Chesterfield council considers further legal action after toxic gas-leak council houses had to be demolished
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The four Chesterfield Borough Council houses were built on Rufford Close, at Boythorpe, Chesterfield, in 2019, but they had to be pulled down and the site had to be made safe soon afterwards during a massively costly episode following the detection of gases and reports of a suspected fire in the foundations.
Despite reports that a legal settlement had been agreed, the Labour-controlled council has since confirmed it is not satisfied with an adjudicator’s decision over a dispute between the council and an unnamed contractor so the local authority is now contemplating further legal action.
A Chesterfield Borough Council spokesperson said: “The dispute between the council and one of the contractors engaged at Rufford Close was referred to adjudication and the adjudicator’s decision was received in May, 2022. However, in the council’s view, the decision did not address elements of the dispute to the council’s satisfaction.
“The council is now contemplating further legal action through arbitration or through the courts. Therefore, we are unable to comment further at this stage.”
Liberal Democrat councillor, Glenys Falconer, has repeatedly asked the Labour-controlled council whether legal proceedings had been completed, and whether the council would get compensation or if it would have to bear the full cost of the building and demolition of the properties.
And Council Leader, Cllr Tricia Gilby, had told a full council meeting, on October 18, that following legal proceedings she understood the council had been able to settle the matter by arbitration but at that time nothing had been formally released by the council about the identity of any other potentially involved legal party or about any of the amounts of money involved.
Also at that time, Cllr Gilby added that she would check with council officers about the outcome of the arbitration and mediation process as Cllr Falconer continued to press for answers.
A member of the public, Max Kerley, had also asked Cllr Gilby during a previous council meeting about the presence of a coal seam under the properties and he claimed that the council’s decision-making to build the properties had cost Chesterfield tax-payers almost £1 million.
Cllr Gilby told Mr Kerley the council’s priority is safety and that there was an on-going investigation with potential for legal action.
She also replied that all the coal below the footprint of the properties had been removed before construction, and an investigation had identified that elevated carbon monoxide gas and hydrogen levels had arisen from chemical reactions occurring within the infill material and not from the presence of an underground fire.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, poisonous, flammable gas and the chemical element hydrogen is also described as a flammable, colourless, odourless, gaseous element, according to the Collins Dictionary.
Cllr Falconer has stressed throughout that she has been concerned about the high cost of building and demolishing these houses, particularly in light of the council’s forecasted £4m budget deficit for 2024/25, and that the public should be kept informed.
The properties had been built by May, 2019, but the site remained closed with a secure, high fence and locked gates before the properties were demolished soon afterwards leaving a fenced and locked site.
Chesterfield Borough Council has stressed it is not able to comment on the matter at this time because it is contemplating further legal action so the basis of any dispute remains unexplained despite the matter involving a public body answerable to voters and tax-payers.
As the council remains tight-lipped over the matter, the contractor involved also remains unnamed and any costs involved remain undisclosed as do any claims of possible, apportioned responsibility or liability – if any at all – associated with any party involved in the failed housing project.
In addition, the prospect or details of any possible financial payouts or settlements also remain undisclosed.
The Rufford Close matter is expected to have so far involved a large amount of money to cover costs, including the planning process, building of four houses, safety tests, demolition of four houses, site safety remediation, and legal costs.