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Dear Councillors (& Zac Goldsmith MP)

We do hope that our not having received any acknowledgement to our previous email relating to an investigation into the causes of the building collapse on The Terrace is not a reflection of it being low on your list of local priorities at this time. It would be hard to under-estimate the level of anxiety, frustration and concern in the effectiveness of the Council’s role in basement approval and development felt by residents in the light of this distressing event.

We note that an investigation is being carried out by the Health & Safety Executive and hope it will be a thorough and EXPERT investigation of the building collapse; can you confirm that is so and assure us who in that team has expertise and qualifications relating to engineering geology, groundwater hydrology, ground engineering and structural engineering especially of temporary works? In this regard we request that the full membership of the investigative team and their relevant qualifications will be made public.

We are also concerned that the Planning Department, which gave permissions to alterations to this and other Terrace properties, may be involved in the investigation and if so can we be assured that their involvement will purely be in giving evidence?

You will appreciate the deep unease and mistrust that residents now have in the whole area and we ask your assurance that this investigation will be conducted on behalf of all residents of the borough, not be reduced to an internal review of Council process.

We also trust that those chosen to conduct the investigation will not be influenced by the assurances of developers and contractors whom, faced with massive potential liabilities, will seek to absolve themselves and their clients, by any means, from culpability.

There are 3 unquestionable “knowns” in this case; viz. The ground is NOT to blame, the houses are NOT to blame but it is the work of man that has caused this collapse, and damage to the properties of many residents blighted by basement development.

Residents expect answers to the following questions, all of which can be answered:

  • What were the qualifications of the designers and technical advisers to the project at 26 The Terrace?
  • If ground tests were conducted at the time of planning application, why have they not been made public on the online page devoted to the application?
  • Were any hydrological and geological tests conducted at the same time of year as the proposed excavation and state of tides?
  • Were any calculations of land stability made?
  • What factor of safety did the calculations for land stability there yield?
  • Why was the subterranean extension work approved with no ground investigation as far as can be seen on record?
  • What was/were the qualification/s of the person/s who approved the proposal?
  • What were the qualifications of the Main contractor?
  • What was the Construction Management scheme proposed?
  • Did the council at the time of application make a proper search of the developers’ past record in excavating basements or in making such significant alterations to historic buildings?
  • What were the qualifications of the sub-contractors?
  • What checks did the council perform as to their competence at the time of planning application?
  • What were the qualifications of the site supervisors?
  • What actions did the Council take at the time of application to confirm that the basement excavation at no. 27 The Terrace (next door) prior to this one had not already undermined neighbouring properties? The resident at no. 28 The Terrace has written to us that Our listed Georgian home, as well as our lives, have been comprehensively wrecked during the past 3 years due to a basement extension and other extensive building works at no. 27, which included underpinning our house.” Their evidence is crucial and surely must be heard.
  • In the light of the damage caused by the basement excavation at no. 27, how was it possible for the Council to agree to another basement extension at no. 26 without expert technical scrutiny of the most demanding level being applied?
  • Whatever might have triggered the precise moment of collapse of the building at no. 26, we hope the council will acknowledge that any prior movement or settlement of the building(s) as a result, for example, of groundwater displacement so close to the flood wall, will have contributed to the instability of the part-gutted house.
  • Were neighbours’ concerns about this development or that at no. 27 The Terrace properly taken into account when the owner-developers of these two properties began the process of de-constructing and digging underneath such old and fragile structures? Or were the concerns of residents dismissed, as they have been routinely for years, because there is no law or Core Strategy to protect them, and the council need not fear legal repercussions?

Given that these are questions that come to mind immediately it is abundantly clear there is something fundamentally wrong with the way things are being done at present. No doubt we will be told “Lessons will be learnt” but until that time comes we seek your confirmation that all applications for major works including basement excavations at present in the pipe-line, for example, 27 Charles St283 Lonsdale Road15 Ranelagh Avenue48 Elm Grove Road24 Suffolk Road, 26 Melville Road, be suspended until the lessons to be learnt from this Inquiry are known.

Given the depth of feeling amongst residents in the Barnes area it is irresponsible, untimely and insensitive to residents’ concerns and an abrogation of the trust placed in Councillors at their election to ignore this request. Our previous email for an immediate moratorium on subterranean applications until more is understood about the causes, implications and consequential actions of the collapse at 26 The Terrace, remains unanswered and a response to it should surely be a priority.

With best wishes

The Safer Basement Campaign: Residents of Barnes, Mortlake and Sheen