VIEWPOINTS: A piece of the breach

building site

According to a post on the Winnersh Community Facebook page last Thursday morning, there was good news.

Highways England had decided to give everyone a bank holiday break from the noise of their smart motorway work on the M4.

However, it became mixed news as the Facebook posting went on to say that WBC had given permission for Good Friday and Easter Monday working between 8am and 1pm on the Hatchwood Mill site in Winnersh, but only for “internal works”.

Good Friday

The day dawned and the mournful cries of the reversing alarms started just after 8am – echoing around the site and beyond – waking everyone up.

And they kept on, and on, and on. Not just a quiet ‘meep meep’ occasionally, but a full throated BEEP … BEEP … BEEP … BEEP …  All morning.

Technically it was Good Friday, but there was nothing good about it if you lived nearby.

Along with video evidence, over a dozen emails, and a noise pollution complaint before noon, it was time to go meet the developers to find out more.

Questions for Da Bildaaz

There’s two developers on the Hatchwood Mill site in Winnersh – Bovis and Persimmon, so I went to both site offices.

Both site managers were calm and courteous as they listened to and understood the concerns. They learned that matters were very far from over and would be taken further after the weekend.

The questions at each site office seemed straightforward …

What part of “internal works” needed a materials tele-handler to be used? (think large fork-lift)

When the tele-handler dropped building waste materials onto open ground near the Bovis site office, how did that fit with “internal works”?

Likewise, how did the CCTV sewer survey fit with “internal works”?

Why were there noises like scaffold poles being dropped on hard ground? (and why had this happened six times in the time it took me to walk to the site)?

Why were the reversing beeps so loud and penetrating – particularly as Crest Nicholson have shown that the white noise movement alarms on their vehicles over at Arborfield Green are safe, effective and much less irritating for neighbours and customers?

And why was work still going on beyond 1pm?

In the past I’ve been on the receiving end of complaints for over four years and have found that customers who’d put their concerns across quietly and humorously generally got quicker results, so I was looking forward to seeing what happened on the Monday (also a bank holiday).

Easter Monday

From experience, I’m ever optimistic that calm feedback can help an organisation to come to terms with a difficult situation – so that they can reconsider what they’re doing, then move forward in a constructive manner.

So on bank holiday Monday at our end of the development, it was quiet and peaceful so maybe someone had learned something from Friday’s encounter.

At the other end of the development, near Bovis’ site office, things were far less happy and the first emails and photos arriving at 7.57am weren’t quite what I’d hoped for, so maybe someone hadn’t learned (yet).

An hour later an incoming video of the beeping tele-handler at the other end of the site, right outside residents’ homes, reinforced that conclusion.

And whatever message had been intended, those beeps made it loud and clear.

Questions for the council

But the trouble with noise pollution doesn’t just sit with Da Bildaaz.

In WBC’s outline planning permission for Hatchwood Mill in November 2014, planning condition number 11 clearly defined the restrictions on working hours: “between the hours of 7am and 6pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm Saturdays and at no time on Sundays or Bank or National Holidays”.

The clause went on to explain …

“To protect the occupiers of neighbouring properties from noise and disturbance outside the permitted hours during the construction period. Relevant policy: Core Strategy policies CP1 and CP3, relevant MDD policies and the NPPF.”

So why did WBC give approval for working on a bank holiday weekend in direct contravention of planning conditions which residents could reasonably have expected the council to keep to?

Why was it that the council gave permission without consulting the local borough and parish councillors, or (heaven forbid) the residents affected by the decision?

Having made the decision, why was it that the council had no ability to respond to a situation which went so far out of control so quickly on the first bank holiday?

And what plans does the Borough Council have to apply and enforce the policies set out in the borough’s local plan documents?

The Last Word

It was John F Kennedy who said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

So while the wishbone might seem to be replacing the backbone some days … when it comes to getting some peace at a bank holiday weekend, it’s time to do something.

Such as sharing with you what went on, as well as asking organisations as well as individuals to take preventive actions – before this happens to you.

Such is the state of our local politics that I’d urge you to vote on May 2 for the party of your choice, although I suspect that 75% of you probably won’t.

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