‘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
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.
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.
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.
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’