Residents voiced their concerns over the development of the Torridon House car park near Randolph Gardens, as council attempts to placate them were branded a “car crash”.
Council officials rejected calls for another independent review into possible soil contamination on the site owned by Westminster and slated for 21 new homes, amid frustration over the project and its impact on the surrounding area.
Previous investigations commissioned by local residents and the council had indicated the presence of several carcinogenic substances in the ground, which is adjacent to WW2 bomb sites, although the council report insisted that toxic chemicals were not in sufficient quantities to warrant concern and that the land was safe to develop while taking certain safety measures.
Bill Pratt, the head teacher at Naima Jewish Preparatory School which backs on to the site, labelled the process a “PR car crash”, and commented on the amount of “bad will” on all sides, as well as calling on the council to launch an independent review in order to repair relations with residents and the school.
He added that the noise and vibrations from the works were “simply intolerable” and invited officials to come to his school’s computer room to see it shaking. Site contractors Osborne’s admitted to exceeding vibration levels twice.
He said: “It is clearly not going well. Residents and the school have been inconvenienced for a long time. It has been a PR car crash.
“It is easy to see why some residents say they did not want building in the first place.”
He added that the council appeared not to take people’s concerns seriously: “Residents are left with the impression that it simply does not matter – that works will happen, at any human cost, due to political and financial motivation and considerations.”
“Whatever we say you are still working on. Whatever the residents say you will still go on.”
Meanwhile Sylvia Dibble, secretary for Randolph Gardens Residents’ association, called for “peace of mind”.
She said: “The most important thing in a democracy is trust.
“If an authority we have voted in is not honest, we have problems.”
Plans to build 21 social homes on the site of the Torridon House car park, a parcel between Maida Vale and Kilburn, were granted planning permission in 2019, but were put on hold during the pandemic. Work commenced on the site at the end of December.
A number of residents have reported illnesses and ailments such as breathing difficulties and muscle pains since the site was first excavated.
Dave Hill, chair of the residents’ association at Torridon House, said that he had suffered from severe cellulitis and asthma.
Speaking to Westminster Times, he said that he had been to hospital four times for treatment in the last year alone, which he attributes to the building work.
Having lived in the neighbourhood for 54 years, he described the Torridon House car park scheme as an overdevelopment, and that the council had pressed on with the project without alleviating residents’ concerns. He said that neighbours with underlying illnesses had been made worse since work started.
He said: “I think the council should stop for a while and think about the residents here before they kick in their gears.
“I just think we should come to some kind of agreement.”
But he concluded: “The council do what they want. If they want it, they’ll get it.”
But council officials resisted calls for another review, pointing to the already delayed project and remaining adamant that a fresh probe would simply deliver similar results to the previous three.
Since the programme started, there have been three enquiries into possible contamination, with 24 soil samples taken in total. The first conducted by Stantec in 2020 identified “isolated and scattered fragments of man made materials” but only at levels typical of a brownfield site.
The second investigation by Enviro Solution last year was commissioned by residents and found “marginal exceedances” in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chemicals which can occur in coal and gasoline, while stating that it was only permitted by the site owners to take surface samples.
Most recently, RSK conducted an investigation on behalf of the council which concluded that all contaminants were “below relevant assessment criterion and that risk to residents and users could be eliminated through a “remediation strategy” including limiting soil disturbance and removal of the site’s pile mat.
Other concerns raised over the development related to the loss of 35 parking spaces from the site.
Despite a reluctance on the part of the council to reopen the matter of contamination, councillors said they were aware that work needed to be done to rebuild trust.
Geoff Barraclough, ward councillor for Maida Vale and cabinet member for planning said that since taking over the council last year Labour was committed to making things work better, but told residents it would take time.
He said: “We are well aware that building services is not doing a good enough job for the ward.
“It is going to take us a while. it is a complicated operation but we understand.”