Residents of a private high-rise block in Croydon clad in similar panels to Grenfell Tower have been told they will not have to pay £2million to make their homes safe. Barratt Homes who built the Citiscape block has said it will pay to have the panels removed as well as funding the ongoing cost of 24-hour fire wardens, saving residents an estimated £31,300 per flat.
Barratt’s decision came as a surprise because the firm has no ongoing relationship with the block, which is managed by an agent for a separate freeholder, and comes after a housing tribunal in March ruled resident leaseholders were liable for the costs. Meanwhile residents across London in Battersea are facing five-figure bills each for the removal of Grenfell type cladding from their block. Leaseholders of the Sesame apartments fear they are trapped in unsellable homes while the Astor management company claims it is not responsible for the costs. Residents of 80 flats are each facing bills of up to £40,000 because the building is clad with flammable panels similar to those used on Grenfell Tower. Initial bills are to cover a new fire alarm and the cost of a 24-hour watch for the building. They fear a further £2.2m bill for replacing the combustible panels will also fall to them. The freeholder and management company said they hoped insurers and warranty providers would pay the bill.
The same type of cladding panels were also used at a complex of more than 1,000 flats at New Capital Quay, Greenwich, where one resident was told by a building surveyor that her £475,000 flat had fallen in value to just £50,000 because the original developer has no plans to remove the cladding. Homes England has written to the same leaseholder saying she only has to repay £10,000 of her £95,000 Help to Buy loan after she wrote to them about her predicament. This could prove very costly for the taxpayer, who funds the loans and similar packages.
Sajid Javid, the former Housing Secretary said before moving to the Home Office: “I applaud Barratt Developments’ decision to cover the costs of fire safety works. They have listened to the concerns of Citiscape residents, engaged with Government and done the right thing. “Other building owners and housebuilders in the private sector should follow the example set by Barratt Developments to protect leaseholders from costs and begin essential fire safety works. I want to see all leaseholders in this position get the peace of mind they deserve and I am keeping this under review.” Across England some 306 residential buildings of more than 18 storeys, have been identified as having cladding that has failed fire tests since the Grenfell tragedy. In common with many other blocks the cladding at the Sesame apartments is still in place but the “stay-put policy” for residents in the event of a fire there has been abandoned in favour of evacuation.
Steve Reed MP added: “This is fantastic news for residents in Citiscape who were facing unaffordable debt to make their homes safe.” But he highlighted the fact that Barratt’s decision represented a one-off – and said the Government should be prepared to pay for the removal of flammable cladding in private blocks. “The Government’s intransigent refusal to set out a plan to remove flammable cladding wherever it is found has left tens of thousands of residents in fear. The Government must accept responsibility for the failure of their safety regulations and take all flammable cladding down.”
By Patrick Mooney, editor