Queensway House residents tell of damp and mould in renovations
PUBLISHED: 17:02 27 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:03 27 September 2018
Danny Loo Photography 2016
Hatfield residents had their say in a tense meeting with council officers to discuss the ongoing works in Queensway House.
On Wednesday September 12, around 25 residents confronted council officers with complaints including issues with damp and mould, poor drainage, antisocial behaviour and ageing fittings.
Head of property services Peter Gray, asset manager Tina Warren, and head of housing operations Stuart Pearson were faced with visibly upset residents.
Hatfield mayor Jack Nelson also sat among the residents for the meeting.
Corey Field, a customer services worker who has lived there for over four years, said: “I don’t think they expected the strength of feeling that they got.”
Dee Chessum, who is advocating for 24 of the residents, told the Welwyn Hatfield Times: “I believe residents have the right to express some anger,” she said, saying that her son, who has lived there for 13 years, has been “stressed out to the max” by the problems in the building.
After a 2015 fire risk assessment found several issues, Welwyn Hatfield council began works to ensure the 13-storey tower in Hatfield is safe in the event of a fire, in line with Government recommendations.
Since 2017, flat entrance doors have been replaced, the bin store has had its doors replaced and a sprinkler installed, and the bin chute has had replaced hopper heads and a fire damper fitted.
Also in the planning stages are a sprinkler or fire suppression system, and lift replacement.
Meanwhile, the council is midway through replacing flat entrance doors, and infilling bathroom windows to stop a potential fire spreading.
“[This work] is only incomplete due to a handful of residents not providing access,” said a council spokesperson.
However, the resulting lack of ventilation after the bathroom windows were blocked up has led to problems.
Corey said: “Because they’ve blocked the window, [ventilation] has got nowhere to go.
“The knock-on effect is that I’ve got damp and mould in my living room area,” he said.
Another resident, according to Dee, has “given up” trying to keep on top of the mould.
At the meeting, residents were told to report mould so that the council could provide dehumidifers.
But residents were frustrated that Mr Pearson would not provide an indication of timing for new ventilation even in terms of weeks or months.
A spokesperson for the council told the Welwyn Hatfield Times that the reason it has been so hard to pin down a date is because devising the system is technically complicated, with moving goalposts due to evolving Government guidance on fire safety regulation.
She said: “It has taken longer than we anticipated and we have written to residents several times to explain and apologise for the delay.”
The council has now announced that a tender for the ventilation and sprinkler system will be out in October, and work is expected to begin in early 2019.
Other problems reported by residents stretch back further than the fire prevention work.
Corey is also dissatisfied with his kitchen, which is one of the oldest fitted kitchens in the building.
“It’s got to the stage that you’ve asked them so many times you just give up.”
Other residents have bathtubs so old they have rust.
A council spokesperson said: “We offered residents survey appointments for new kitchens last April and have completed over 30 installations throughout the block.”
The council has sent out Dyno-Rod to blast the stack pipes clear after numerous residents reported toilets badly backing up.
“One resident had come home from being away for a few days and the toilet had blocked up and human excrement and urine had come out of the toilet and spread out all over the hallway,” said Dee.
She added that this has happened to several residents.
Since the pipes were blasted, the problem has abated for some residents but has not gone away.
Drainage is still poor, with some bathtubs taking two or three hours to empty.
A council spokesperson said they will be looking into it.
After all the fire control work, residents were then surprised to discover leftover building materials were being stored in unlocked electrical cupboards.
On Tuesday, 25 September, SERCO began removing them.
Councillors Pankit Shah and Glyn Hayes, and Labour leader Kieran Thorpe have met with and written to council officers on behalf of residents.