in Wandsworth

One issue that has troubled me enormously during the build-up to the council’s Formula E decision has been the attitude towards health and safety and risk assessment. Allegations that the construction phase was not done safely have never gone away, and there are plenty of pictures floating around that strongly suggest best practice was not always followed.

In August someone told me they had asked the council about the risk assessments and but was told they were destroyed. This, I thought, had to be a misunderstanding. Aside from not being the sort of document you destroy immediately (I know, for example, that in my day job risk assessments are retained indefinitely, even if they are superseded or become irrelevant) it just didn’t seem much like the council. When I followed up with the council I expected to be able to quickly correct the complainant. In fact I found myself in for months of repeatedly being told the council had absolutely no responsibility for the safety of residents in Battersea Park when it came to Formula E.

Initially I intended to detail the exchanges I had with council officers in trying to get to the bottom of this, but when looking through the email chains decided that it really didn’t make good reading. A simple query that I raised in August took nearly ten weeks to reach its conclusion, the period being filled with lengthy delays for responses from the council, suggestions that other parts of the council were responsible and answers that didn’t really address the questions raised. Having been on the other side of the fence I know there is occasionally a perverse pride taken in not actually answering questions, the Yes, Minister approach. Clearly I’m no longer in a position to appreciate it but the upshot is that I’m still left with a number of questions which remain unanswered.

After ten weeks of trying, I realised I would never get an answer that satisfied me.

I was repeatedly told that risk assessment was entirely Formula E’s responsibility, because, were the council to undertake such assessments, or to approve them in any way, it “potentially renders the council responsible”.

I was, however, assured the council required Formula E to undertake risk assessments as part of the terms and conditions. I did ask if I could see these terms and conditions, but that request was refused because it was “commercially sensitive.” I could not see the risk assessments themselves. The council had, indeed, deleted them and Formula E, for their part, declined to share them again because they felt reinstating the Dropbox link was “an unnecessary administrative burden”.

In summary, the council requires risk assessments, but does not approve them (that being the case, does it even assess their adequacy?) and takes no responsibility for what happened in the park since they merely handed over the park as and when construction started.

There are lots of other issues that were never resolved to my satisfaction. How the council handled potential conflicts of interest when they appeared to use the same health and safety consultants as Formula E had during their planning, for example, was never really addressed nor was a request for details of changes made at the request of the council.

Fundamentally, though, I struggle to understand how the council can so fully hand over its responsibility for the safety of the public. It is for others, be they members of the public or members of the council committee, to decide if that is an appropriate approach.

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  1. It is very similar to the excuses that developers give for not disclosing their viability study to justify scraping affordable housing.
    Basically the same way that Council and residents are told to trust a developer saying they need such and such and scrap that because otherwise it’s not viable, here we are told to trust that the risk assessment has been undertaken, without any possibility to verify and even question it.
    For the record, last time a court asked a developer to disclose it viability assessment, it was proven completely that its only goal was to safeguard their own huge profit. I fear that the same might be true for the safety assessment here…

  2. No surprises here, the report already says it all “the site is handed over to the event operator” (p32).

    Wandsworth council is trying to construct for itself a legal defence before a claim has been made – the problem is their defence will not work: they owe a duty of care to all visitors to the park, they have breached that duty, and they know, or should have known, that the construction involved in running the Formula-E event posed a health and safety risk to the public.

  3. For those of us working in the private sector it defies belief that Captain Mainwaring and his chaotic team are allowed near matters of public safety and reminds me of the management team that allowed its ferry to leave port with its bow doors open.
    Risk Management is designed and used to protect people, us, park users, children, yet this solemn responsibility is not understood by outdated management sporting fancy job titles and over egged Hay Grades.

  4. A policeman slipped on the bridge – damp weather had made it dangerously slippery – and was off work for weeks with broken ribs.

  5. Formula E in Battersea Park is brilliant.I live 12 minutes walk from this lovely park facility.The benefits to the borough are enormous. Bring it on please for at least the next four years . Your time would be better spent sorting out the environmental damage from the traffic queues caused by the new and numerous traffic lights at the roundabout at Queenstown Road/ Chelsea Bridge Road. That would be much more helpful.