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Mental Health Awareness Week: Open Letter to COLPAI Project

Hello Neighbours

Yesterday I sent the attached Open Letter to COLPAI Project (the first three pages copied below) about the effect that the construction is having on our well being during this week of Mental Health Awareness. This morning I am sending to all members of the City Council along with this link.

Thank you to everyone who contributed with their personal stories. I know there are many more so please do post underneath and I will include as an addendum to anyone else we send out to as we try get decision makers and influencers to understand the detrimental effect that the works are having on residents who live so close to the site. 

All bests

Jacqueline

_________________________________________________

20 May 2020

 

Dear COLPAI Project

 

We’d like you to understand the damage you are doing and have done to the mental well being of the residents on Golden Lane Estate during this time of exceptional national distress.

 

The country went into lockdown on Monday 23 March and as everyone got up on Tuesday ready to face the new normal of working and schooling from home we were all perplexed to discover construction continuing on the COLPAI site. Why was this non-essential activity continuing – weren’t we all supposed to be staying at home to save the NHS?

 

The more cynical of us weren’t that surprised but did become very concerned when it was clear social distancing was not being practiced. We had to turn into snitches, providing incriminating evidence before the site closed on 2 April. In contrast Taylor Wimpey just 100 metres away decided to close their site just after the lockdown began ‘due to the current pandemic…and the health risk it presents to all people’.

 

Despite our local councillor and own MP Nicki Aitken lobbying for the closure of non-essential construction sites in the City, two weeks later on 14 April COLPAI construction resumed. And let’s note, that was well before London had passed the peak infection rate and we residents were in full lockdown.

 

To add insult to injury you send us newsletters extolling your commitment to ‘delivering the necessary infrastructure to allow people to have safe spaces to live, learn and play’. What about our current need for safe spaces? To top it all you asked us to cooperate and included an image of site workers observing the two minute silence for those NHS staff and carers who have lost their lives trying to save others. Who thought using photos taken at a funeral (because essentially that’s what it was) to emotionally bully residents already at their wits end was acceptable?

 

This week the country starts to make its way out of lockdown and construction sites across the country are going back to work. Hopefully, our children will get back to school, and us adults, lucky enough to still have jobs, back to our work place. In the meantime, we are into week 6 of incessant noise, dust and fumes whilst being confined to our tiny flats with their single glazing…

 

Very few of us want to engage with you anymore, or trust it will make any difference. This report compiles testimony from some of the residents of Basterfield and Hatfield House whose lives you are affecting but for whom you have offered no help and shown no empathy. It wasn’t easy, just writing this down can be really upsetting and triggering.

 

But maybe this week of all weeks, Mental Health Awareness week, you may take some notice, consider adjusting your work practices and confirm absolutely you will NOT under any circumstances apply for an extension of works to 9pm for the duration of the works.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Jacqueline Swanson

With the support of Basterfield and Hatfield neighbours

This document contains testimonies from 30 residents affected by the actions of COLPAI during lockdown. They have been anonomysed where necessary but otherwise have not been edited. A few are transcriptions of conversations with residents not so confident with their writing skills.

 

We also include a letter co-signed by 5 Hatfield residents written to our Local MP Nicki Aitken outlining the ongoing issues with the COLPAI site and those responsible for its communications and community engagement.

 

Below are just a few quotes selected from the testimonies:

"During the Covid -19 pandemic, when London was at its epicentre, they [COLPAI] took the decision to put our lives at increased risk - workers and residents - by allowing the works to restart during lockdown. If they're prepared to do that, without any form of consultation or risk-assessment for its impact on the Estate and its residents, then it shows that fundamentally they really don't care."

"…. in this already stressful situation, we are having imposed on us, a constant racket of noise, machinery, vehicle movements, fumes and dust from the COLPAI construction site starting at 8 AM every morning and carrying on more or less continuously until 6PM. This is completely inescapable for us in the lockdown and the sense of helplessness to do anything about it is unbelievably stress inducing in the extreme."

