Controversial building work in Southfield stopped by Ealing Council

Image above: Construction site at Carlton Rd, Southfield

Building work by developers on the site of the old Carlton Rd Day Centre, near Southfield Park and Acton Lane, has been stopped by Ealing Council’s Planning Enforcement officers.

The work, on the site of 8-10 Carlton Road, has brought a flood of complaints from residents in surrounding streets over the past few weeks, with several residents claiming the reverberations from the construction work had caused cracks in their properties.

The construction work has been stopped for other reasons, but residents have expressed their relief that they will have some respite from the vibrations of the building work. They hope also to get some guarantees about how future work on the site will be carried out.

The council stopped the work because it says the developers Fornacelli Limited failed to meet certain conditions which were set by the council when planning permission was granted for the building of nine townhouses.

The Chiswick Calendar spoke to the owner of Fornacelli Limited, who was extremely embarrassed because he said all the work required by the council had been done, it just hadn’t been passed on to them. He also wanted to reassure residents that his company had been looking at ways of minimising disruption, as their top priority, and were looking at claims for damages case by case.

Cllr Andrew Steed, one of the Lib Dem councillors who represent Southfield ward, brought the residents’ complaints to the council officers’ attention on 7 June and heard on Friday 18 June that they had investigated and told the developers to stop work until they met the planning conditions, which involve a detailed construction management plan and risk assessments.

Images: Cracks which have appeard in properties around the site; dirty carpet

Residents felt their houses shaking

When work started on the site a few weeks ago, residents in Carlton Rd, Graham Rd and Somerset Rd immediately felt the reverberations and started to notice cracks appearing and other damage they claim has been caused by the work, carried out by Revo Leisure Services Limited for Fornacelli Homes Limited.

The Chiswick Calendar has learned that a resident in Somerset Rd contacted the site manager, Richard Eltham, who responded within a few days, saying the company would stop work to the rear of his property ‘until a solution can be sought’.

Image above: Carlton Rd building site

The company had been putting in sheet piling, steel sheets driven into the earth, typically with vibratory or impact hammers, to provide permanent or temporary earth retention and excavation support.

‘The reason for the piling is to protect your boundaries in the first instance’ Mr Eltham responded on 4 May, ‘unfortunately there appears to be some unusually solid ground to that area. We are going to attempt a couple of sample areas today to ascertain whether this is localised or is in fact through the whole site. Should we get sign of similar resistance we will immediately stop’.

As work continued in other areas of the site, so residents on the other streets started to voice their concerns. In Graham Rd there were reports of a picture crashing to the ground in a hallway, an integrated hob in a kitchen cracking in half, white carpets turning black and a floor to ceiling crack in a bedroom wall, all in separate houses.

When residents sought his help, Cllr Steed referred the matter to officers at Ealing’s Building Control department.

Meanwhile on 7 June, the site manager assured householders: ‘we are reviewing these emails with our team and will revert in due course’.

Images above: Cracks in a garden wall in Graham Rd

‘New cracks have appeared throughout the house’

Three days later another resident wrote:

‘The constant shaking and vibrating has also left its marks on our house which is clearly visible with new cracks having appeared throughout the house but the most noticeable and concerning is the crack that appeared on our garden wall last week.

‘It was initially just a thin crack along the joints which has now opened up further to almost 1 cm wide and since yesterday that same crack now also appeared on the outer side of the wall (see pictures above).

‘This makes me very nervous now as I don’t trust this wall will be safe with people walking along the pavement on one side and my children playing on the other side of this wall’.

Six weeks into the construction work, and worried about the structural integrity of their houses, the residents were beginning to require more substantial explanations from the developers about how the rest of the work would be carried out without causing serious damage to their houses. They were also beginning to consult solicitors.

Image above: Carlton Rd building site

On 11 June another resident wrote to the site manager requesting the work be stopped:

‘Can you please reassure us that the works will be halted immediately until you have adequately addressed our concerns? I fully appreciate that you need to “review our emails” and that you will “revert in due course” but I don’t understand how the works can continue as before, when they are clearly exacerbating the damage’.

Three days later they heard from the site manager that Revo had engaged a specialist, independent consultant, to monitor and report on noise and vibration and another firm to monitor ground movement through the excavation phase of works. This, he said, would notify them immediately ‘should any of these three items exceed the standards set out in the British code of practice’.

Cllr Steed then heard that Planning Enforcement had been in touch with the planning agent for the site on Wednesday 16 June and told them to stop work.

