Residents 'stuck' in flammable flats can't sell their homes

Primula Court at the King's Park estate in Harold Wood

In 2019, a fire broke out at the King's Park estate in Harold Wood. Now residents have been told it was aided by Grenfell-style flammable cladding - and they can't sell their homes until it's fixed. - Credit: Google Streetview / Darren Draper, LFB

Homeowners say they are “stuck” in their Harold Wood flats, as the discovery of flammable cladding means they cannot sell them.

Combustible cladding has been discovered on some buildings in King’s Park and investigations have been launched into others.

The Romford Recorder has seen a report by Façade Remedial Consultants, which was commissioned to “undertake a holistic fire safety review of King’s Park”.

It wrote that “the exterior of the majority of the development at this time does not comply” with government guidance.

One management company is now considering legal action against the developer, Countryside Properties.


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But Countryside said: “All the buildings at King’s Park were designed and constructed in accordance with prevailing building regulations at the time of construction.”

'Burnt to smithereens'

In October 2010, Havering Council approved plans for over 800 new homes on the former Harold Wood Hospital site in Gubbins Lane, despite hundreds of objections.

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Civil servants dismissed concerns about the design, saying the development would “harmonise” with its surroundings.

“Staff are satisfied that the building would have a positive effect on the setting,” they said. All external materials would have to be “approved in writing” by the council.

Works finished in September 2018.

In September 2019, 60 firefighters were scrambled to one of the new blocks – Primula Court.

A fire had torn up the side of the four-storey building, damaging properties on every floor.

Fire at Primula Court in 2019

Steve Bulkan, who lives in Primula Court, said a September 2019 fire spread up the building 'in seconds'. - Credit: Darren Draper, LFB

Since then, the project’s design and materials have been found wanting.

“It went up in seconds,” said taxi driver Steve Bulkan, who lives with his family in one of the affected flats.

“It started on the balcony above ours. The three flats above me were gutted. Our balcony was burnt to smithereens.”

Fire damage at Primula Court in 2019

The view from Steve Bulkan's ground floor flat at Primula Court after the fire. - Credit: Steve Bulkan

Primula’s balconies turned out to have Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding – the type used on Grenfell Tower.

“The cladding was identified as having been involved in the fire,” said the London Fire Brigade.

After the incident, firefighters “carried out a fire safety inspection of all buildings in the development” and recommended an “external wall assessment”.

Last year, inspectors gave Primula the worst possible rating – B2 - meaning remedial works were needed.

Primula Court before the 2019 fire

This picture shows Primula Court in 2018, before it caught light, with brown cladding around its balconies. - Credit: Google Streetview

Steve’s annual insurance bill has rocketed. He had planned to re-mortgage next year, at the end of his five-year fixed-term agreement, but has been warned that the B2 rating could see his repayments upped by £400 a month.

On top of all that, he could be charged for remedial works.

Taxi driver Steve Bulkan from Primula Court

Taxi driver Steve Bulkan said the balcony of his flat in Primula Court was 'burnt to smithereens' in 2019. Now he faces enormous costs. - Credit: Steve Bulkan

Distress

“It’s stressful,” said one Primula leaseholder. In October, she received an email from building management company Wildheart, reminding residents of the danger.

“Consider the actions of throwing cigarette butts off the balcony,” it read. “It is quite feasible that a lit cigarette could be blown back toward the building, leading to a fire.”

On top of living in a flammable building, she said, residents have the “distress and worry” of not being able to sell their properties – and of potentially ending up in negative equity due to the cost of removing the cladding.

“A lot of young couples came here to one-bedroom flats and now they have babies or want to grow their families, but they’re stuck,” she said.

Primula Court after the fire

Primula Court last year, during repairs after the 2019 fire. - Credit: Google Streetview

Next door to Primula is Baneberry Lodge. In October, it too was rated B2, due to ACM cladding around its entrances and balconies.

Lisa Petty, 40, moved into Baneberry with her sister in 2016.

Last year, they decided to sell up and buy a house. Now, she said, “that’s all on hold.”

They had already accepted an offer on their flat when the B2 rating was returned. But the sale fell through, as it was not possible to get a mortgage for a B2-rated property.

“We can’t sell it. We can’t re-mortgage it. We’re just sitting ducks, really,” she said. “We can't make any plans because we’re stuck here.”

Baneberry Court at King's Park

In October, fire inspectors determined Baneberry Lodge at King's Park also had flammable ACM cladding. - Credit: Google Streetview

What now?

Last month, Wildheart told Baneberry residents it was progressing “a possible legal challenge against the original developer”.

The challenge was ordered by the freeholder, E & J Estates, but the bill will be sent to the leaseholders.

If it fails, the buyers “may be required to pay toward” any remedial works, the letter added.

In the meantime, said Sarah, “You’re just waiting. It’s the most frustrating situation. We have no control over it, yet we are going to be responsible for paying for it. It’s horrible.”

L&Q, which manages 130 properties across seven other blocks at King’s Park, confirmed it was now investigating cladding on its buildings too.

Countryside Properties said fire safety was “an absolute priority”.

A spokesperson said: “We believe the wider issue of bringing historical buildings into line with current fire safety requirements needs to be addressed urgently, with developers, building owners and government sharing the responsibility.”

In February, housing secretary Robert Jenrick told Parliament that leaseholders in buildings over 18 metres with flammable cladding could apply for government aid to help pay for remedial works.

But Countryside Properties said all of the blocks in King's Park were below 18 metres, meaning leaseholders would only be eligible for "low-interest loans".

Repayments on those loans would be capped at £50 per month, said Mr Jenrick - but the loans would remain attached to the properties, potentially affecting their resale values.

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