"As people we are hot wired to associate noise with emotion. Whether its music or the noise of hammering we react at an emotional level. We feel stress when these emotional triggers are pressed and the effect on our wellbeing is detrimental. COLPAI is going ahead and I quite accept that. What I don’t accept is the creep of noise, the chatter of mobile phone chat before 8.00."

"Noise is not only a nuisance, it is also a well-established form of torture. We’re not merely ‘nimby’ neighbours concerned to protect our own backyard. We’re victims. Your victims."

"Pardon my French but to put it bluntly, they [COLPAI] deliberately took a decision to make the life of everyone living around the site a little bit shittier in the middle of a category 5 shitstorm… going on the balcony is about as noisy and enjoyable as being standing on the hard shoulder of a motorway. And the worst is the stench - the petrol fumes from whatever machines they are using on site stink and even get into the flat if I leave the door open."

"As a brain-injury survivor, the stresses and anxieties I suffer are on a permanent hair-trigger. The noise from the site has kettled me and my mental health issues into an ever decreasing small space."

"I thought I was resilient, I thought I could get used to the noise; an eight o’clock wake up is only like the alarm I thought… but its not. It’s a “must get up” call…. These few weeks since the work restarted have become increasingly stressful because I have been sticking to the rules but the noise seems to have increased, in my upset I think I have become more sensitive to the noise, not less."

"I am heartbroken and depressed as my work/home life has no place I can escape to, even to be able to concentrate. I am hemmed in by noise. I wake up very early just to get some peace and the yelling and hammering starts before 8 on most days."

"My partner is working as a mental health and capacity advocate in various care homes for a mental health charity. It is impossible to make calls to speak to her clients with that level of noise at a time when they really need her the most."

"To follow the corona virus government regulations and stay at home as much as possible feels like torture. To leave home and be out, feels like a selfish act and a suicide mission especially given how many elderly people live in our building."

"The almost constant noise as I try work or rest and the almost intolerable stress are having a real impact on my ability to work and interact with my family and as we are supposed to be shielding my son by remaining at home for another 10 weeks this just appears to me as an enormous mountain to climb before we are through and from where we are now, it looks insurmountable."

"Living in a dusty and noisy flat has been particularly stressful during the lockdown as we have literally nowhere to go to escape. This has had a huge effect on mental health and well-being - on some days there is no point in even getting out of bed."

"As with many other residents, we appreciate the need for more housing locally. But during such an unprecedented time it seems cruel to continue with work as intensely as before - and particularly now we're advised work could continue through to 9pm and throughout the weekends.  It seems deeply ill-considered and as usual, the poorer, less empowered residents of Golden Lane will be the ones ignored, and ultimately the ones who suffer."

"Construction noise is of course stressful but the silence from the City of London is worrying."

_________________________________________________

Then followed 12 pages of testimonies and a copy of the letter sent to MP Aiken on 13 May. You can read them all here.

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Comment by Jacqueline Swanson on August 15, 2020 at 16:48

Following is a record of the further correspondence:

29 June 2020

Dear COLPAI Project Team
As you can see from the thread below I sent you on open letter on behalf of myself and 29 other residents on the evening of 20 May. You acknowledged receipt on 28 May and indicated you would be coming back to me with a full response shortly.
As I have not yet received it, I'm writing to enquire when this fuller response will be forthcoming as it is now almost 6 weeks since I sent the original letter.
Kind regards
Jacqueline Swanson
________________________________________
14 July 2020

Dear Jacqueline and residents of Basterfield House and Hatfield House

Many thanks for your Open Letter to the COLPAI Project Team. We are sorry that the response has taken some time to prepare but, there was a lot of research that needed to be done and, information was required from several different teams. The full Project Team at the City of London Corporation (the Corporation) and ISG have reviewed the letter and individual accounts in detail and hope that the information below is of use.

We have brought together the following information to outline responses to the key matters and themes that have been raised throughout the letter.

