Spanish Building Defects
The Start of Collective Action
A residents’ committee who represented the occupants of 22 high-rise blocks of shared-ownership, ‘low-cost’ housing built on land reclaimed from the Mediterranean, looked to expertise to help them resolve problems in their new flats. Concern over the building’s performance started when it began to disrobe. At first it flung pieces of the clay lattice balcony screens from the 10 to 12 story towers onto the walkways and gardens on the podium deck. These were later joined by brick slips springing loose from floor edges. Lower down, parts of the soffit of the podium deck began falling onto the residents’ parked cars. During the first severe winter, rain entered both flats and garages. The residents’ had relied on locally-commissioned reports only to be met with inaction and suggestions of political bias. Undaunted, they sought further professional support from those with a solid reputation for objectivity and dispute resolution.
The developer was pressed to help and an action was brought against the Spanish Contractor under the design and build contract.
Arbitration Transferred to the Technology and Construction Court
An arbitrator was appointed and visited the site. Experts for both sides carried out joint inspections and prepared evidence. The lists of defects grew steadily. Simultaneously, legal challenges were heard in Spanish and English courts. Eventually, by consensus, the arbitration was stopped and proceedings transferred to the Technology and Construction Court in London. Through a series of experts' meeting the extent and nature of the defects was agreed and a substantial out of court settlement was obtained providing compensation for both the legal and the repair costs.
I was then approached by both the main contractor and one of his sub-contractors for assistance in the action between them. I accepted a commission for the main contractor who swiftly obtained an out of court settlement.
Simultaneously with the preparation of expert evidence, the technical merit and lifetime cost of seven repair strategies were evealuated. The remedy selected involved, amongst other work, improving the tensile strength and restraint of the walls whilst reducing their exposure to sun and rain. Additionally some hundreds of other defects were addressed. A remedial contract was devised which allowed the building to remain occupied throughout.
The major flaws in weather integrity, stability, health and safety have been resolved. Although faults in the building remain, local good opinion of this achievement is reflected in the market value of the flats.
The failure in the building, which resulted in massive repair costs and legal disputes, arose, to a large extent, from a lack of communication and understanding. The quality of the work and the consistency of the poor detailing indicated a lack of familiarity with the techniques appropriate to a building designed in the UK tradition rather than any fundamental lack of ability.