Prime Minister questioned over cladding high rise
THERESA MAY was ‘pressured’ in parliament over the Northpoint House block in Bromley, which has seen its freeholder and developer ‘refuse’ to fund cladding removal and replacement.
Last month it was reported that leaseholders in the building were ‘facing possible bankruptcy’ and are ‘falling ill with stress’ over the refusals of the developer and building owner to fund the removal of combustible cladding. The residents are facing a £4m bill after the owner and developer refused to pay, with each leaseholder facing individual costs of £70,000, and one resident hospitalised with hypertension as a result.
Tenants stated that they were ‘absolutely desperate’ regarding the financial and safety risks, with the two bedroom flats once worth £300,000 ‘but are now thought to be unmortgageable’, with one top floor resident Rituparna Saha walking corridors ‘to check for fires’. She stated: ‘The shock is that for people living in a developed country, the choice could be so stark: bankruptcy or homelessness.
‘The fact that over 18 months after Grenfell, no one is taking ownership, not the freeholder, not the developer and not the government makes it seem to me that the fact that 72 people died doesn’t really matter. We are the football that keeps being tossed around. I couldn’t live with myself if there was a fire.’
The building’s freehold is owned by Citistead, which refuses to pay as under the lease terms leaseholders are responsible for maintenance and repairs, with the cladding certified as compliant with building regulations that were ‘clearly not fit for purpose’. The company, owned by property business developer Vincent Tchenquiz, stated through him that the costs ‘should be paid either by the government or residents because the rents freeholders earn do not cover the cost’.
Developer Taylor Wimpey ‘does not want to pay either’, stating that it does not ‘own or bear any legal responsibility’ for the high rise, so removing cladding ‘is the job of the freeholder’. Governmental confusion has not helped, with assertions ‘wrongly’ made in parliament that councils ‘were responsible for stripping dangerous cladding from private towers’, which is not allowed under the law.
Bromley Council has spoken with leaseholders and will speak to the government, stating: ‘If the government wants to protect owners it will have to come out of central government money. The Northpoint residents] are clearly under real stress. It is bad enough they are financially crippled, but they are now living in homes that are dangerous.’
This Is Local London reported that Bromley MP Bob Neill had brought up the situation in parliament, and he stated: ‘Residents have ACM cladding on their building. They are paying out £5k a week for the waking watch, repairs and remediation costs £3m and they have an enforcement notice expiring on the 30th of April. The flats are valueless.
‘They cannot raise the money against them. The freeholders and the developer refuse to accept liability. Will the government accept it may be necessary to intervene directly to make sure those innocent flat-owners are not out of pocket?’
Mrs May responded: ‘We do fully expect building owners to take action and not pass costs onto leaseholders. They must do the right thing and if they don’t we are not ruling anything out. Local authorities do have the power to complete works and recover the costs from private owners, but I am sure that ministers will be happy to meet with my Right Honourable friend to continue works to make sure residents get the peace of mind they need.’
This comes after council leader Colin Smith said that the authority ‘has had no promises’ that it would be refunded for carrying out work, adding that ‘the council remains in a position of advanced lobbying with the minister of state and his team along with and supporting Bob Neill MP and the ward councillors. The council has had no promise of financial assistance to take the works and be refunded in reverse’.
Additionally, the ‘clock is ticking’ for the building to be ‘brought up to scratch’, with London Fire Brigade having issued an enforcement notice that means internal issues including fire doors and an alarm system ‘must be fixed’ before April – when the notice period runs out – after which ‘the building could then be condemned’.