‘De­vel­op­ers caused our homes to crack up and gar­dens to sink’

As the coun­try builds more houses, ten­sions are ris­ing be­tween builders and ex­ist­ing home­own­ers. Sam Barker re­ports

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Front page -

Home­own­ers are los­ing out from a na­tional push to build more houses, with many say­ing they are suf­fer­ing prop­erty dam­age from nearby de­vel­op­ments. For ex­am­ple, more than 30 Lon­don home­own­ers claim that nearby build­ing work by de­vel­oper Ham­bridge Homes has left their prop­er­ties with cracked walls, sunken gar­dens and dam­aged roofs. But Ham­bridge de­nies re­spon­si­bil­ity, leav­ing the home­own­ers in limbo.

The houses are in three streets sur­round­ing Pake­field Mews, a clus­ter of an apart­ment block and six five-bed­room homes in Streatham Hill, south Lon­don.

A group of 325 res­i­dents say the first they knew of the de­vel­op­ment was when they were wo­ken up at around 7am one day in Novem­ber 2013 by vi­bra­tions so strong that some rushed out­side in alarm.

One res­i­dent, who wished to re­main anony­mous, said: “No word of a lie, it felt like an earth­quake. Our en­tire house was shak­ing.”

The vi­bra­tions turned out to be from bull­doz­ers de­mol­ish­ing nearby run-down garages to clear the way for Pake­field Mews.

The noise and in­tense vi­bra­tions con­tin­ued. The de­vel­op­ers used heavy ma­chin­ery to dig holes 20ft deep. Res­i­dents be­gan to see cracks de­vel­op­ing in the bricks and plas­ter of their homes, within weeks of each other. The cracks ranged from hair­line frac­tures to deep fis­sures.

Some nearby house­holds re­ported that their doors no longer closed prop­erly, tiles were falling from roofs and gar­dens were sink­ing, all of which they at­trib­uted to the build­ing work.

The vi­bra­tions were so strong that one house­hold even re­ported a glass can­dle­stick on the din­ing ta­ble shat­ter­ing as a re­sult.

‘End­less upset’

The house of one res­i­dent, Allan Hogg, is just 30ft from one of the Pake­field Mews build­ings.

Mr Hogg, a 53-year-old fa­ther of two, works for the Guy Mas­colo Foot­ball Char­ity, which helps coach dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren. He said the de­vel­op­ment caused his gar­den to sink and cracks to ap­pear in his plas­ter­work.

He said: “It was end­less upset. There was build­ing work from 8.30am, some­times un­til 10 at night. We had lights shin­ing on to the houses and chil­dren not be­ing able to open their cur­tains or play in the gar­den.

“It was like liv­ing in a prison for a long time. They seemed to have an ar­ro­gance, like they’re al­lowed to do it so they’re get­ting on with it any­way.”

Mr Hogg said he had spent more than £4,000 try­ing to rem­edy the sink­ing in his gar­den and plant­ing trees to get pri­vacy for his fam­ily.

He said: “I don’t like the fact that this could hap­pen to any­one.”

Tele­graph Money has seen doc­u­ments from loss ad­justers and a sur­veyor stat­ing that the cracks were prob­a­bly caused by nearby build­ing work and not by other fac­tors, such as sub­si­dence.

The home­own­ers have com­plained to Ham­bridge and sent the firm pho­to­graphs of the prob­lems.

But the com­pany has not ac­cepted re­spon­si­bil­ity for any build­ing dam­age, say­ing there is no ev­i­dence that it was caused by its builders.

James Over­ton, Ham­bridge’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, said: “We have not been pre­sented with any proof or ev­i­dence that there are any is­sues with the prop­er­ties sur­round­ing Pake­field Mews.

“At Ham­bridge Homes we pride our­selves on build­ing high-qual­ity prop­er­ties. Each of our de­vel­op­ments has been con­structed in line with plan­ning per­mis­sion and signed off by build­ing reg­u­la­tions and the Na­tional House Build­ing Coun­cil. All our sites are reg­is­tered with the Con­sid­er­ate Con­struc­tors scheme.”

It is a ba­sic ex­pec­ta­tion of that scheme that reg­is­trants in­form, re­spect and show cour­tesy to those af­fected by the work.

‘With­out warn­ing’

The res­i­dents said they had not been no­ti­fied by Lam­beth Coun­cil of the build­ing works, mean­ing they had no chance to ob­ject. They had suc­cess­fully pre­vented three pre­vi­ous planned de­vel­op­ments.

The coun­cil told them it had sent letters, posted a no­tice in a lo­cal news­pa­per and pinned no­tices to lamp­posts to in­form lo­cal home­own­ers of the Ham­bridge de­vel­op­ment.

How­ever, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a lo­cal res­i­dents’ group say none of their 325 mem­bers saw any letters or no­tices.

The af­fected home­own­ers con­tacted their MP, Chuka Umunna, in De­cem­ber 2013. But his in­ter­ven­tion has not se­cured any res­o­lu­tion.

Res­i­dents com­plained to the coun­cil in Jan­uary 2014, but the com­plaint was re­jected.

They then com­plained to the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Om­buds­man (LGO), which sided with the coun­cil in March 2015. The LGO’S re­port said it had found “no ev­i­dence of fault in the coun­cil’s con­sid­er­a­tion of the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion”.

A spokesman for Lam­beth Coun­cil said: “The coun­cil has acted wholly ap­pro­pri­ately at all times in re­la­tion to this de­vel­op­ment.”

All the Pake­field Mews homes were sold by early 2016, but the res­i­dents are still in dead­lock with the de­vel­op­ers.

The own­ers of some homes that back on to Pake­field Mews claim a lack of light and pri­vacy as a re­sult of the three-storey build­ing at the end of their gar­dens. They fear that this will also af­fect the value of their homes.

The res­i­dents’ op­tions are lim­ited: they can live with the prop­erty dam­age, pay to re­pair it them­selves – if they have not done so al­ready – or con­sider le­gal ac­tion.

Grow­ing con­cern

The Gov­ern­ment’s home­build­ing drive is likely to make the kind of prob­lem faced by the Streatham Hill res­i­dents more com­mon.

Around 160,480 new homes were com­pleted in the year to March 2018, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures. How­ever, in last year’s Bud­get the Gov­ern­ment an­nounced a new goal of 300,000 new homes a year by 2020 in an ef­fort to deal with the hous­ing cri­sis.

Of­fi­cial fig­ures show that the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of new houses in the year to March 2018 was built around the Vale of White Horse in Ox­ford­shire, as well as in Kent, Northamp­ton­shire and South Der­byshire.

Gary Strong, from the Royal In­sti­tu­tion of Char­tered Sur­vey­ors, said the sort of crack­ing re­ported by the Streatham res­i­dents was “not un­usual”, es­pe­cially in cities where houses were close to­gether.

But he added that it took “quite a lot of care­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tion to work out if the de­vel­op­ers have ac­tu­ally caused that crack­ing”.

Home­own­ers can ask a sur­veyor to carry out a “sched­ule of con­di­tion”, which will ver­ify the state of their prop­erty be­fore nearby build­ing work be­gins.

‘The chil­dren weren’t able to play in the gar­den. It was like liv­ing in a prison’

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