‘The applicant has failed to discharge these conditions and as such should not have commenced works on site’ Planning Enforcement Manager Alex O’Neill wrote to Cllr Steed.

Since that order was made by the Council on Friday 18 June, workers from another company, Intelligent Groundworks, turned up to work on the site on Saturday morning. When challenged, they appeared not to know about the Council’s order.

Residents are waiting anxiously to find out how and when the work will be resumed, and what assurances they will get that their properties will be protected from damage.

Cllr Andrew Steed told us:

“It has been very worrying and resolving these issues will only cause more stress. The developer needs to sort out the problems fast”.

Response from Fornacelli Limited

The Chiswick Calendar emailed Revo and asked for a response to a number of questions. What usually happens in circumstances such as these is that a company will return a bland statement, passed on via a PR company, which has been vetted by lawyers.

Gian-Franco Cencelli, the owner of Fornacelli Limited, which employs Revo as contractors, called me back personally, taking full responsibilty for any work done by contractors he’s employed to work on his behalf.

Paperwork not handed in a “foolish” mistake

On the matter of the conditions which the council say have not been met, he agreed that they hadn’t and told me, to his huge embarrassment, all the work required had been carried out and the relevant reports written in August 2020, but just not passed on to the council. It was a matter of two people both thinking the other had done it.

The requirements listed in one of the conditions for planning permission – condition 6 – were basic essential measures such as ‘Signage for construction traffic, pedestrians and other users of the site’ and ‘Turning manoeuvres and routeing of vehicles’ but most of them referred to work that has already been carried out: items such as ‘Site clearance, demolition, excavation and construction methods’ and ‘Mitigation of air pollution and dust emissions during site clearance, demolition, excavation and construction works’.

That horse has bolted; the site has been cleared, and he told us although the paperwork hadn’t been handed in, they had thought through how they would meet each of the requirements and had met them. Other items on the list refer to the ongoing construction, including point k. ‘Compliance with noise limits and vibration mitigation measures’.

The other condition they’d failed to meet – condition 13 – dealt with ‘An intrusive contaminated land investigation and risk assessment of the site’. This is something a construction company is required to do before starting work and if they find anything concerning, they are required to provide ‘A remediation (de-contamination) scheme to bring the site to a condition suitable for the intended end use’.

Mr Cencelli told me they had take soil samples and found there was low to no risk from contaminents.

His firm will now pursue the matter with Ealing Council’s Planning department:

“We will be submitting the documents today and tomorrow. It’s in everyone’s interest to solve this as quickly as possible”.

In answer to the question of why they hadn’t complied, he said:

“You have to do it, you must do it. It’s one of the silliest things (that the paperwork hadn’t been handed in) and I feel like an idiot.

“I have top planning consultants and engineers working for me. The document was prepared in August 2020. That it was not submitted sounds ludicrous. It sounds incredibly foolish and I take full responsibility”.

Damage claims will be looked at “case by case”

Concerning the residents’ litany of damage claims, he said Mr Eltham was looking at them case by case. That the residents in the houses around the site felt the vibrations from the construction work is not in dispute.

“I don’t want to cause inconvenience. I don’t like disruption. Building work is always by its very nature disruptive. We reduced the number of trucks to reduce the vibrations. Any idea that we are taking a gung-ho approach could not be further than the truth”. He added that Mr Eltham had been very consciuntious and concerned to investigate and respond to the residents’ complaints.

He is now considering the best way to meet residents to try and allieviate their concerns.

Team trying out different solutions to reduce the vibrations

The particular problem they’ve faced, he told The Chiswick Calendar, is that there is concrete overlapping from the premises of the surrounding houses on to the land which is being developed. They are digging basements for the new houses and need to safeguard the surrounding land. Trying to deal with the hard concrete is what’s sending the vibrations directly along and into the surrounding properties, he explained.

“They (the contractors) have been working frantically to solve the problem. We’re still trying to work out how to solve the vibration but the contractors now have plan. This has been top of Richard’s priority list. We need to test the plan and see if it works”.

An on site presence is necessary for safety

As regards the second firm of contractors Intelligent Groundworks being at the site on Saturday, Mr Cencelli explained that it isn’t as simple as all work just stopping. They’re at the point where they have dug a big hole and they need to maintain it. They won’t be doing more construction work until the matter of the planning permission conditions is settled with the council, but to abandon the project would incur a greater risk. They need to maintain the site.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: First look inside the new Chiswick Cinema

See also: OneChiswick still going ahead with Judicial Review

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.