Mental health

The Corporation recognises the need to be aware of the health, safety, and welfare of its residents. It recognises that living and working in close proximity to a construction site can be challenging, particularly during the Covid19 restrictions. The Corporation has invested in a number of initiatives and charities relating to mental health and wellbeing. The Corporation has also signed the public ‘Time to Change’ pledge and is committed to act to reduce mental health discrimination. We remain open to further suggestions to improve the situation.

If residents feel they are struggling in any way, please reach out. There is free support available to City of London residents and staff to support mental health issues. We have included some links and resources below:

-  A number of services, links, contacts and resources can be found online at -www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/releasethepressure

-  Southbank Centre’s “Art by Post” is a fantastic and free initiative bringing free poetry and visual arts activities to older adults living with dementia and other chronic health conditions, who may be most isolated by the current social distancing measures - www.southbankcentre.co.uk/about/get-involved/arts-wellbeing/arts-by...

 

The Corporation’s Lord Mayor’s Appeal Charity is supporting the global movement of kindness to end the stigma around mental health. To find out more, please visit - http://greenribbon.thelordmayorsappeal.org/

 

Noise levels from site

We continue to monitor noise from the site, which is presented to the Environmental Heath teams at the City of London and the London Borough of Islington.

ISG continues to adhere to the agreed consented reduced impact hours as stated within its Construction Management Plan. As you will be aware, we have now completed the demolition and site clearance stage, which is generally considered to be the noisiest period of any construction project. However, as we move into the construction phase of the works, noise from the site will continue, which the team on-site continues to monitor closely.

The school buildings will be scaffolded, and elevations will be sheeted by the end of September 2020. This sheeting is used to shield the building and help to contain airborne dust. It will not however, reduce the impact of noise in any significant way. The on-site team will continue to use monitoring equipment to ensure that noise from the site does not exceed acceptable levels.

We have been carefully looking for and considering alternative respite measures that can be provided for residents, these measures include the possible use of the Golden Lane Estate guest rooms available in Crescent House  As you mentioned in your letter, the community centre was previously used for respite, but at this time it is no longer considered an appropriate venue during the current circumstances.  We are continuing to explore other options that are available and that comply with current Government guidelines. If you do have any thoughts or suggestions for respite, please do let us know and we can look into these in further detail.

 

Reduced impact hours

Reduced impact hours are designed to provide temporary respite at specified times and apply both to business and residential neighbours. During reduced impact hours, works will still be carried out on-site, however, percussive machinery will not be used and, particularly noisy construction works involving heavy machinery such as, for example, the breaking up of concrete slabs will not take place. If you experience noisy works during the reduced impact hours, please do call us on 0800 772 0475 and we can immediately take this up with the site team.

As you will be aware, there was a change in terminology from ‘consented quiet times’ to ‘consented reduced impact hours.’ This change was made across all City of London construction projects. For further information, you can view the City of London’s Codes of Practice for Deconstruction and Construction sites, by visiting: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/business/environmental-health/envir.... The section that directly discusses ‘reduced impact hours’ can be found on Page 12.

 

Noise monitoring

The noise monitor adjacent to Hatfield House was removed with the agreement of the Environmental Health Officers at both the Corporation and the London Borough of Islington. This was agreed, as both the Environmental Health Officers were satisfied that monitoring data from Hatfield House had consistently demonstrated that noise levels were satisfactory.

Following further discussions with the two Environmental Health Officers, it was agreed that, due to the concerns of residents, the noise monitor adjacent to Hatfield House would be reinstated. ISG reinstated this on 20 May 2020. ISG’s external acoustic consultant will continue to review the data and present it to the Environmental Health Officers in a regular and timely manner. Noise, dust and vibration monitoring is also in place at Basterfield House.

All monitoring results and data will continue to be uploaded on a monthly basis to our project website, https://www.colpai-project.co.uk/monitoring-data, where you can view the results and more information on how the results are measured. ISG will also be posting the results on the site noticeboards. Should you require monitoring data on a weekly basis we will arrange for the data to be made available.  

