The view from Chris and Katie Eve’s house for the past two years has been dominated by a large metal shipping container in their drive. It stores family possessions they say can’t be unpacked because of catastrophic blunders that have left part of their three-year-old home without insulation or fireproofing.
The couple, and their two children, now face the partial demolition of the £500,000 property because of buckled floors, warped roof trusses and wrongly laid pipes.
Containers have also been sitting in the drives of at least three other houses on the Hockley Croft estate, built by Harron Homes in Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire.
All eight of the properties in the Eves’s cul-de-sac are awaiting remedial work for serious defects, including sinking floors. “Shit Alley” was the name given to the road by a site manager, according to residents, who claim they have spent more than two years imploring Harron Homes to make their homes habitable.
“We have been living in limbo since we moved in December 2019,” says Chris. “The garage ceiling has been taken down four times, and holes cut in our bedroom and bathroom to try to ram insulation into the eaves areas. In May, we were told we’d have to move out while part of the house was demolished, but we still don’t know if and when that’s going to happen.”
The story of Hockley Croft highlights the shortcomings of quality control on new developments, and the inadequacy of protections for new homeowners who discover defects after moving in.
Substandard building is the fastest growing issue in the sector, according to campaign group HomeOwners Alliance. It claims buyers have more rights buying a toaster than a house.
This month, the long-awaited New Homes Ombudsman Service was launched to provide buyers with a dispute resolution service. Developers who sign up agree to abide by a code of practice requiring them to resolve snagging issues within 30 days.
The service can award up to £75,000 compensation, but membership is voluntary and critics claim it will have limited effect.
“The government should have appointed a mandatory ombudsman that all housebuilders must join,” says Paula Higgins, chief executive of the HomeOwners Alliance.
“The new code is competing with half a dozen or so others, such as the Consumer Code for Home Builders, which makes the redress landscape even more confusing.”
The quality of Harron Homes developments has been raised by three MPs during recent parliamentary debates about the oversight of new developments. In January, Robbie Moore, MP for Keighley and Ilkley, reported “shocking” issues, including unconnected sewer pipes, unfinished roads and cracked walls on two Harron estates in his constituency.
According to a former Harron Homes site manager, who spent two weeks on Hockley Croft, corners were cut to meet unrealistic deadlines. “The pressure was relentless, and site managers were leaving every week because of the push to get buildings completed,” says the manager, who did not want to be named.
The Eves’s neighbours, Adam and Joanne Tegerdine, told the Observer that the walls and ceilings of their house had cracked because of the movement of inadequately fitted floor joists. The floors dropped so badly, they say, the lavatory pan was detached from the cistern and gaps have opened at the bottom of walls.
“We’ve raised over 200 issues since moving in, in June 2020,” says Adam. “We have been unable to decorate or truly make the house a home as we wait for a resolution.”
Three doors down, Katie and Paul Vaughan say they are also living with dropped floors, and report inadequately sealed doors and windows, and undersized radiators. Like the Eves, their house was built without insulation or fire boarding between the garage and bedroom.
Their nextdoor neighbour John Barratt* paid £6,000 for repairs to his dropped flooring after living for six months without carpets or a usable bathroom upstairs. Harron was forced to fit insulation and fireproofing to the garage and an overhead bedroom, but, he says, an undersized boiler left the family with inadequate heating and hot water.
Jacqueline Webster Martin, on the other side of Barratt, says her house has been left without gable restraints and lacks crucial roof strapping and bracing, while across the way, Elizabeth Smith* and her partner have reported 64 defects.
“This is the first house we’ve bought together and it has become a nightmare,” she says. “We’re exhausted from trying to get something done.”
After contact from the Observer. Tony Lee, managing director at Harron Homes, Yorkshire said: “Harron Homes prides itself on creating high-quality homes, so we are disappointed we’ve not reached that standard in this case.
“We are committed to resolving the matter, and have devised a detailed timetable of works. We recognise that a handful of customers have raised concerns, and we are actively working with them to address the issues.
“I am confident that our operations are robust, and our teams have the resources to deliver the service and quality I expect for our customers.”
Hockley Croft raises the question of how developments are approved. Developers can pay independent assessors, who may charge higher fees for more thorough inspections.
An alternative is the National House Building Council, which also provides new warranties. Or there is building control provided by often overstretched local authorities.
Harrogate borough council, which oversaw Hockley Croft, says that it is the builder’s responsibility to ensure building regulations are upheld.
“As the building control officer is only on site at specific points during the construction, they will not be able to check every piece of building material, or every aspect of submitted documents,” it says. “The building control team is working with the developer to ensure that the build quality meets regulations, and will endeavour to assist any residents who may have outstanding concerns.”
The HomeOwners Alliance is campaigning for a mandatory snagging retention scheme to allow purchasers to retain 2.5% of their property price until all defects are resolved.
Higgins adds: “This would be a powerful incentive for developers to put quality first, and not take a short-term view, building homes that don’t stand the test of time.”
* Name has been changed