Barbican residents fight back after generator leaves them with headaches

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Gail Lewis
Image credit LDRS

Residents living in the City of London say they have been suffering from headaches and feeling nauseous due to fumes crawling into their homes from a nearby generator. Those living in Cromwell Tower on the Barbican estate are calling on the law firm operating the device, and the City of London Corporation, to remove it before more people are affected.

The generator, which residents claim initially ran on diesel, though it is currently using biofuel, is being used to power one of Linklaters’ office blocks on Silk Street, after it suffered a power outage due to its transformer failing on March 27.

A spokesperson for Linklaters said the company has been working with the City of London and the Barbican Residents’ Association, and hopes to resolve its power outage “as soon as possible”.

Sarah Stobbs, 52, who has lived in Cromwell Tower for around 14 years, described the situation as ‘not liveable’, adding residents are bearing the burden of Linklaters’ emergency.

The generator first appeared in late March, after Linklaters had sought advice from the City of London and obtained the necessary permits following the power outage. It initially ran 24/7 outside Cromwell Tower, by the Barbican Centre, though following complaints from residents its operating hours have been reduced. It has also been moved around the corner, outside the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and nearer Speed House, another Barbican block.

At a protest outside Linklaters’ offices earlier this week (April 16), Ms Stobbs told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) she and her family came back from holiday to find the generator running and their flat full of fumes.

She contacted the City’s environmental health team, who she said acknowledged the issue and indicated they would work with Linklaters to resolve the issue.

Since then, Ms Stobbs said the City and Linklaters have ‘tinkered’, in changing the operating hours and the location of the generator, but have failed to act sufficiently.

She believes that rather than run the generator until the affected building’s transformer is sorted, Linklaters should explore other options for its staff, including working from home or sharing space in the other block. She said this has however fallen on deaf ears, with the firm refusing due to not wanting to deal with the ‘inconvenience’.

“They don’t want to work from home because it would be inconvenient,” she said. “They are prioritising their convenience over the health of their neighbours.”

In an email sent to the head of public relations at Linklaters, seen by the LDRS, Ms Stobbs wrote: “Unlike us, Linklaters have many options. You can work from home. You can share space in your fully functional Milton Tower. You can purchase short-term WeWork passes for your workers.

“Linklaters needs to ask itself: how is it acting in a way that upholds the public trust and confidence in the legal profession, when it continues to knowingly pollute its neighbours?”

Speaking at the protest, Ms Stobbs said: “Linklaters should take on the burden of its own emergency and work from home. At the moment, the burden of this entire emergency rests with residents.”

Gail Lewis, 71, said she has been suffering from headaches and a sore throat due to the fumes from the generator. She said she did not realise the impacts at first. “Then suddenly, it’s that…it builds.”

Ms Lewis added the noise has also been an issue for residents in the block. “Always a kind of hum,” she said. “You could hear the hum all the time.”

Several City representatives were also at the protest, including Common Councillor Deborah Oliver. She told the LDRS: “It’s really showing a bit of solidarity. You have got to stand together with residents, don’t you?”

‘This is not liveable’

Ms Stobbs added it is expected a new transformer for the Linklaters tower will take around 16 weeks to be installed, meaning residents are potentially looking at ongoing issues well into summer.

“This means we won’t be able to open our windows all summer,” she said. “This is not liveable.”

A Linklaters spokesperson said: “We have been working with City of London Environmental Health Department and the Barbican Residents’ Association to try and minimise and mitigate the impact of our temporary generator on local residents while we work to restore mains electricity to our building.

“As a result of these discussions, we have moved the generator, which is running on biofuel, to a new location further along Silk Street and reduced its operating hours. We hope to resolve our power outage as soon as possible.”

A City of London Corporation spokesperson said: “We take noise and pollution complaints extremely seriously. Our officers are in regular contact with Linklaters regarding the use of a temporary biofuel generator on Silk Street until power is restored.

“Linklaters have moved the generator to reduce the impact on residents and continue to explore what further improvements can be made.

“Inspections are being carried out by officers who continue to monitor the use of this equipment which is in operation during restricted hours and during daytime only. We are continuing to work closely with Linklaters to resolve the power outage as quickly as possible.”

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