Squirrels climbing into homes via scaffolding largely unused for 16 months

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Sumner Buildings scaffolding
Credit LDRS

Squirrels have been climbing into people’s homes on a South London estate via scaffolding which has sat largely unused for 16 months. Residents living in Sumner Buildings in Southwark have been waiting for years for works to be carried out on their windows, with some suffering from damage such as mould and rot.

The City of London Corporation, which is the landlord, though the estate being outside of the Square Mile, said while window installations have been delayed, redecoration works have been carried out.

They added the City is spending around £107 million to bring homes across all of its social housing estates to a ‘high standard’ by 2026, including £47 million on replacement windows.

Repairs to the windows at Sumner Buildings have been in the pipeline for more than a decade, though it was not until 2019 that planning permission was submitted and approved.

The pandemic naturally brought everything to a halt, though according to Stephen Coates, 54, who has lived with his family on the estate for several years, nothing happened until 2022, when another resident contacted the Corporation telling them the permission was due to expire.

The response, Mr Coates said, was for the City to erect scaffolding. And so it has remained, with very little occurring in the meantime.

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Residents say the Corporation has blamed delays on issues such as problems with its initial submission, which required a new application being filed, as well as Covid. The result however has been the scaffolding has just sat there, with no repair work carried out.

One resident the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) spoke to, Ruby Wright, said she and her husband’s windows are rotting and impacted by mould, while Mr Coates spoke of the dust and dirt which comes into his home from the scaffolding. A more surprising consequence has been squirrels climbing up the frames and into people’s homes, with both Ms Wright and Mr Coates having photo evidence of the furry critters paying a visit.

Residents filed a complaint with the City in June 2023 on grounds including a lack of communication and delays to the project, before progressing to a stage two complaint after being left unsatisfied with the response.

This was upheld by the City, which also committed to actions ranging from improving communications to providing a breakdown of costs, including those to be borne by the Corporation. However, according to Mr Coates, none of these have been delivered.

The group have since taken their concerns to the Housing Ombudsman, and are awaiting a response. They add it is not just their estate involved in the project, with Stopher House and Pakeman House, both of which are also in Southwark, similarly affected.

Mr Coates told the LDRS: “Communication with residents is terrible. Apologies are followed by commitments which are not honoured, emails go ignored or are answered with contradictory, partial or confusing information weeks or months later. There does not seem to be any internal means of monitoring or implementing their own recommendations or providing accountability with regard to their own mistakes.”

Ms Wright described the situation as ‘Kafkaesque’, and said the flat has suffered as a result of the delayed works. “I’ve reported this countless times but the answer is always that it will be sorted as soon as the new windows go in,” she said.

“We have had winter after winter with no double glazing, black mould grows around the windows and on the ceiling (we live on the top floor and the roof I think is due to be insulated) and in the summer squirrels come into our kitchen via the scaffolding. Without a doubt, we could have replaced the windows ourselves more cost-effectively and in a fraction of the time.”

Ms Wright’s husband, Mark Miodownik, 54, added the Corporation has consistently ‘kicked things into the long grass’, the result being the deterioration of their home.

Both Mr Coates and Mr Miodownik said they anticipate the overall costs of the project to be in the ‘hundreds of thousands’ due to the delays and are concerned as to where that money is going to come from.

Mr Miodownik said: “It does feel like it’s being done on the cheap, but in doing so it’s costing twice as much, and this is really, really worrying from a public finance point of view. This is people’s taxes being used to put scaffolding up, which is costing hundreds of thousands of pounds more than it should be.

“And then you’re cutting costs on things that really matter. So it’s the epitome of doing things on the cheap and it costing you more, and I think that speaks of really bad decision-making at senior management level.”

A City of London spokesperson said: “We are investing around £107m in a Housing Major Works Programme to bring all homes across our 12 social housing estates up to a high standard by 2026. This includes a £47m investment in replacement windows.

“It is imperative that the window designs meet the requirements of building regulations and high standards required by the City Corporation and our residents.

“Whilst the window installations at Sumner Buildings have been delayed, redecoration work has progressed. A letter detailing the latest update on the project was sent to residents earlier this week.”

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