My Streetlamp Nightmare – how to ruin a Grade II Listed Building

Street Lamp Resource Pages

Please click on the “three horizontal bar” symbol, or widget, at the top of the page for background information – e.g. the real contact addresses for Balfour Beatty.

Now, read on…

Monday, November 17 2014

This morning at about 10am while I was at work a brand new, unwanted and unexpected, street lamp pole appeared outside my house.

Carbuncle

What are they thinking – sticking an ugly modern pole outside a 400 year old house? Time for action!

Tuesday, November 18 2014

I got out this morning and took a few photos – it’s touching the guttering…

Gutted!

What a shoddy, ugly, job…

SAM_8011
SAM_8007
Is that too close to the gas main?

We contacted our South Cambs District Councillor, David Bard. What a gent! He got onto the contractors, a division of Balfour Beatty, and extracted this reply (and I quote):

“Just forwarding an e-mail sent to Balfour Beatty this afternoon. I also spoke to them over the phone and the man who answered agreed that the light should not have been installed that close to the house.”

Well, it’s a start, but really it shouldn’t be in front of the house at all, but over the other side of the road. There is plenty of room over that side – no narrow footpath…. look how wide this is, barely enough for a double buggy, so if we have anyone coming the other way at the same time, they are out into the road….

Too narrow for this really

Doing some research reveals that there’s a lot of money involved – see this article.

There must have been a lot of golf balls hit while that deal was being sealed! Now, money talks, and 200 million quid talks louder, so I wonder what I can do to turn this problem around?

A bit of maths reveals that EACH LAMP POST will cost Cambridgeshire County Council around £3000 over the term of the PFI contract – a nice little earner for Balfour Beatty. Also see the Finances page – I smell a rat.

In other web trawling I found out that Balfour Beatty was involved in the construction of Mulberry Harbour. Yes – that’s the floating pontoon used in the D-day landings to get the troops, tanks and supplies onshore. Did we really win the Second World War, and repel fascist rule, so that we could let philistines ravage our heritage two generations later? My poor house survived the Napoleonic wars, WWI and WWII and now this happens – how ironic.

I managed to get through to the Conservation Department at South Cambs District Council (SCDC) who didn’t like the sound of this pole at all, and asked me to email in some photos, which I did. Unfortunately, County Council can override listed buildings consent, but I hope that SCDC Conservation at least write to CCC to express their disagreement with this installation.

Some friends have asked why the lamp post is on this side of the road. To demonstrate how utterly stupid the current position is, take a look at this map (extract courtesy of lightingcambridgshire):

Street Map showing Footpaths

Street Map showing Footpaths

All this needs is to take a cable under the road for the electricity supply – job done!

Wednedsday, November 19 2014

As my wife had had no real results and what turned into a heated discussion with Keeley Russell at BBLP about the problem, she told Keeley to speak to me in future. So I rang her office – she was out all morning and I eventually got this email reply:

Subject: RE: When is a convenient time to call you?
Thank you for your email - I have been out in Linton on 
a Parish Council meeting.  I will be in the office for 
the rest of the afternoon until 5pm.

Thank you

Kind Regards
Keeley Russell – Head of Client Liaison
Balfour Beatty

I got through at about 1230. Here are some excerpts from the telephone call transcript, “A” is me, and “K” is Keeley:


K. Hello Keeley Russel Speaking

A. Hello this is Adam Quantrill I am just calling up to see if you have read my email from this morning and what reaction you had to it.

K. Well we can’t just change the street lights like that it has to go back to my design team, the local authority. It’s not a matter of you sending a letter and us saying the…. [continues in this vein]

A. So to clarify the possibility of putting it over the other side of the road, as I understand it from emails that you have sent to David Bard, there is no technical reason why it cannot be sited over the other side of the road [K interrupts], there is no technical reason why siting the lamp post over the other side of the road would not produce adequate illumination for the street, and there is no technical reason why a trench cannot be dug underneath the road to provide the electricity needed for said light.

K. Not that I am aware of I need to speak to my design team. To confirm this.

A. Absolutely.

A. So the only reason barring the movement of the light, as far as I can understand it, is a financial one.

K. Absolutely.

A. Right, OK.

… continues…

K. Now we know that we are working on historical areas, and we know that we are working in areas that have listed buildings, Unfortunately conservation does not come into play when you’re dealing with the highway and you’re putting in streetlights.

K. I offered to move the streetlight forward so it’s not touching the property because the streetlight shouldn’t be touching the property.

K. I’m trying to do all that I can to help you with this. With regard to SCDC being opposed to the installation um you know it’s not under the remit of SCDC it’s under the remit of the County Council [….] so that has no bearing on where we put streetlights at all.

A. So you have no consideration for the listed [status]

K. No.

….

