The City Corporation announced yesterday that construction work on its own COLPAI development would recommence after a two week break, with workers maintaining social distancing “as much as possible”, but acknowledging that this may not always be possible: Recommencement of works at COLPAI site on 14.4.2020
The City Corporation has urged residents of Golden Lane Estate, part of which adjoins the COLPAI site, to comply with Government restrictions on staying at home, going out only for essential purposes and maintaining social distancing. We have been doing so. From Tuesday, when residents of more than 60 small flats on the estate look out of our windows, we will see construction workers who have not stayed at home, doing non-essential work and not always maintaining social distancing. This will be happening on the site of a development by the City Corporation itself, our landlord.
By contrast, a private developer ceased work at a site only a hundred metres away from COLPAI just after the lockdown began, announcing it was doing so “due to the current pandemic…and the health risk it presents to all people”. The reference to “all people” includes the construction workers, their families and the people they come into contact with.
The City Corporation has tried to justify its contractor, ISg, recommencing work on COLPAI by quoting the Government’s guidance to the construction sector, which begins by referring to construction work playing “an important role in ensuring public safety and the provision of public services”. The work on COLPAI does not ensure either public safety or the provision of public services at this time, unlike (say) the construction of temporary hospital facilities.
The recommencement of work on COLPAI will be harmful to a number of residents on Golden Lane Estate. As well as being demoralised by seeing the Government’s central lockdown message being flouted with the approval of their own local authority, they will be affected physically. In normal times, the noise from the site is stressful enough. But these are not normal times. People who would otherwise be at work are working from home. Children who would otherwise be at school are now learning in small flats, unable to go out except with their parents to exercise once a day. Young people have had their freedoms curtailed. Older and vulnerable people don’t go out at all. Everyone feels more stress because of the threat this crisis poses to their lives and livelihoods. To have that stress compounded by noise between 8 am and 6 pm every weekday because of non-essential construction work is intolerable.
The City Corporation could have joined the Mayor of London (Labour) and the local MP (Conservative) in calling on the Government to ban non-essential construction work, but has instead chosen to support such work by allowing it to continue on the Corporation’s own project, regardless of the harm this will do to residents in very close proximity. Unlike any other local authority, the City Corporation doesn’t need to worry about what its residents think, because only 20% of its councillors are elected in mainly residential wards; the other 80% are, uniquely, elected mainly by business voters, who typically have little interest in what their councillors do. This has for decades caused City residents to be poorly served by their council. When this crisis is over, that will finally need to be addressed.
In the meantime, here on Golden Lane Estate most of the practical response to the crisis has come from volunteers in our own community, setting up a GLE Covid 19 HUB to support our neighbours in need. We have been working with Liz King and others in the Barbican who, with Age UK City of London, who have set up the Square Mile food bank for City residents.
The City Corporation has played a very secondary role, although I would record my thanks to its Head of Housing Management, Liam Gillespie, for his individual efforts in arranging support where we have needed it. But as a whole the City Corporation, which has insisted that its non essential staff work from home, has been tone deaf in this crisis, while some of its residents will be literally deafened by non-essential construction noise.
The Corporation seems to think that spin (“we must work together”) is a substitute for substance. It isn’t. On behalf of Golden Lane residents I deplore the lack of moral leadership shown by the City Corporation and the irresponsibility of its contractor ISg, and call on the Corporation to reverse this decision immediately.