Thursday, December 31, 2009

Greenhouses and Health and Safety

Basildon made the papers this morning, and not in a good way:
Gardeners have been ordered to tear down a communal greenhouse on a housing estate because of health and safety fears that they might fall off the roof. Tenants received a letter from St George's Community Housing [Basildon District Council's housing arm] which manages the council housing estate in Basildon, Essex, saying the greenhouse must go.

Andre Le Brise, 57, who lives in flats on the estate and tends to the plants, said: "When we moved here it was worse than a jungle.

"I can't believe we've been told to take it down. It's health and safety gone mad.

"That greenhouse is all some of us have got."

Residents clubbed together six years ago to buy the greenhouse, as well as planting trees and flower beds and buying a lawnmower to keep the communal grassy areas neat.

However, in a letter from Julie Grant, Pitsea area housing officer for the community housing, they have been told to get rid of it or it will be taken down.

Let us deal with the issues: firstly that Council tenants have got together to improve their area is not a bad thing, in fact it is a very, very good thing and should be encouraged. Secondly, this application of Health and Safety seems only to consider what might happen and ignores how likely it is to happen. Risk professionals know that both the threat and probability of it occurring are vital in determining if something is a real risk. If you just consider the worst case scenario without the likelihood of it happening then you can quickly reach a position where any action by anyone doing anything is just too dangerous. This leads to many absurd actions by, typically, local councils up and down the country and unless there is something I don't know about appears to be the case here.

The greenhouse is on public land, and so it should only be there by permission anyway. A fair application on that policy should stop people just building structures without the support of their neighbours. In this case there is no dispute among local people, just with tenants and the Council. Health and safety appears to have little relevance, so why does someone want the greenhouse demolished? Who made that decision? Was it a Council officer or a Councillor? Well, we are going to find out about that. In the interim I have asked that nothing happens until we get to the bottom of this. To their credit, the senior management at St. George's appear to be having second thoughts as well, at least according to the the Telegraph article:

Mandy Skeat, St George's area housing services manager, said: "We contacted residents because of concerns over two items in this communal area which could potentially present a risk to residents.

"We asked for both to be removed.

"Following discussions with the residents concerned we are reviewing the situation and may consider other options."

Yes, we will.