Saturday, 20 November 2010

Time for American Express to pay compensation to neighbours of new HQ building works

Can you imagine one of your neighbours deciding to demolish their house and build a brand new one a few metres away - and to take five or six  years doing year doing so - closing roads along the way, and generating noise, dust and disruption which keeps you up at night, kills your home working business stone dead, rattles the ground with pile drivers until bricks and tiles fall off your house, and then refuses to pay you any compensation for the misery you're suffering?

Well that's what's happened to Carlton Hill residents living in the shadow of the Brighton-based European American Express HQ.

The firm has made a few concessions to residents - washing their cars and windows, for example, but few (except perhaps AmEx's US bosses) believe the firm is at all interested in the local community in which is HQ sits.

As ward councillors we raised our objections early on in the process (of course they didn't prevail), and have been able to broker regular, open, meetings between residents and AmEx managers.

It could all be about to kick off a little. It seems some residents have been unable to sell their homes as a result of the ongoing work, and something of a house value blight has descended on the so-called 'Edward Street Quarter'. Affected householders are preparing to sue the American bank accordingly: it could end up costing the firm a generation of community goodwill and a few hundred thousand pounds if it ends up with residential community clubbing forces to take an American bank to court.

Meanwhile, the firm has donated a few thousand pounds to the fund to pay for Christmas lights in nearby St James's Street - the area's bad-PR slush fund (last year it was Starbucks who tried to use a small donation to the fund to buy its way out of the bad publicity generated by opening without planning permission in the area).

Of course the jobs AmEx provides to the area are welcome - but surely shouldn't give the firm a carte blanche to be a bad neighbour.

The principal beneficiaries of the firm's presence in Brighton are, after all, the bank's shareholders. That's the way the banking market works. remember, it's a bank, not a hospital or a school!

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