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Housing and the folly of maintenance assumptions

05 January, 2018

The Alexandra estate

IS there a thread of reasoning linking the Grenfell tower disaster and, for instance, the latest heating problem which has afflicted the award-winning Alexandra estate, far-fetched though this may appear at first glance?

In both cases it could be argued assumptions made by the authorities led to a downward spiral.

At Grenfell firefighters told families to “stay put” in their homes because they were applying policies based on building regulations and fire safety policies which, they would have assumed, had been applied in the refurbish­ment of the tower block.

All indications show such an assumption was wrong.

In fact, contrary to good practice, the lack of a functioning fire alarm and sprinkler system, and the use of inflammable cladding helped to create the inferno.

In one aspect of the construction of the Alexandra estate the architect, Neave Brown – he has been awarded the RIBA gold medal for his design of council homes – and his colleagues built a system of supplying hot water for all the residences with a long, single pipe.

Obviously, Neave Browne, quite rightly, would have assumed the pipe would be adequately maintained by the council over the years. But that turned out to be wishful thinking. Notoriously, local authority housing has been plagued in recent decades by poor maintenance.

Government-induced economies, poor manage­ment, the evisceration of council in-house building departments since the advent of Thatcherism, all this has lead to the poor maintenance of existing housing stock.

This couldn’t have been foreseen when the concept of the Alexandra estate was first imagined by Neave Brown.

In design terms the supply of water in a single pipe was a good idea. But what he didn’t take into account were fickle politicians and a public that naively entrusts too much power to those in authority.

Following recent meetings of council officials and tenants it has been agreed to break up the long pipe with “sub-stations” so that in future repairs can be carried out more efficiently.

Local government policy makers should avoid decisions based on assump­tions – they invariably go wrong.

HS2 ‘honours’

IF anything exposes the venality of the honours system it is the decision to hand out knighthoods to the parliamentary committee on HS2. Their decision to back Euston Station as the terminus, rather than Old Oak Common, espoused by the former MP Frank Dobson, helped to win them their gongs. Built centrally into the HS2 vanity project is the redevelopment of Euston Station which will help create billions in profit for developers and overseas investors.

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