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London flats collapse puts planning process under spotlight

COLLAPSE OF a three story block of flats during a failed refurbishment in north London has exposed serious flaws in the planning process, contractors said this week.

A method statement for the work had been approved by the local council, but there was evidence that the work was being carried out by unskilled, uninsured builders.

Efforts to knock through a wall dividing two ground floor shops on White Hart Lane, Tottenham, ended in disaster last Friday morning when the three storey block of flats behind them collapsed.

There were no serious injuries despite initial fears that people were trapped in the rubble.

There was no evidence of a building contractor's presence at the scene and those involved in doing the work had not been traced by the time NCE went to press this week.

Locals now suspect the builders have gone into hiding and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) was unable to confirm whether it had located them.

Federation of Master Builders deputy director general Brian Flint said that this type of accident was made possible because of weaknesses in the planning process. He called for tougher regulation of small scale structural building work.

'I see this type of thing time and time again, ' said Flint of the situation. He added that the government should force tradesmen to provide quality of workmanship evidence, or deny them access to insurance.

He said: 'At the moment it is all voluntary - and voluntary is inadequate in these circumstances.'

A Haringey Council spokeswoman confirmed that the shops' owner had sent drawings and calculations to planning officers. These showed how he intended to replace the load bearing wall with fireproofed steel columns.

She said the drawings had been compiled by a qualified engineer and that the HSE had also been notified of the work.

A council inspector visited the site before work started to give conditional approval to begin.

Flint said that domestic clients often got skilled engineers to carry out calculations for work so they could obtain council and HSE approval. But clients are then free to use unskilled and uninsured builders to carry out the job, often unsupervised.

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