 

Compensation

We understand residents’ concerns with noise from the site. There is no provision for compensation for residents who choose to make alternative arrangements to avoid the noise and disruption from the COLPAI site. However, we do appreciate that residents may want to leave their homes during the day and, as stated above, we are keen to explore options for an area of respite that residents can use throughout the day. We are aiming to update residents on this situation once an appropriate space can be identified.

 

Dust and fumes from site

We have previously committed to undertaking bi-monthly window cleaning at Hatfield and Basterfield House for as long as the dust from the site is significant. However, in light of COVID-19 and the Government guidelines, we are carefully considering and discussing with our contractors the best way to move forward. Window cleaning has not been possible during the recent ‘lockdown’ period as the window cleaning contractor had furloughed its staff. The contractor is now back working on the estate. Window cleaning in the foyers and entrances has resumed as part of the usual three-month cleaning cycle. The contractors have provided a COVID-19 risk assessment and action plan and operatives will be working in-line with all of the appropriate guidance.

As the windows and balconies are private spaces, we must ensure that we meet all current guidance to undertake window cleaning activities safely. As lockdown restrictions ease, arrangements will be made for additional window cleaning to recommence.  At present we are unable to be more specific regarding a commencement date, however we have given this matter high priority and are working with our contractor to provide this service as soon as possible. We will keep residents updated on the timings and next steps for the window cleaning when we have more information.

 

Equipment on-site

All of the plant on-site is classified as Non-Road Mobile Machinery. As such this plant is registered with the Mayor of London’s office and established on its database. The plant is subject to regular testing to ensure it complies with Stage 111B emission criteria of Directive 97/68/EC. Regular inspections are made throughout the project.

 

Construction practices

The works at the COLPAI Project site recommenced in strict accordance with guidelines issued by the Government and Public Health England relating to COVID-19. Unfortunately, construction works are noisy and dusty. However, ISG is constantly reviewing all practices on-site to ensure that any disturbance is mitigated as far as possible.

ISG has recently identified two operations that were specifically noisy. The first was the use of the static concrete pump and the second was the use of the compressed air lance. With regard to the concrete pump, ISG has only used this once since work restarted on 14 April 2020 and, will apply acoustic blankets to cover the unit when it is used again. The noise from the air lance is more difficult to suppress. However, ISG will minimise the use of the air lance when working adjacent to Hatfield House and Basterfield House and will only use it in the permitted ‘noisy working’ hours.

ISG has also moved some of the formwork striking into the noisy works periods. Whilst this activity is not considered particularly noisy, ISG assessed that it would impact on residents and therefore chose to specifically monitor and control the process.

In relation to the noise from the site operatives, the team on-site are extensively using radio communications. There will, however, always be a need to communicate verbally on occasion and, sometimes this will need to be done at a level above the noise of the plant and equipment. ISG is aware that verbal communications, on occasions, have caused disturbance to residents and they are monitoring this closely and are acting where appropriate.

 

Extended hours application

We understand residents’ concerns of the impact of the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Robert Jenrick’s, statement advising local planning authorities to review applications from contractors for an extension to site working hours. The Corporation has robust procedures in place for considering any request and can see that, in the current circumstances, any extension of working hours for noisy activities at construction sites in residential areas would have an impact on residents in their homes.

ISG applied for the extended hours following the Government directive to assist construction companies and to help with social distancing. Officers in the Corporation assessed the application alongside the London Borough of Islington colleagues and agreed that the site is densely populated and that the proposal would have an adverse impact on the community. The application was refused.

