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Developer to demolish 36 new homes at Darwin Green development in Cambridge due to issue with foundations

A developer will have to demolish 36 new homes on the Darwin Green site in Cambridge after problems with their foundations were discovered, the Cambridge Independent has learned.

The news has been described as “absolutely shocking” by one ward councillor, who is calling for an independent review to explore what has happened.

36 homes at Darwin Green will be demolished due to issues with their foundations Picture: Keith Heppell
36 homes at Darwin Green will be demolished due to issues with their foundations Picture: Keith Heppell

The developer, Barratt David Wilson Homes Cambridgeshire, says “intensive investigations” are under way to identify the “root cause of the anomalies”.

Cllr Cheney Payne (Lib Dem, Castle) said she “couldn’t quite believe it” when the council was first told of the issue a few days ago.

She said: “The buildings are already in place and pretty much completed. To suddenly find they’re not fit to be occupied and actually need to be demolished is absolutely shocking.

“It’s certainly been quite concerning for the residents who are living in nearby properties, built by the same developer, in terms of what it means for their homes.”

The Cambridge Independent understands that a number of the affected homes had already been sold. However, the developer says none of those properties set to be demolished are occupied.

City councillor Simon Smith (Lab, Castle) said: “I was shocked to hear about the foundational failures on the Barratt David Wilson Homes’ Darwin Green development. It is a terrible waste to demolish dozens of recently built and part-built houses as a result of this error. It is even more shocking given the widely known issues with the plasticity of soil conditions in the area.

“As a local ward councillor I’ve called on planning and environmental health officers to take every available regulatory step to protect residents from the loss of amenity and threats to their health and the environment that may arise from demolition works. In addition, I have further called on the building control service as a regulatory body to investigate any possible breaches of building regulations.

Councillor Simon Smith Picture: Keith Heppell
Councillor Simon Smith Picture: Keith Heppell

“Residents of existing homes in Darwin Green are understandably concerned about their homes in light of these findings and, as ward councillor, I will make sure to work closely with residents to navigate this distressing situation. Primarily, I will be calling on Barratt David Wilson Homes to take responsibility for this and provide residents with their records of the soil layers and as-built foundations.

“Unfortunately, this event reminds us of the risks of deregulation of standards and procedures that were put in place to secure high standards of development and avoid failures that present danger to the public and harm to the environment.”

Cllr Payne is calling for the developer to hold a public meeting to ensure residents are aware of the latest updates on the site.

She said: “I’ve had residents in touch from both within Darwin Green asking questions about what’s happening and what it means for their own households, and also from the surrounding area, where I would imagine demolishing a lot of houses is going to cause an awful lot of noise, disruption and dust.

“It’s worrying to think about.”

Cllr Payne, who said the developer had been offered support by the council during the planning process but decided to seek advice elsewhere, added: “I think there needs to be an independent review of how it’s got to this situation.

“We need to look for an independent body to review what’s happened. For the developers to be reviewing their own work and deciding on the next steps... they’re not really on a stable platform to do so.”

In an update sent to residents, the developer said: “We have not concluded our investigations but have good indication that the design and workmanship for certain houses did not meet our criteria.

“It is now agreed that some houses will unfortunately have to be demolished and new foundations installed.

“We do not take this step lightly but want to ensure quality is not compromised. We do not yet have a finalised timeline for concluding investigations and any remedial work.”

Cambridge City Council was made aware of the problems at the site late last week, but confirmed it has yet to receive an application for the demolition works. The authority said the site had not been inspected since the foundation issue was brought to the attention of officers.

A council spokesperson said: “However, 3C Building Control [the council’s shared building control service] was not the appointed building control provider for this scheme as the contractor has appointed a private company. 3C Building Control, as the enforcing body, will however be working with the local community and site developer to ensure works are compliant.”

The spokesperson added: “Officers will continue to work with the local community and site developer, to ensure that any impacts of the demolition works are appropriately controlled.”

Councillor Katie Thornburrow Picture: Keith Heppell
Councillor Katie Thornburrow Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Katie Thornburrow (Lab, Petersfield), executive councillor for planning, building control and infrastructure, added: “Residents of new homes should be able to relax and enjoy them without worrying about major construction issues like faulty foundations or having to cope with the disturbance caused by demolition and construction.

“Finding out that newly-built homes have to be rebuilt is deeply concerning. Not only must nearby residents be kept fully informed, but it is imperative that the soundness of their own homes is confirmed at the earliest opportunity.

“Our planning and building control officers are meeting with the developers to stress how seriously the council are taking this matter and we will continue to be proactively involved. I will be kept informed by officers and meet with residents.”

Approval was given for the final 210 homes at Darwin Green in April after outline approval was given for the wider site in 2015 for up to 1,593 homes, as well as a new primary school, community facilities and shops at the site, which lies off Huntingdon Road in the north-west of the city.

Thirty-six houses with foundation issues at Darwin Green will be demolished Picture: Keith Heppell
Thirty-six houses with foundation issues at Darwin Green will be demolished Picture: Keith Heppell

The latest detailed application represents the final phase of the residential part of the development.

However, the developer was told the conditions it has yet to fulfil from previous rounds are not a “Woolworths pick and mix”. The conditions relate to open space, community facilities and medical facilities.

One concerned local resident, who asked to be kept anonymous, said: “It’s very clear the focus is on selling £750,000 houses rather than delivering on the promised amenities. We now will experience further delays and endure months of noise, pollution and general disruption as they demolish all these houses. As concerning is the very recent acknowledgment by the local councillors that the developers hadn’t provided these while then giving the developer planning permission for the final phase.”

A spokesperson for Barratt David Wilson Homes Cambridgeshire said: “As a five-star housebuilder we have an extensive quality assurance process and during inspections we found that a small number of unoccupied properties at our Darwin Green development did not meet our usual high standards.

“Unfortunately, the most effective course of action at this stage is to demolish the properties and rebuild them. We have apologised to the customers affected and understand their frustrations, but we are doing all that we can to lessen the impact of this for them.

“The most important thing is that the homes we build for our customers are of the highest quality possible and this means spotting any mistakes and putting them right, which is what we are doing here.”

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