Residents call for government help on combustible cladding

Residents call for government help on combustible cladding

HUNDREDS OF high rise residents in Leeds have called for government help in funding cladding removals, as they face ‘crushing bills’ to pay for the works.

Yorkshire Post reported on the views of the ‘desperate’ residents, who want government assistance with ‘multi-million pound’ bills for fire safety works including cladding removal and replacement. The residents of flats in a dozen city centre buildings are said to be paying around £400 per month for 24 hour fire marshals ‘as an interim measure to avoid being evicted’, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) having found the buildings to be ‘unsafe’.

In December last year, it was revealed that WYFRS has warned building owners and residents of 13 blocks across the county that flammable cladding on their buildings needs to be removed. Letters from WYFRS to residents and owners of 13 West Yorkshire high rise apartment blocks – in Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield - warned they ‘might be forced to leave’ if combustible cladding is not removed and owners asked about fire safety plans.

WYFRS stated that following the Grenfell Tower fire, it had identified buildings with ‘ongoing issues related’ to combustible cladding and insulation, and that ‘interim measures’ had been introduced to address fire safety concerns. However, after the Grenfell inquiry’s first phase report and the fire at the Cube student accommodation block in Bolton, it was ‘clear that the fire risk presented by flammable cladding can only be removed if the cladding itself is completely removed’.

The affected buildings in Leeds include the Skyline; Quay One; 20:20 House; McClure House; McClintock House; Crozier House; One Brewery Wharf; Aruba; Montague; and the St Georges building. WYFRS gave all building owners until 10 January to respond, and hoped it would ‘not be necessary’ to remove them, that a ‘swift resolution’ could be agreed, and assured residents that plans are in place in the ‘unlikely event of a fire’ at any of the blocks. 

Work is ‘urgently’ required in the buildings, some of which were ‘not legal or safe when they were built’, and costs could reach as much as £50,000 per household. Owners of the buildings in Leeds were given until the Friday deadline to tell residents ‘exactly what work needs to be carried out and how much it will cost them’, residents pointing out extra costs have ‘already had an enormous personal impact’.

This is because it is expected that works could ‘take years to sort out’, with residents unable to sell and move because ‘it is now impossible to find a buyer, as banks are no longer approving mortgages on the buildings’. Solicitor Konstantinos Stylianou stated that years of bills has him ‘stressed and anxious’, as he lives alone ‘and will be forced to foot the bill himself’.

He added that a survey undertaken two years ago when he purchased the property ‘did not identify any problems’, stating: ‘What’s killing me is the uncertainty. We don’t yet know what work needs to be done or the cost. You can’t plan anything. I’m not sure if the government really understands how much this affects the planning of your life. It could go on for a whole decade.’

While the government pledged £200m for privately owned buildings, ‘this will not cover all the buildings that need to have cladding replaced’, nor does it cover other issues including ‘other flammable materials being used’ such as now banned timber balconies. Other issues have ‘arisen’ due to legislative changes since the buildings were constructed, while other cases have identified issues ‘which should never have passed inspection’.

St George’s Building was found to have never had ‘adequate firebreaks’, so ‘therefore has never met fire safety regulations, even when it was built’. Resident Paul Taylor bought a flat 13 years ago and was shown a building certificate, and was ‘given every guarantee that it was safe’. It had been cleared by inspectors, and he stated that this was ‘outrageous […] the system of examination is not fit for purpose’.

Residents were left paying £36,000 per month across 92 flats for the waking watch, but those in buildings with waking watches are worried about being ‘left in limbo’ because companies that replace alarm systems and cladding nationwide ‘are in such high demand’.