EMBASSY CONTROVERSY - STAFF EVACUATED AFTER MOULD FOUND IN STAFF HOUSING
From ANDREW DRUMMOND, in Bangkok and GEORGE ARBUTHNOTT in London
April 29 2012
The British Government faces having to sue contractors after a large part of its British Embassy in Thailand was forced to be evacuated and declared a health hazard due to ‘mould’.
Today as the British Ambassador Ahmad Asif, the Deputy Head of Mission and Head of Trade lead a lonelier life in the mission in the centre of Bangkok – the FCO said it would be seeking damages after having to move out staff and find them appropriate accommodation in the Thai capital.
The new staff accommodation described as a ‘Hymn to Englishness’ with its own tennis courts, swimming pool, and even running stream, was completed in 2010, but from the offset staff were reluctant to move in preferring the freedom of one of Asia’s liveliest cities.
The mould found in the new accommodation, said the FCO, came from ‘normal everyday spores contained in the natural environment in Bangkok’ and indeed is common enough in many houses in the city.
An FCO spokesman said: “The FCO took the potential risk of health issues on our staff seriously. Samples of the mould and air readings were taken from throughout the complex and tested and identified by specialists.
“The report was also passed to UK experts for secondary analysis and checking and the results were carefully assessed and considered by the FCO.
"The results were also widely discussed and openly shared with the staff members. We only have information that one person may have had asthma related problems and advice from the specialists said that the majority of healthy people would have no adverse reaction.”
The construction came after the FCO sold off part of the compound to a Bangkok department store chain for £50 million.
The intention was to use £11 million of that to build staff accommodation, and bank the rest, or use it to fund similar operations worldwide in which staff would be moved from expensive rented accommodation outside and ordered to live on site.
But construction of the staff accommodation ran more than a £1.25 million over-budget and during the construction during the 2009 monsoon inspectors pointed out the mould forming in the units. Now the FCO faces another £500,00 bill for staff accommodation while the accommodation is repaired.
The FCO denies claims that the whole accommodation section of the Embassy will have to be rebuilt.
But an Embassy source told the Mail on Sunday that it was a triumph for nit-picking civil servants.
“Executives have forever been flying in from London business class to check the construction progress, but it’s clear it went out of control. On the other hand secretly staff are delighted. The accommodation is perfectly good but for them not up to the traditional foreign service standards.
“They do not want to live in the compound. It’s like living in the office. Despite the fact that the accommodation would seem pretty luxurious to the ordinary man, there was great resistance to it and the discovery of the mould was to some a godsend.
The part of the Embassy sold off to Central Department stores
“Nobody wanted to live in the office. Besides its more like a fort. And this is Bangkok. It’s a city where many people have another private lives. Nobody wants other Embassy staff to see their comings and goings, especially in the early hours of the morning. But everybody coming and going is checked by security”.
The new staff accommodation was designed by M.J.P. Architects of Spitalfields, London, who say on their website:
“The design respects the rich local ecology of the Embassy compound, which is retained and enriched through sensitive placement of new buildings with green terraces, which cascade into the lush landscape.
"The architectural language of the residences expresses the energy efficient, sustainable solutions incorporated in the design, and have been selected to suit the hot and humid Bangkok climate.
"Through strong team work, and in close liaison with the FCO and Embassy staff in Bangkok, the multi-national project team has created a tailor-made environment of high quality to represent Britain in Thailand.”
And Rory Olcayton, writing in the Architects Journal described the accommodation as a ‘hymn to a particular kind of Englishness’.
The accommodation was even shortlisted in the British Construction Industry Awards 2010 in the category of Best International Project and has drawn designers to wax lyrically about it as in this write-up in Camlins belonging to the Welsh based landscapers
‘Staff residences are gathered around a series of lawns, but separated from them by a shallow stream. With a series of pedestrian bridges, the stream offers a subtle threshold between the private, domestic world of the individual apartments or houses and the communal lawns around the embassy building itself.
“The composition takes its cue from the ordered, diplomatic character of embassy activities with a ›romantic overlay‹ of lush vegetation and tall tree canopies inspired by the 19th century British landscape tradition.”
The FCO spokesperson added: “Under the previous Government a new accommodation block was built for staff in Bangkok. This was done to save money as we were able to sell some of the site for £50m and reinvest part of the money in the accommodation.
(Picture Right: Out going Ambassador Asif Ahmad a bit lonelier but safe in his mansion 'a stunning example of colonial splendour')
" Unfortunately, surface mould was growing in some of the living spaces. Obviously we are very disappointed that this has happened, and after two years of staff living there, we made the decision to move staff out temporarily while the situation was resolved.
"This was done on the advice of specialists. We have since instigated procedures to make sure building work is carefully overseen and we are following the correct legal procedures for compensation from the responsible parties to protect the taxpayer’s interests.
“ We are still able to make savings on this project as the costs are well below the £50m saved from the sale of some of the site.”
“A considered decision, using specialist advice, to move some staff out temporarily was taken after mould was found in some of the new housing units. The mould growth was found on open surfaces/ventilation ducts but not in the fabric of the building or structure.
“The original external consultant design team have been held to their contracts and have under careful supervision investigated the cause of the mould and produced a revised design. One unit has subsequently been amended in accordance with the revised design and tested over a period of time to ensure that the problem is resolved before implementation on the remaining accommodation.
“Throughout the entire process the FCO has been working with its legal team, and independent experts, to ensure that we will be able to take forward a strong legal case for substantial compensation against those responsible.”
Click above for some house-moving music.
Mould forming on surfaces is not uncommon during the rainy season in the tropics. Our cousins the Australians have written papers about it.
Its all up there on the net. However as an immediate measure I recommend the following Aussie product-
Seems that British grin and bear it stiff upper lip or the 'Chindit' spirit has gone amiss? Would General Wingate be shaking in his boots?