Shock report sparks call for housing probe

Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue
Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue
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An investigation into the state of social housing stock across Derry estates has been called for after a leaked report revealed crumbling bricks; dampness and ventilation problems in one area of the city.

The Housing Executive had commissioned the report into the condition of 21 homes across Bluebell Hill Gardens in the Brandywell area.

A spokeswoman for the Executive said a programme of works to address the raft of issues identified was now in the pipeline.

Sinn Fein Councillor Patricia Logue welcomed movement on the problems facing tenants in the Brandywell estate, but said that there was now a need to look at other properties of the same age throughout the city.

The ‘Journal,’ meanwhile , has seen a copy of the report commissioned to present options which would tackle the “Damp & Defects” at certain Bluebell Hill Gardens properties.

The report states that the homes were constructed in 1959 and “have been problematic since,” despite works such extensions and “gable skin replacements due to excessive spalling” (fragmenting building material).

The properties were inspected between July 20 and 22 last year.

At one house it was found that render “came away with hand tools”, while “brick work was equally of poor condition being able to be removed by hand.”

There were several instances whereby damp was found inside kitchen cupboards and on bedroom ceilings. Reporting the findings of brick sampling taken away and tested, the report states they were found to contain calcium silicate, which it elaborates are “prone to shrinkage, cracking, and rainwater can enter these cracks and result in frost damage and significant spalling and deterioration and breaking up of brickwork.”

Among the key findings in the report are that “cracking of the outer render” was visible in all properties inspected.

In some cases the render “was falling off as we were walking by,” while one house had “the original brick outer leaf not rendered to the rear of the property.”

Several properties were found to have “some degree of damp on the ground floor.”

An additional issue uncovered was the lack of adequate ventilation to roof space, where “internal leaf of brickwork is built up tight to the underside of the underfelt at eaves level with the roofspace,” thereby restricting airflow into the loft space.

The ‘Journal’ understands that there have been several meetings held over recent days regarding the issue.

Speaking after a meeting with Housing Executive management in the city this week, Sinn Féin Councillor Patricia Logue told the ‘Journal’ she has asked them to prioritise the work needed for these homes “as a matter of urgency”.

Colr. Logue said: “I have been lobbying hard for a number of years now for an improvement scheme for homes in Bluebell Gardens, in particular dealing with the problem of dampness.

“I received a lot of complaints from residents regarding dampness and the effects that was having on their homes and their daily lives.

“There are serious issues here that need resolved, particularly the affect the condition of these homes is having on residents’ health.

“We have also asked for a presentation to be given to residents on the full scale of what this work entails. And for a survey of homes of a similar age across the city to be carried out to find if there are similar problems.”

A spokesperson for the Housing Executive yesterday told the ‘Journal:’ “The Housing Executive commissioned a report into 21 properties at Bluebell Hill Gardens. The appointed consultant produced a draft report, which was shared with local elected representatives.

“The Housing Executive is currently exploring the available options for the properties and it is expected that a scheme will get underway in 2016, subject to planning and building control approval.”

The Housing Executive spokeswoman added: “We will liaise with our tenants before any work gets underway.”

When asked if there was any possibility the homes might have to be demolished, the spokeswoman said that demolition of the homes “has not and is not being considered.”

She added: “It is normal for properties to require attention and we regularly assess all our properties to determine what work may, or may not be, required.”

The report sets out four different options for addressing the problems uncovered.

The first involved removing the external render and replacing this with a flexible, water repellant one.

Option Two proposes insulation and calls for poor circulation of air in roofspace and soffit to be addressed to reduce damp.

Option Three involves replacing the brick “external skin” of the homes and rebuild them, while Option Four involves external insulation, replacing sills and facia and new render.

The report authors recommend that Option Four is the preferred solution.

Colr. Logue also said she has been in contact with Transport NI to request an inspection of the footpaths at Bluebell Hill Gardens after concerns were raised.