Residents' anxious wait to discover if cladding costs will be passed on to them
- Credit: Archant
The battle to remove unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings has been going on for close to four years.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell fire tragedy in June 2017, it was ordered that the non-ACM cladding present on the tower be removed from all buildings.
Among those identified was the Axis development in Mercury Gardens, Romford, a complex of 189 privately owned flats and 40 housing association apartments.
More than three-and-a-half years on and not only is that building still awaiting remediation work, the waters have been muddied in terms of who pays for it.
The subject of cladding has been discussed in Parliament this week, where a non-binding vote to implement measures to better protect leaseholders passed.
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The Recorder has since caught up with Paul Sullivan, who offered a leaseholder's perspective on the difficulties they're facing.
Though measured in his account, Paul does concede that residents feel "a bit up against it”.
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On the positive side, they discovered this week the Axis is eligible for the Building Safety Fund (BSF), a £1billion pot intended to ensure leaseholders don't foot the cost of removing non-ACM cladding.
But eligibility doesn't guarantee award. Equally, if they are successful, there's no guarantee the grant will cover everything, and leaseholders aren't currently protected against being charged for the shortfall.
Paul said: "There is an emotional impact of worrying about where they will get the money from to pay for all the work.”
This issue is also being debated as part of a separate piece of legislation - The Fire Safety Bill - to which there is a proposed amendment that seeks to ensure the costs of historic work cannot be passed on to leaseholders.
If included, the McPartland Smith amendment would protect Paul and his neighbours from charges not covered by their BSF allocation.
Paul has conveyed residents' anxieties to constituency MP Andrew Rosindell, who confirmed his backing for the amendment, and pledged to vote in favour of bringing it into law.
This vote is expected in the coming weeks.
While this outcome is still unknown, what is certain is that the Mercury Gardens development is eligible for the BSF.
This comes as a relief given that, without eligibility, Paul estimates each flat would face costs of somewhere between £30,000 and £60,000.
The next step is for the Axis Residents Association (a group of leaseholders) and agent Vision Management to work together to get tender packs circulated, from which contractors will produce a list of costings.
Paul said the contract to commence works must be signed by mid-June, should they secure the BSF.
Until then, residents will keep facing huge charges for safety measures employed in the building.
Despite not being the cause of their building's dangers, leaseholders have already had to pay for a new fire alarm system and continue to fund waking watch fire patrols.
The waking watch originally cost £20,000 a month, before residents each paid around £450 for the installation of an LD2 fire alarm: “This meant we could reduce the waking watch but not stand it down."
Even at this reduced level, they're still paying £10,000 a month, and will continue doing so until the more advanced LD5 fire alarm is installed.
Paul estimates they've each paid around £1,500 over the past year - 18 months, with steeply rising insurance premiums adding to service charge costs.
A Waking Watch Relief Fund (for the installation of fire alarm systems) has now opened up, but the Axis - as a private sector building in Greater London - isn't yet eligible.
Paul confirmed that Vision already has quotes and a contractor ready for when Greater London developments can apply, which should be within weeks.
There's no positive way to spin the fact that leaseholders are paying a lot of money to make safer a building whose dangers they did not cause.
However, beyond the progress on the BSF, Paul wished to highlight the contribution of Vision.
Crediting the agent for being "very on the ball" in a complicated climate, Paul is grateful for how they have gone above and beyond at no increased fee: "I can't praise them enough."
That positive relationship will be needed more than ever as they work together to secure the BSF. The hope is that by the time remediation works begin, leaseholders will know they can't be charged a single penny for it.