A. And despite the fact that Balfour Beatty operate a listed building and conservation department [K interrupts] where you make, have a business out of preserving listed buildings, you don’t mind damaging the reputation of that arm of the business [K very interrupty] by spoiling a listed building in Cambridgeshire [various K interruptions elided here].

K. What you fail to understand is we are a contractor, we were instructed five years ago to take this contract on board… that instruction has come from the CCC. [Various safety standards points, and contradictory assertions elided which are pointless in the context of the argument given the earlier acceptance that the light will be fine on the opposite side of the road.]

A. OK.

A. Can you tell me out of the county council and your design team who has decided to put that pole at that particular place?

K. That will be our design team.


Well, looks like I have a good case, apart from it costing money, and damaging BBLP Ltd’s bottom line.

Friday 21st November

Well I am looking out of my front window… nope, it’s still there:

IMG_0014

I spoke to Keeley Russell on Wednesday and this is what she had said: “I offered to move the streetlight forward so it’s not touching the property because the streetlight shouldn’t be touching the property.”

So – why is it still there – still touching my property after 3 days? Any winds and this will start to destroy the gutter, the roof tiles, and maybe the foundations (any builders out there – please leave a comment).

Well the wind got up a little bit later and I managed to get a video of the pole slapping the house….

This thing has to go. I phoned home later on and the pole was still there. According to my wife when the post was put up it took no more than 5-10 minutes. So presumably it would take 10 minutes to remove right now as it is not properly mortared in.

Quite why BB don’t remove it instantly I do not know, so I started getting legal advice from some tame lawyers that I know and a legal advice help line. The advice boils down to – I am being wronged in various ways, and I need to contact BB and CCC both, and give them notice. So I drafted a letter and sent it off. You can read the letter here. Please note that I have redacted a few sections which are personal and to do with a medical condition that has been exacerbated by the whole experience and process (and this possibility had been notified to BB in writing two days before, so yes, they were aware).

Saturday, November 22 2014

Did a bit of leafleting around the village this morning, to raise awareness amongst local residents. Most traders and shopowners are sympathetic and have agreed to put up a poster in their window.

Now a bit of good news, Tony Orgee (our county councillor) appeared on the doorstep this afternoon and told me he has contacted both the CCC estate chap and BB with a view to agreeing a variation of contract. If agreed, this would mean that CCC would pick up the tab for the trench needed for the cable. If it isn’t approved, then the lamppost could still be moved, but it would be at BB’s expense.

I am hoping that if the variation of contract is approved, then there would be very little stopping BB from moving the post, so fingers crossed.

Sunday, November 23 2014

Some more good news. Talked to a builder friend at the Rugby Club and it appears that CCC and BB have been very naughty boys. They are contravening the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 with their construction. The best bit is that they now have to pay for my surveyor to look at this, so if you are a surveyor and fancy a nice little earner paid for by Balfour Beatty, please do get in touch.

As per The Party Wall etc. Act 1996, Section 20

“special foundations” means foundations in which an assemblage of beams or rods is employed for the purpose of distributing any load; and

That appears to cover it – the “beam” being the lamppost and the “load” being the wind loading torque and/or the weight of the post and luminaire.

I feel another letter coming on…. but first things first, now GO HAMILTON…

Yay – RESULT!

Back to business… found this nice quote:

The courts have taken a dim view of Building Owners that proceed with work without serving notice and go on to cause damage to a neighbour’s property. In Roadrunner Properties Limited v John Dean the judge made it clear that the Building Owner should not gain advantage by his failure to comply with the statutory requirements. In light of this he decided that the burden should be on the Building Owner to disprove a link between the damage and the work instead of the reverse which would be the normal position at common law.

Also for all you out there in a similar position do note – this applies not only to buildings – “Party Walls” but also to garden brick walls “Party Fence Walls”, but not to wooden fences.
I’ll be posting up a template letter for you to use in case you’re in the same position as me.

Tuesday, November 25 2014

Well a mixed message from BB today. Keeley Russell came to the house today to talk about the pole. David Bard came by too, to take the opportunity to put some points from the Council’s perspective. Keeley Russell said in front of the both of us (and I quote) “the lamppost will be removed by the end of the week.” This was repeated once. Well, you might think that’s a result.

However, not much more than an hour later, the contractors then came by, removed my notice barring working on the pole, and then installed a luminaire on the top, adding to the weight of course. Furthermore the luminaire will catch the wind more, and increase the risk of damage to the guttering and roof.

So there are three possibilites that occur to me:

a) The pole is not to be removed (or, indeed, moved) after all and despite the assurances of KR.
b) The contractors cannot read, and are so inept that they would risk damaging a brand new luminaire by fitting and then removing it later on.
c) BBLP Limited are not in control of their own subcontractors.

Doesn’t bode well does it for the eventual pole removal and “making good” of the hole left behind…

A few more email exchanges then occurred with the legal team at BB head office, just to let them know that adding the luminaire will of course add to the wind loading and hence the wobbling of the pole and potential for damage.