Communications

Please note that general enquiries should be directed to the COLPAI Project email address (info@colpai-project.co.uk), which is monitored and managed Monday-Friday 9.30am-5.30pm. The info@colpai-project.co.uk email address is received directly by the Corporation, ISG, Environmental Health at Islington Council and the Corporation. Each party forwards on enquiries received as necessary to concerned parties. Responses are agreed by officers of the Corporation and the COLPAI Project Team to ensure that all communications are dealt with through one agreed channel. Our aim is to respond to general enquiries as soon as possible, however, sometimes we do need more time to respond to more technical queries as we seek further information from different members of the team. 

For any site emergencies, please contact Steve McCarthy (ISG) directly on 07825 719496.

The COLPAI Project Team strives to ensure that information circulated to the local community is accurate and up to date. There are several communications platforms in place and, we will continue to work with the team on-site to ensure that all correspondence is as clear as possible.

The Corporation and ISG are working together to ensure that all communication is issued in a timely and appropriate manner. There is a clear communications protocol in place to ensure that all communication is recorded and all feedback, comments and suggestions from the local community are reviewed by the whole team. We are keen to ensure that communication is accessible for all. If you have any suggestions on additional ways that we can keep you informed, please do let us know.

While we cannot hold face-to-face meetings at this time, we are considering the possibility of setting-up digital platforms to host virtual meetings. We are currently reviewing the feasibility of this option and the infrastructure to support it. We will keep the local community updated on this as well as possible dates and times for the virtual meetings to take place.

We would like to thank you again for taking the time to share your experiences with us and would like to assure you that the Project Team is working to mitigate and minimise the impact of the construction works on the local community.

 Best wishes

The COLPAI Project Team

________________________________________
27 July 2020

Dear COLPAI Project Team

 

Thank you for your response however I feel that your email isn’t a response, it’s an essay in evasion and self-justification which has taken over 8 weeks to compose.

 

Mental Health

Whilst I commend the City on its recognition of the need to be aware of the health, safety and welfare of its residents it does nothing to address them. The comments made about mental health support would be offensive if they weren’t absurd: the point the response carefully misses is that it is the City itself which has caused great distress to a number of vulnerable Golden Lane residents by persisting with noisy construction work only a few metres away during lockdown and done nothing to support them.

It's very clear that some testimonies in the open letter spoke to how the site was exacerbating existing mental health issues, but many described how the stress from noise, dust and fumes was actually creating issues. How is the Southbank Centre’s “fantastic and free initiative bringing free poetry and visual art activities” relevant to residents effectively trapped during lockdown in their flats shaking with vibrations from the building site? 

 

Respite

Residents need to get away from the noise - 'carefully looking for and considering alternative respite measures that can be provided for residents, these measures include the possible use of the Golden Lane guest rooms available in Crescent House' - does not offer any actual respite. Are the guest rooms available? How do residents request use of them? Or is the facility still just a possibility?

 

Noise monitoring, dust and fumes

Regarding the Corporation’s monitoring of the building site, why would anyone have confidence in the statement that “ISG’s external acoustic consultant will continue to review the data and present it to the Environmental Health Officers in a regular and timely manner”. You do not describe how your offer to provide noise monitoring data on a weekly basis will be disseminated or what benefits it will bring. What are you doing to try and mitigate the noise?

 

After weeks of delay, you use words like “exploring”, “considering” and “reviewing” several times each. How much “exploring”, “considering” and “reviewing” does it take to do things like meeting your commitment to clean residents’ dust covered windows?

 

Communications

Covid 19 has created challenges for all of us, however there is no excuse for abandoning community meetings. You say, 'We are considering the possibility of setting -up digital platforms to host virtual meetings' but we fail to understand why you are only now considering this as a possibility. The City has been holding virtual internal and public meetings on Zoom and Teams for over 3 months surely it could have arranged at least one for resident stakeholders over the 5 months that have now been missed.

 

Will the project team or City ever acknowledge that it might have got something wrong? Or will it carry on with the pretence that everything it does is right, and - when anyone queries this - send defensive and evasive responses like this one?

 

When will the possibilities referenced in your letter become actual actions?

 

Yours sincerely

Jacqueline Swanson

________________________________________

14 August 2020

Dear Jacqueline 

 

Thank you for your email.  

