Dismissive Trading Standards following house left in ‘state of disrepair’ implies heritage projects are exempt from the law

Fundamental flaws in the heritage window market have been exposed following a botched refurbishment project in Manchester, Glass Times can reveal.

More than £200K, including a significant contribution of Heritage Lottery Fund money, was spent on improving a prestigious home, only to leave it in a worse condition than before the project started, according to the property owner.

The project has raised questions about the supply and control of building products (including the windows and glass units), the legal framework surrounding building products, and where the buck stops when building products are poorly installed.

Gary Pennington owns a house that once belonged to (and was designed by) renowned architect Edgar Wood in Middleton near Manchester, which recently received a facelift thanks in part to money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, allocated by Rochdale Borough Council.

As part of the Middleton Townscape Heritage Initiative, £1.9 million was spent on Middleton’s town centre. Gary’s home – Redcroft – is the most prestigious property to receive a grant.

However, despite the project being used promote the initiative, the replacement windows were sometimes the wrong size, not fitted properly, and incorporated non-conforming glass units that didn’t contain the argon gas they were claimed to contain, and were, in some cases, installed the wrong way round. More than 300 panes of glass were used, and each one was stamped with EN1279.

Gary told Glass Times that his home was warmer and quieter when the original single glazed windows were in place.

In a letter sent to Steve Rumbelow, chief executive of Rochdale Council, sent at the beginning of August 2018, Gary said: “My house has been left in a state of disrepair with non-compliant insulating glass units (IGUs) fitted into frames that were neither measured nor fitted correctly.”

Since the project was completed at the beginning of 2016 Gary has written to Rochdale Borough Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the British Standard Institute (BSI), the conservation planning officer, and his local MP to express his frustration at the substandard project, and to demand compensation.

He has also been in regular contact with Trading Standards because the low sightline heritage units were not (as far as he understands) tested in accordance with EN1279-5, which is a legal requirement under the Construction Products Regulation (CPR).

However, Trading Standards officer Peter Gallagher closed the case at the beginning of August 2018 because he received a Declaration of Performance from the glass unit manufacturer Secmite, which he believed was a suitable substitute for EN1279 test certificates.

“[Therefore,] I do not believe there is sufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution in this instance,” Peter said in an email to Gary on August 6, 2018. “This department will not begin, or continue, a prosecution unless we are satisfied that there is enough admissible, and reliable, evidence that an offence has been committed ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ and that there is a realistic prospect of conviction.

“However, this should not preclude you from seeking your own civil action, as you have been previously advised, against your contractor. Some of the issues that we have discussed, such as failing units, quality of work, breach of contract etc, are all covered under civil legislation such as The Sale of Goods Act and The Supply of Goods and Services Act.”

In the DOP, Secmite said it complied with EN1279 because: it has successfully submitted IGUs for testing to BS1279 parts 2 and 3 (Kitemark number 51246); it has instigated and implemented a systems of factory production control that complies with EN1279 part 6; it has had units tested to the requirements of EN1279 part 6 by BSI; and it has produced a technical file containing the test report, and performance indication papers for all components.

When Peter Gallagher and a colleague visited Gary’s home in November 2017, a technical officer from the GGF explained the requirements of CPR to them, including the obligation to produce test evidence for parts 2 and 3 of EN1279 together with a corresponding system description.

“He has disregarded this completely,” Gary said, arguing that the DOP is nothing more than a “red herring”.

“In terms of BSI, the Kitemark certification 51246 issued is for standard IGUs (double glazed unit) with a 12mm sightline, not the 5mm sightline units that have been supplied for my house – an entirely different product, thus requires a separate kitemark,” Gary said in his letter to Steve Rumbelow.

A parliamentary question was also submitted to Alok Sharma, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, for clarification on the sale and installation of narrow-cavity, low-sightline glass sealed units into heritage windows.

“These units are covered by a harmonised European product standard (EN 1279-5) and so the Construction Products Regulation (EU 305/2011) applies to their manufacture, import and distribution,” Alok Sharma replied. “This regulation sets requirements for placing construction products onto the market, not their installation.

“Monitoring compliance and enforcement duties fall to trading standards bodies in England, Scotland and Wales and District Councils in Northern Ireland.”

Talking to Glass Times, Daniel Warner of Secmite said: “We made it clear from day one that we don’t make so-called heritage glass units.

“In this instance, my customer approached me explaining that this heritage project required units with a low sightline, so I made him a test unit which he was happy with.

“I explained at the time that I haven’t got a Kitemark for that unit, and the print outs on the units were in error. This is something I explained to the BSI.

“Personally, I think that the heritage market for windows is a con. You should be able to put units into windows that are marginally thicker and deeper so that they conform and the homeowner can benefit from their long-term performance.”

This raises the question: who is responsible for specifying and overseeing the use of non-compliant units in heritage windows?

Colin Torley, sales and operations director of Saveheat Group, told Glass Times there is lack of enforcement when it comes to glass units made for windows destined for heritage properties. Therefore, some companies are prepared to run the gauntlet because of the high financial rewards and low risk.

“We have turned away £1.7 million and counting because we refuse to break the law,” Colin said.

“For example, we are currently trying to reason with the stakeholders on a large project at Edinburgh university involving 800 windows.

“Despite all the evidence we’ve presented them with, including a report from a GGF technical officer, there still seems an intention to proceed with non-compliant products, and the architect is being influenced by an officer from Historic Environment Scotland, which is apparently in breach of their own guidance.”

In the case of Gary’s home, Redcroft, it was a condition of the Heritage Lottery Fund that conservation-accredited RICS surveyors – in this case Alan Gardner Associates – are employed to manage this project, approve any variations to the tendered schedule of works, and certify any works carried out.

In an email from conservation project officer Sue Oakley to Gary dated November 7, 2017, Sue said the grant agreement between Rochdale Council and Gary states he needs to provide copies of all of the respective certificates for building regulation approvals, which had not been provided by the contractor.

Sue also confirmed that “Rochdale Council does not support the use of Townscape Heritage Initiative funding for potentially substandard windows”.

In an earlier email (February 2017), Sue said: “I’ve discussed the replacement windows with Building Control and they said that the installer must be a Registered Installer or Building Regulations Approval will be required. They’ve checked on the system and there is no record of either of these.”

She also said: “I’m very disappointed that … [contractor] DH Welton are reluctant to provide evidence that the units have been manufactured and installed to a high quality.”

Despite these requirements, all Heritage Lottery Fund money was released to the contractor.

Glass Times understands that the units installed in Redcroft were tested independently twice, and on both occasions the argon was absent.

Gary contacted BSI over the use of the Kitemark, which prompted a full investigation into the matter. However, according to Gary, BSI refused to publish the results of the investigation citing client confidentiality.

Glass Times has approached Trading Standards and DH Welton for comment.