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Hundreds face refurbishment delays as council homes deal ends early

10-year major works contract is over after just two years due to company's 'change in business circumstances’

13 November, 2020 — By Tom Foot

A MAJOR housing works contract has been terminated early, leaving hundreds of council tenants facing delays.

The city council said it had accepted a request by Axis Europe to end its 10-year contract after just two years “due to a change in their business circumstances”.

The company was hired in 2018 to carry out major works on council properties in the north of the borough. It was also working with the council to install 10,000 fire doors as part of post-Grenfell disaster safety measures.

At full council on Wednesday night, Labour opposition group leader Adam Hug quizzed ­cabinet members about the “withdrawal” by Axis Europe, asking: “How many estates will face delays?”

Housing chief Cllr David Harvey said: “About 3,500 homes will have some sort of impact, but often that impact will be very small indeed. There are probably about 600 homes that will be affected by the need to change to a new contractor.”

He said Westminster’s other major works contractor, UnitedLiving, was poised to take over some of Axis’s projects. But not all, so some schemes would require going back to square one with a new round of consultation.

Cllr Harvey said: “The primary delay we are going to see is the need to reconsult. There might be a delay of two or three months as we consult residents. But then the Hallfield 2 project, where we may need to go to a new contractor, it may be several months. I’m afraid that is unavoidable. I hope we don’t see material costs going across to leaseholders.”

The Hallfield 2 project is a refurbishment of windows, electrics, decorations and external repairs to three council blocks in Paddington that is already underway. Residents received letters this week saying Axis would complete what works it had started but works that had not yet begun would have to be carried out by another contractor.

Asked whether the construction industry had been fatally floored by the Covid-19 pandemic, Cllr Harvey said he still trusted that the “free market approach” would be able to give “residents what they want, when they need it, and to a good price”.

Cllr Guthrie McKie, Labour’s housing spokes­person, said: “It seems the council has managed to avoid a catastrophe.

“This should give the council the opportunity to develop an in-house resource for the training and recruitment of skilled housing operatives.

“Such a facility could work with other boroughs’ housing programmes so that the council’s priorities of more social and affordable housing doesn’t fall victim to capital problems that developers often experience.”

The Axis contract was initially unveiled by the council in 2018 with great fanfare, with housing chiefs insisting it would deliver £28million in savings and provide better quality housing.

This week the council said it was “disappointed” but had agreed to the “early termination” of the Axis Europe contract
Axis could not be reached for comment.

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