 

We are sorry that you are dissatisfied with our response to your Open Letter. In preparing our response, we sought the views and opinions of several parties, including Chief Officers and Members of the City of London Corporation (City Corporation). We are satisfied that it does address the key points raised by you and other residents in your Open Letter. 

 

With specific regard to the issue of respite for residents, this has proven to be extremely challenging in the current climate particularly with the loss of the Community Centre due to COVID-19. We have now concluded that the use of the guest rooms in Crescent House is not an option. 

 

The City Corporation has not abandoned community meetings. COVID-19 has completely changed the way staff at the City Corporation have worked and the way services have been delivered over the last four to five months. The level of confusion and uncertainty created by COVID-19 made it extremely difficult for us to continue with the community meetings in any meaningful format and, it is only very recently, that the City Corporation has deemed it appropriate for Officers to look to set up online meetings where it is beneficial and practical to do so.   

 

You will have already received the notice for our upcoming consultation event for the planning conditions, which is due to take place on Thursday 27 August. Please do register using the link to sign-up for the webinar - https://www.colpai-project.co.uk/webinar-registration 

 

We are also looking to restart our regular community meetings, online, in September.  

 

Best wishes 

COLPAI Project Team

Comment by Paul Drinkwater on May 22, 2020 at 13:52

ISG PLC sponsor Mental Health UK - https://mentalhealth-uk.org/partnerships/case-studies/isg/

Given ISG's impact on the mental health of 30 residents, so powerfully evidenced above, perhaps Mental Health UK might want to investigate this matter and re-consider its relationship with ISG until the company puts right these issues?

Otherwise this is rather like Philip Morris sponsoring the NHS.

Comment by Jacqueline Swanson on May 22, 2020 at 12:48

This morning I sent the email below to our MP Nickie Aiken. She responded very shortly afterwards:

Dear Ms Aiken

Firstly, I would like to thank you for the efforts you made to try get the Government to shut down all non-essential construction work during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. It certainly would have made a huge difference to residents on Golden Lane Estate, particularly those living next to the COLPAI site which as you know only closed for two weeks during this period. 
The effect on myself and neighbours has been accumulative and many of us now are suffering quite significantly. With Mental Health Awareness week in mind on Wednesday evening I sent the attached open letter to the COLPAI Project. I followed it up with an email to all City Councillors yesterday morning - text of which you can see below. 
If there is anything you can do to support residents at this point it would be much appreciated - we really need reassurance that under no circumstances will working hours on the site be extended, ideally we would like the current hours shortened and exclude all weekend work.
With best wishes
Jacqueline Swanson
RESPONSE:

Dear Jacqueline

Thank you for sharing your letter with me. It really provides very powerful testimony and as you say in Mental Health Awareness Week the concerns from residents about their wellbeing is particularly poignant.

I can promise you that I have continued to lobby to bring the concerns of you and your neighbours to the attention of the Corporation and I will continue to do so.

Yours

Nickie

Comment by Jacqueline Swanson on May 21, 2020 at 11:41

This morning I sent the email below to the 150+ City Councillors:

Dear Member

Please find attached an open letter to the COLPAI Project which includes the personal testimonies of 30 residents whose mental health and wellbeing have been adversely affected by the actions of the Corporation during lockdown. I would very much appreciate you taking the time to read it.
Quoting from the recent article by the Lord Mayor, I'm hoping you will do everything you can to make sure the well being of Golden Lane Estate residents will be addressed with kindness as "the City of London continues to demonstrate its commitment and dedication to improving and supporting the mental health of its communities".  Kindness at the heart of the City's mental health efforts City AM 18 May 2020
 
The letter has also been posted on the Golden Lane Community website - residents would very much appreciate messages of support. Please feel free to post directly or entrust me to post for you.
With best wishes for your own wellbeing during this week of Mental Health Awareness.
Kind regards
Jacqueline Swanson

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