Response from Peter Collingwood, Inspector, Health and Safety Executive - 4 September 2002

Health & Safety Executive
East and South East Division HM Principal Inspector: Dave Rothety

OurRef: PCC/030220831
Date: 26 September 2002

Telephone House Neighbours Association
37 Church Road
Kent TN1 1JT

Dear Ms Quinnell,

Re: Telephone House, Church Rd, Tunbridge Wells

Thank you for letters of the 8th and 22nd September concerning the alleged illegal removal of asbestos from the above building in February 2002.

As I explained in my previous letter it was likely that at the time of this alleged activity the local authority was the enforcing authority for health and safety legislation in this building as it is an office building and therefore HSE would not have had any powers to investigate your complaint. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council have informed me that they would be looking into the matter for you. In relation to your question about involving the police; in my opinion, I would think they are unlikely to be interested in your allegations of illegal removal of asbestos, but if you want to contact them that would have to be your decision.

However, since writing to you I have visited the building with a specialist inspector colleague and a scientist to see if there was any evidence to back up your allegations.
If I quote from the specialist inspectors report
"In conclusion, most of Telephone House appears to be free of asbestos materials. Apart from the flue suspected of containing asbestos cement, the main installation is confined to the boiler room in the basement. No suspicious debris was seen in any part of the building. There was no evidence of any recent asbestos removal work."
The specialist inspector also had this to say about the general state of the building
"All furnishings and fittings have been removed. All floors have been subjected to vandalism including broken windows and graffiti plus some structural damage to doors and partition walls. (This had some advantage in that it allowed inspection of hidden parts which would not have been possible without destructive testing). Consequently, debris was seen in most areas in varying amounts. However, none of this debris could be described as 'suspicious' or warranting further investigation."

The main structure of the building was very much intact, with carpets, kitchen equipment, partition walls, etc., still being in place. There was some damage that had been caused by vandalism, but there was no evidence of materials having been removed that could contain asbestos. Other than for the vandalism the building looked very much like any other empty office building would be expected to look while it was in the process of being sold with just its fixtures and fittings having been removed. The only asbestos materials seen were a cement based flue (that would probably contain asbestos) and other asbestos materials in the boiler room. Since carrying out this visit I have been able to obtain details from BT and there asbestos register. The asbestos materials seen in the building all appear on the BT asbestos records, these records dating to the time the building was in their ownership. All asbestos materials that appear on the BT records were still present at the time of our inspection. I therefore have to conclude that there has been no removal of asbestos materials from the building structure since the time of its sale by BT.

In my previous letter I said that we had received a notification from a licensed asbestos removal contractor informing us of their intention to remove the asbestos from the building between the 29th July and 1 st August 2002 this work was not undertaken and a new notification has now been received for the beginning of October, but I am told that this might be delayed further until remaining planning issues are resolved.

It would be helpful in future if you have concerns about this site if you could telephone to discuss them as it is often the case that we can resolve issues or at least explain the limitations of what we can get involved in more easily over the telephone. It is unlikely that we would be able to help you with any matters in respect of this site other than matters relating to construction health and safety and then only when work starts on site.
If you have concerns about site safety, (for example worker safe, safe working practices, etc.) we have a complaints officer at our East Grinstead officer (tel. 01342 334200) who these matters can be reported to.
Issues like nuisance dust and noise if they originate from the site during the demolition/construction process should be reported to the Environmental Health Department of your local council (Tunbridge Wells Borough Council).

I hope that this puts you mind at rest that this building is not riddled with asbestos and illegal removal has not been taking place.

Yours sincerely

Peter Collingwood
H.M. Inspector of Health and Safety

c.c. TWBC

What was removed from Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells, in February 2002?