Council-owned firm's building blunder costs £500k and leads to rebuild

Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A County Hall-owned company will have to pay half a million pounds in legal fees after a housebuilding blunder in Sussex.  

In 2014 Norse, a Norfolk county council-owned company, entered an agreement with Beattie Passive, to form Beattie Passive Norse (BPN) and develop 10 energy-efficient homes in Burwash, East Sussex. 

However, the development was such a mess it had to be knocked down and started again from scratch.

Norse's NPS Property Consultants and BPN then tried to sue their consulting company, Canham Consulting, for £3.7m, alleging professional negligence. 

But the judge on the case, Justice Fraser, said Canham had effectively accepted drawings had been "in some respects negligent" but under cross-examination, described the buildings as "catastrophic", providing a list of defects that they could have no responsibility for. 

A man has been jailed for assault after spraying his former partner with a garden hose. Picture PA.

The case was heard at the Technology and Construction Court - Credit: PA

Mr Fraser awarded BPN £2,000 in damages for the cost of remedy works caused by errors in the drawings, which could have been fixed by retrofitting. 

But the judge went on to describe the companies' claims that Canham was responsible for the buildings needing to be demolished as "a weak and speculative claim". 

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And on May 25, the judge ruled the claimants must in fact pay Canham the sum of £500,000. 

A Norse spokesperson said: “Following a hearing at the Technology and Construction Court (March 2021), while it was found that Canham Consulting had been ‘negligent in limited respects’, the court did not consider that the project losses associated with demolition and rebuild could be associated with this. 

“While disappointed in this outcome, we respectfully acknowledge and accept the court’s judgement. 

“Our primary focus throughout this project was the development of safe, sustainable homes delivered to the high standards we expect our clients to demand of us. 

“When any of these standards were put at risk, we took the right and responsible decision to stop and rebuild, continuing to put safety and standards before any potential expense.” 

The Norse spokesperson added that costs will be met by the Norse group and not passed onto the taxpayer and stressed the £500,000 figure was an interim and could change.

County Hall in Norwich

Norse is a wholly-owned company of Norfolk County Council - Credit: Archant Norfolk

The judge’s decision has been welcomed by Canham who said “justice has been done”, but expressed disappointment that the case had been pursued by the claimants. 

“We had negotiated with the claimants in good faith and made two generous offers to settle one minor grievance,” a spokeswoman said. 

“The judge ruled that our liability was just £2,000 – a sum Mr Justice Fraser described as “derisory” when set against the £3.7m claim.  

“He pointed out that the award was below even the small claims court limit.
“We feel that in awarding interim costs in our favour of at least £500,000, to be paid within 14 days, the court made a very eloquent statement on the validity of an untenable claim.” 

Norfolk County Council declined to comment. 

Beattie Passive was contacted but did not respond in time for going to print. 

What happened?  

When groundwork was started in 2014, Foxdown, a subcontractor, was brought in by BPN to construct the foundations. 

Foxdown was given an incorrect early set of drawings for development by the Beattie Construction company. 

Inappropriate foundations were then laid, a mistake that was not noticed until 2016. 

Construction work on new homes. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

A Norse spokeswoman insisted the costs would not be passed on to the taxpayer - Credit: PA

The buildings seem to have been plagued by a series of other issues, with Canham’s claiming the buildings were “woefully defective”. 

Judge Fraser did not seem to disagree, he said: "Block A seems, on the evidence, to have been in something of a hopeless state generally, and the decision was taken to demolish that in May 2016. 

"It was obviously thought at one stage that Block B could be remediated, those works commencing. 

"A couple of months after that work commenced, however, the decision to demolish Block B rather overtook the progress of those remedial works.”  

In 2019 BPN and NPS made a claim against Canham Consulting for contributory losses incurred because of the alleged deficiencies with the structural engineering design of the buildings’ sub-structure.