An ambulance driver wasn’t able to access a former office block because a security guard left early.
Minutes from weekly meetings of Bristol City Council with the developer of the controversial Imperial Apartments corroborate the concerns raised by residents over recent months – from anti-social behaviour to rats and from security staff problems to issues with bills.
Last week, the Bristol South MP asked the council to stop housing families with children at Imperial Apartments, adding that all the families it has already housed at the complex should be moved out as soon as possible.
In recent months, BristolLive has reported how several residents raised concerns about the former Parkview office complex in Hengrove – now known as Imperial Apartments.
A young mum claimed ‘they are the worst’ and a first-time dad said he feels so unsafe living there that he sleeps with a hammer and a screwdriver next to his bed, with other residents comparing the development to storage facilities and even a prison.
Another young mum claimed this week that her daughter ended up in hospital because of mould at her flat.
The minutes from a meeting last June show concerns were raised that a security guard left 20 minutes early and was therefore not able to give access to an ambulance driver.
It said: “Ambulance driver was able to reach reception but was unable to gain access to other floors on the building.
“What steps can be taken to make sure this is avoided if it was to happen again? Caridon looking into whether they could instal a key safe that could be accessible for paramedics.”
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Concerns about security are raised repeatedly in the weekly meetings, with earlier in the year being reported that “bad behaviour from guards and concerns when good weather kicks in”.
“Biggest concern that security guard have no knowledge of fire,” it said. “Training was given to supervisor but guard said they didn’t know what.”
In another meeting it was said that Caridon was having issues with security staff at weekends as they were not doing patrols and watching TV on their phones instead.
It was also reported that new staff were not trained on fire safety.
It said: “Caridon can’t hold company to account when they haven’t employed them, also concerned that weekend staff are particularly incompetent/inconsistent and working on most risky nights.”
However, in a meeting in July 2021, it was noted that a new security firm would be taking over at weekends and that it was hoped service would improve.
Do you live at Imperial Apartments? What do you think about living there? Our reporter Estel would love to hear from you. You can contact her directly on email@example.com
In a meeting in February 2021 – just five months after the development had opened – it was said that ongoing complaint issues were taking up a lot of Caridon’s resources, but that the council would only remove tenants in “extreme cases where risk is high”.
It was also noted that there were already some tenants wanting to leave.
It said: “Caridon’s legal team are due to serve section 8 on ASB [anti-social behaviour] issue which has been ongoing.
“BCC to together a template on their position on tenants wanting to leave/not engaging with support/rules.”
In a meeting in March 2021, it was noted it was “challenging to get suitable nominations” for the flats because of drug use (cannabis) and mental health support.
It said: “A huge amount smoke cannabis and its hard to discern amount of use. And a lot have viewed and rejected – most feedback is that flats are too small.
“Trying to find right balance re support needs.”
And then, in a meeting in May 2021, it was reported there were “a few issues regarding surrendering of the tenancy”.
It said: “We will look at each case individually but would need to be able to move to sustainable and affordable accommodation.
“Raised concerns that tenants may not always be aware of the consequences of surrendering a tenancy i.e. making themselves intentionally homeless. This should really be a last resort and clients need to be aware of how limited their re-housing options are.”
In that same meeting, it was raised that anti-social behaviour was “a real concern” and it was asked what the council could do to help.
Over the summer, it was noted in a meeting that quite a few tenants were complaining that maintenance staff were entering the flats without permission, adding: “haven’t been told of any other complaints but please encourage tenants to come and let us know. Support Teams to report back on any similar incidents at the next meeting”
A consent letter was also drafted to see if tenants were willing to move in with minimal furniture and use a blow up bed instead.
The notes from the meeting in June 2021 state: “Drafted a consent letter to send out to see if people are willing to move in with minimal furniture (blow up bed/no furniture).
“This would be consent for the client to sign, client agreeing to move in not in ideal conditions. This is a choice, not a requirement. Does it need to be documented?
“A lot of paperwork already for clients. Support teams already have these conversations with clients.
“Some concerns about people then going back on this and being unhappy. This tends to only be for rough sleepers, people in very dire circumstances, not the normal.”
The rat problem at the site – which tenants have repeatedly complained about in media stories – is also acknowledged in a meeting in November 2021.
It said there are lots on-going issues with residents not using the bins correctly and dumping rubbish by the first bin, rather than walk to place it in an empty bin.
This is causing a rat problem on the site and is “very frustrating”, it said.
Residents have also repeatedly complained about lifts frequently breaking down and, in that same meeting in November 2021, it was reported the lift was unable to stop on the first floor.
This was because someone has removed the button, the minutes state, but “residents can still use the other lift and are happy to assist those with buggies navigate the stairs”.
There was often a problem with water if people move in at the weekend, it says in one of the documents, adding there had been a couple of incidents where maintenance had forgotten to turn on the water.
In March 2021, it became apparent that British Gas were charging the wrong rates, with day rate being charged for day and night.
It said bills were now being re-calculated and that they were awaiting an expected monthly costs, with £60 per unit for electricity being the original estimate.
“If not on average at £60 then this is not affordable for many tenants,” it said. “And as a local authority can’t discharge duties of homelessness if these flats aren’t affordable.”
In a meeting in June 2021, it was noted there had been “a rise in clients complaining about noise”.
It said: “One client has raised a complaint two weeks ago maybe via email but has not heard anything back from Caridon yet. The client has experienced other residents knocking on his door and running away.”
A mum – who has been living at Imperial Apartments since the beginning of last year – claimed that the fire doors at the development are constantly broken.
In a meeting in September 2021, it was reported that fire doors are shut and that “certain clients are worried because they can not get out of the building as quick as they would like”.
In an email in December 2021, it said that the doors disabled, but released in case of emergency or fire.
It said the doors aren’t actually locked due to residents gaining access and leaving propped open.
And, in a meeting in May 2021, it was reported that tenants felt uncomfortable going to the smoking area when other people are drinking over there.
An issue with parcels going missing was also raised, and it was reported they would send communication to all residents stating going forward no parcels would be left unattended.
Bristol City Council, which rents nearly 70 per cent of the properties at the site, has previously admitted that the use of a former council office block in south Bristol for housing is “not an ideal option” and city mayor Marvin Rees described it as ‘the least worst option’.
However, the council has defended its decision, saying the site has provided housing for more than 200 people.
Caridon – the developer behind the controversial conversion – has previously said Bristol City Council is happy with them.
Police revealed in November that they had been called more than 200 times in just over a year to the site, with crimes recorded linked to Imperial Apartments including one rape, two incidents of possessions of weapons and one offence of trafficking drugs.
In summer 2020, the council revealed it was planning on housing people in the complex which was being redeveloped by Caridon, a company which was the subject of a Newsnight investigation as residents in one of their developments in London complained about overcrowding, the mix of people, violence and substance misuse.
At the time, housing chiefs at Bristol City Council admitted they had concerns about teaming up with a developer accused of creating “human warehousing” – but said they were “determined to make this development a success and thriving community in which to live”.
According to the floor plans submitted to Bristol City Council, studios at the development start at 18m2 – which is smaller than the average 29m2 shipping container – while the two bedroom flats at the site start at 38m2 and go up to 76m2.
The law was changed last year and it now requires new homes built under permitted development rights to be over 37m2, with two-bedrooms units being a minimum of 61m2.