused to people who are struggling to pay their mortgages and everyday expenses, some with young families some with disabilities some retired on a basic pension and some with stress related poor health. We as a small group of leaseholders have been fighting this from the outset, voicing questions at cabinet and council meetings. Meeting for discussions with various councillors and Robert Halfon MP. We feel like we are now getting some support to fight this, and even the national press are running an article. But we still have a long battle ahead.

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