I agree with Paul License that many council houses are badly designed (Hitting brick wall on council homes, Star 19th June). The maisonettes on the Hanover and Lansdowne Estates, built in the 1960s and 70s, sorely need renovation. The Decent Homes programme offered new kitchens, bathrooms, central heating and double glazing but did not cure the leaking roofs and walls, or the broken gutters, blocked drains and inadequate rubbish chutes. Happily, Green Councillors, backed by the Star, won a campaign to replace the roofs. Now the walls are to be insulated, but the proposed cladding may prove to be no more than an expensive facelift.
The technical details are crucial. The maisonettes have internal brick cross-walls, but the external walls consist of panels fitted between them. These panels are made of 2 inch timber frames with plasterboard and felt on the inside and tiles or plastic sheeting on the outside. The only insulation is an inch of mineral fibre quilting. Is it any wonder that the walls are prone to leaks and draughts and that, when the new windows were fitted, they started to sway outwards? The floors/ceilings are concrete slabs, which are visible as horizontal bars on the exterior of the buildings. They create “cold bridges” conducting warmth out of the building and attracting condensation and mould. They also hold a wide gutter which, when blocked due to lack of regular maintenance, causes water to track into the floor and ceiling of the adjacent properties.
As Paul License says, the design favours looks over liveability or longevity. But planners still don’t get it. The Urban Design Panel (a powerful group of council officers) have insisted that the new cladding retains the “vertical and horizontal” features of the blocks. Rather than encasing the brick uprights and concrete horizontals, it must abut them. This will worsen the cold bridging and put more pressure on the gutters. The planners’ diktat has made it much harder for Sheffield Homes find a workable solution. Once again, tenants and residents will suffer and taxpayers will foot the bill to satisfy a desire for a particular (outdated) “look”. When public money is short, fuel bills are rising and the council is supposedly committed to listening to local voices, isn’t it time to be a bit more practical?
Cllr Jillian Creasy, Sheffield Green Party