Our Eighteen Month Construction Site Hell
What IS the Considerate Constructors Scheme?
From their own website:
The Considerate Constructors Scheme is the national initiative set up by the construction industry to improve its image.
Construction sites and companies that register with the Scheme are monitored against a Code of Considerate Practice, designed to encourage best practice beyond statutory requirements.
The Scheme is concerned about any area of construction activity that may have a direct or indirect impact on the image of the industry as a whole. The main areas of concern fall into three categories: the general public, the workforce and the environment.
Quite recently, my neighbours, my partner and I were forced to endure eighteen months of Hell, as an ageing Morrisons supermarket was demolished, and a new store erected. The old building was just across the car park from my living room, and the new structure went up directly opposite the entrance to my apartment block. From the incessant hydraulic pecker that signalled the start of the demolition, to the constant reverse beep of the rollers tarmacking the car park at the end of the project, we suffered a year-and-a-half of noise, dirt and inconvenience.
Of course, I was not so naïve as to think that such a mammoth project as this could have been undertaken without causing some inconvenience; I was prepared for that. What irritated me was that the fence around the compound of the building site was emblazoned with a sign stating that the company is registered with the Considerate Constructors Scheme. As things turned out, I found consideration pretty thin on the ground for the duration of the project.
Off to a Bad Start
Quite early into the project, mounds of grey powder were dumped on part of the site, close to where I, and other residents, parked. This powder was left uncovered, and when the wind got up, it was blown onto parked vehicles, where it settled in such quantity that I could write my name on my car bonnet.
I rang the construction company to ask what the powder was, and, although I was offered a free valet, it was only during this phone call that I was informed that the powder in question was abrasive, and so should not be wiped off the bodywork. I was advised to clean the powder off with a hosepipe, as wiping could damage the paintwork.
Surely the considerate thing to do in this situation would have been to inform the owners of vehicles parked within the vicinity of this pile that the settling dust was abrasive, and that a free valet was on offer. This could have been done by placing leaflets under the windscreen wipers of the cars affected, or by posting letters through surrounding addresses. My neighbour, who also parked in that area, was offered no such valet, because he did not make a phone call. I call that inconsiderate.
On the morning following the first unannounced night shift, I rang the manager of the construction company to ask why we hadn't been forewarned about this intrusion to our peace. The reason I was given was that a pedestrian had been hit and injured by a cement mixer at the site entrance, and the resulting police investigation had caused a long delay.
I had heard about this accident, and under those circumstances, it would have been harsh of me to complain, so I told the manager that I accepted his explanation.
Then he told me that his men would be working late for another four or five nights. I suspected that he had just used the accident as an excuse; after all, it did seem odd that an accident would necessitate late night working one night, and then planned late night working would follow immediately. I felt fobbed off.
Late Night Extra
With so much noise going on through the day, the peace and quiet of bedtime came as a merciful oasis of calm; or at least it should have.
While lying in bed with my partner one night during the construction process, we were suddenly disturbed by the noise of heavy machinery being operated after midnight within the compound. This was repeated over several nights, and again there was no prior warning or explanation, but only another retrospective apology after I had called to complain.
A simple communication to let us know why the work had to be done so late, and a rough idea of how long it would go on for would have put our minds at rest. The lack of such a communication left us in the frustrated state of not knowing if the noise would cease in five minutes, or five hours.
A representative of the Considerate Constructors scheme contacted the construction company on my behalf with regards to the lack of consideration shown in not forewarning residents that they would be working late at night. The reply he got was that they would bear it in mind next time. This was laughable.
I may be wrong, but I suspect that the contract for a colossal new supermarket would not be awarded to a building firm with a track record of three extensions, a garden wall and a brick barbecue. The company in question must have undertaken projects on a similar scale in the past, and so for them to plead ignorance when residents complained about the lack of a fundamental courtesy, to be told in advance that there would be late night working, was naïve in the extreme.
There was some (almost) comic relief in this miserable episode one fine summer’s morning. I was cutting it fine for an appointment with my business manager, and so I hurried down to my car, which was parked in a small bay adjoining the site. The sight that awaited me was jaw-dropping. Someone had actually erected a steel fence that completely enclosed my vehicle, denying me access to it.
With the clock ticking, I had to hunt down the site manager to inform him of this development, and I waited as he instructed someone to fetch a huge spanner in order to unbolt a section of fence so that I could liberate my vehicle. I mention again that someone could have forewarned me that a fence was to be erected in that area, either by placing a printed notification under my windscreen wiper, or through my mailbox, a few days prior to the work being carried out. No such communication came.
Seven Days a Week
If that episode at least raised a smile, the least amusing part of the whole project was the incessant noise. Construction sites are noisy places, and this will cause inconvenience to those living nearby. These inconveniences caused us to take such measures as keeping the windows sealed shut right through the summer, and I watching television with the subtitles on.
My local authority decrees that noisy power tools (Stihl saws, pneumatic picks etc) should not be used before 8.00 am Monday to Saturday, and not at all on Sundays.
I worked in close liaison with the environmental health officer at my local authority, and he warned the construction company on three occasions about breaching noise regulations. Clearly the first two warnings were ignored. I witnessed flagrant breaching of these regulations many times, with power tools being used at prohibited times. I have footage of someone operating a Stihl saw at 7.35 a.m. – in the dark!
For us, the Sunday breaches were the worst. After six days of almost constant noise, it would have been nice to have had one day of peace and quiet, but this was denied us. The contractors rode roughshod over the regulations, showing once again a complete lack of consideration those affected by this work. On one occasion, I complained to my local authority that noisy work had been carried out on Sunday, but the site manager denied this. I was proved right by my own video footage, however, which shows men using prohibited power tools, while the shutters of a small supermarket in the background are closed. This store is only closed on Sundays.
There were many more incidents that caused us irritation, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when the project was completed early in 2013. Much of the annoyance that those of us living by the site endured could have been avoided by the simple process of pre-notification, and the communication of information on what was happening.
It’s called consideration.