Council to compensate sheltered housing residents

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Lambeth council has settled out of court cases brought against it by four residents over defective building work at the listed sheltered housing scheme, Macintosh Court in Streatham.

Architect Kate Macintosh, the creator of the scheme which bears her name, said the building work had been a “saga of abuse and neglect, to say nothing of the waste of public money” that had “vandalised” listed buildings.

The terms of the settlement include:

  • A binding commitment by the council to complete roof and canopy works within 15 months (with the ability to apply to the court for an extension if longer is needed).
  • Completion of internal repairs to the flats of the four claimants within four months.
  • Compensation for each claimant
  • Additional compensation for each claimant in the form of a percentage rent rebate until the repair works on their homes are complete.
sign on housing project

Macintosh, also the architect of the acclaimed Dawson’s Heights “battleship blocks”, worked in Lambeth council’s architects department, and designed and oversaw the development of 269 Leigham Court Road, a two-storey development of 44 sheltered flats for old people, which was completed in 1969.

“Sheltered housing at that time was the latest advanced thinking around how to accommodate the elderly in such a way as to encourage the maximum degree of independence and autonomy, while having a fallback support system which would kick in if the person developed additional difficulties,” she says.

Macintosh designed seven pavilions linked by a covered walkway, with 45 flats and additional accommodation for a live-in warden.

Now, she says, her vision has been severely mutilated and the site has been deteriorating for 40 years.

In 2013, the council – using an approach similar to its later approach to the Cressingham Gardens estate – said the estate was below standard and that it would be cheaper to demolish than to restore.

But the 50 residents contacted Macintosh, who advised them to seek listed status for the scheme.

Their online petition, and support from leading architects, persuaded English Heritage to grant it Grade II protection in 2015.

In gratitude, the name of the scheme was changed to Macintosh Court.

building work
Building work at Macintosh Court

However, Macintosh says, her advice was ignored when, in 2017, the council drew up plans to spend £1.5m on the scheme.

It brought in subcontractors to install pipes on the outside of buildings in defiance of the listing which ruled out changes to the exterior of buildings.

Macintosh was “angry and distressed” when she saw the damage. “My heart sank at every turn,” she says. 

She adds: “Quite apart from physical vandalism on a listed building, it was abuse on elderly people by carrying out building works with them on site.” 

Residents charge that safety measures were ignored when asbestos was removed. The council says proper precautions were taken.

Residents told Macintosh that contractors made many mistakes, including installing radiators upside down. 

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“They drilled holes into people’s flats for no reason,” said one.

Macintosh says the work was a “litany of incompetence and failures. There was no proper site supervision nor coordination between two separate contracts.”

At a meeting with the council in November 2018, “they tried to persuade us they should give themselves provisional planning consent for this illegal work to avoid an enforcement notice, with the proviso they’d then appoint a firm to look at how things could be improved. We said: ‘This is a trap, intentional or otherwise, as well as being wholly illogical’.”

Another resident said: “All the things Kate thought of to make this a comfortable place for elderly people to live have been completely disregarded.”

Macintosh describes as “a load of hypocritical rubbish” Lambeth council’s plans to demolish estates and redevelop them with a proportion offered at “affordable” rent.

 “It’s forcibly decanting and evicting the working class of London,” she says.

mosern buidings

Council response

A council spokesperson said the refurbishment of Macintosh Court was a key project for Lambeth council which had “worked hard and invested millions of pounds on improving the complex for all its residents”.

However, they said, “the design of Macintosh Court, and the fact that it is a listed building have made the refurbishment particularly challenging.

“We have apologised to residents because it has taken us longer than we would have liked to make the necessary improvements to their homes.

“We are pleased that this case has been brought to a conclusion.

“We will now concentrate on completing the works required, to bring these homes up to the standard that we would all expect.

“The council has been well aware of maintenance issues affecting the building and, in particular, the roof.

“Lambeth and its contractors have worked hard to fix these problems and we expect to begin work on the roof in the coming weeks.”

The spokesperson denied that decisions about the potential refurbishment of Macintosh Court and the demolition of the Cressingham Gardens estate represented an “approach” used by the council.

They were separate judgements based on long-term in-depth investigations, viability assessments and cost comparisons, the spokesperson said.

Macintosh’s comments about estate regeneration were “misleading” and “ignored the reality of the proposals,” they added.

The proposals were designed to increase the amount of social housing at council rent levels – not just “a proportion offered at ‘affordable’ rent” – on the estates and to provide more homes for local families.

The council said its key guarantee scheme meant that every secure council tenant on the estates will be able to move to a brand-new home at council level rent.

With thanks to Stories to Sit With journalism website