Whether it was pressure from the top via legal, or head office, or CCC after Andrew Lansley MP got onto them, or Parish or South Cambs Councils….At last! Some movement – according to wifey a lorry came by this afternoon, and without even removing the luminaire first, they got it on a couple of chains and whipped it out, all in about 5 minutes.

So now we have a hole:

An ex-post

An ex-post

and an unspoilt view of the house:

Post post

Post post

If all it took was 5 minutes, why make us wait a week? Anyhow, the bubbly is open, and we’re now waiting for whatever comes next, hopefully that will be over the road.

Wednesday, November 25 2014

Just a quick update – the workers did indeed come back and fill the hole during the day.

I’ll check tomorrow morning in daylight whether they did a good job, and cleaned that cement mark off my wall that BB put there during the install (see the pictures at the top of this post).

From the Office of Rt Hon Andrew Lansley CBE MP:

“Further to our email correspondence, Mr Lansley has received an email from Cambridgeshire County Council stating that column outside of your front door has already been removed by Balfour Beatty, and a new one will be erected on Friday 28th November on the footway on the other side of the road.”

Excellent news, and very kind of Mr Lansley to get involved especially with all that’s going on. Al least someone seems to know what’s going on…

Friday 28th November

No sign of the replacement yet. So I spose nothing will happen now until Monday.

Tuesday 2nd Dec

The new pole went in today – over the road. Excellent news. I’ll post up some pictures when I get a chance.

Wednesday 3rd Dec

I have received some interesting emails from David Grech, Historic Places Adviser (East of England) at English Heritage. In them he says (and I quote):

“This is not the first time that we have been made aware of issues with this PFI contract and from the outset of the programme we had concerns that inadequate provision was made within this contract for the historic environment. However, we were assured that Balfour Beatty would liaise with District Council conservation teams at the design stage when working in a conservation area and/or adjacent to a listed building to avoid or minimise harm to the historic environment. That would appear not to have happened at Sawston and the matter has only been resolved through the removal and relocation of a new streetlight, presumably at significant additional expense. We have therefore written to the County Council to remind them of the agreed work procedures for dealing with the historic environment. Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention, and I am pleased that it has now been resolved.”

He elaborated on this in a further email:

“The agreed work procedures were that Balfour Beatty should consult with the conservation teams in the district councils so that they could comment on design proposals (location of columns, type and finish of columns etc). English Heritage are not a party to this process, but I am aware that there are some listed lamp standards (eg in Cambridge) and these are to be retained and up-graded. Elsewhere new lamp standards are to be installed, but rather than leaving them galvanised the district council may require that they are painted where located in historic areas, or that a different column is needed.”

and

“Our understanding is that Balfour Beatty should accommodate reasonable requests from the districts when designing layouts and offer the districts the option of upgrading the specification (eg painting the columns). In any event we would also expect BB to respect the settings of listed buildings when preparing their layouts.”

So….. far from Balfour Beatty not paying heedance to listed buildings status (see my telephone call with Keeley Russell above), from the very outset this risk had been identified and Balfour Beatty had agreed to take these concerns into account.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation to me (for example the owner of that thatched cottage I’ve heard about – that cannot now be re-thatched because a new streetlamp is in the way), please remind BB of the obligations that they took on when they started this project.

Thursday 18th Dec

Just got outside to take a few piccies of the new post. It’s only been up a couple of weeks and we had a bit of windy weather last week. As with most of the country, the prevailing winds come from the west.

Well here it is, and no that’s not an optical illusion:

Still Pretty Ugly

Still Pretty Ugly

Yes it really is leaning over, funnily enough, towards the East:

On the cock

On the cock

Perhaps its something to do with the “foundations”… well there are hardly any…

300mm hole

300mm hole

The lamppost manufacturer Mallatite recommend a 400mm x 400mm x 600mm deep block of concrete for this 8m post – this is barely a 300mm hole, and full of muck, not concrete. What’s more, the soil infill seems to be collapsing:

Holey Moley!

Holey Moley!

Looks like BB are really cutting corners on this contract. Let’s see what happens when the first storm hits the country and they all fall over! Where they have placed the post there is about 7.5m from the base to my house, so the luminaire could well hit the house when it topples.

Conclusion

It just goes to show – never take “No” for an answer, if you’re in the right, and you keep the pressure up, eventually something will give…

Postscript

Keeley is Gone!

Left BB in March last. Nice little comment on LinkeIn: “Senior Liaison with all external stakeholders for the project including senior Local authority directors, 69 Elected Council members and 270 local Parish Councillors / councils, as well as demanding residents.” LOL!

And all the faff about having to dig a trench across the road was a big fat whopper too – they are digging up the path instead down Common Lane! Pics to follow….

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