Colindale residents 'frustrated' by cladding announcementLeaseholders react to government's new fire safety fund
Colindale residents whose lives have been turned upside down by fire safety issues have slammed the government for its “frustrating” package of measures to tackle the cladding crisis.
A new £3.5billion government fund to help those living in buildings deemed to be a fire risk were put forward by housing secretary Robert Jenrick in the House of Commons last month, after many leaseholders were told they'd have to pay some or all of the bills to fix faults discovered in their buildings, even though they were not told about the problems when they moved in.
Thousands of residents around the UK have been unable to pay the cost of fixing the fire safety issues on their homes, but also unable to sell their properties.
In Colindale, several of the area's many modern housing blocks have been affected by fire safety issues discovered since the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017. Some residents are still living in buildings with flammable cladding, while other extensive fire safety concerns, such as problems with insulation and balconies, have also been found.
The new government fund aims to cover the cost of removing flammable materials from buildings taller than 18 metres, but residents in smaller buildings will be offered loans with payments up to £50 per month. Developers of future high-rises will also face paying a tax.
Charlotte Daus moved into Violet Court in 2013, in Heybourne Crescent, which was developed by Countryside Properties. Fire safety issues in Charlotte's building include timber balconies, missing cavity barriers and combustible insulation, but the block is under 18 metres so is ineligible for a government grant.
Residents were told by their housing association, Notting Hill Genesis, that remediation work could take up to four years and cost millions of pounds per block. Charlotte told the Post she felt “crushed” by the government's announcement and added: “I feel really dispirited. I chair our residents' association and it is a feeling that is shared by all of our neighbours who are leaseholders.
“It does not feel enough.”
Rachel Pinto-Morrison's housing block still has unsafe ACM, HPL and timber cladding, as well as combustible Kingspan insulation and missing cavity barriers. The same Kingspan insulation was found at Grenfell Tower. Rachel has lived in Frost Court since 2013, which is part of the Pulse development built by Fairview New Homes.
While Frost Court is a building over 18m, Rachel remains angry because her housing association and freeholder Notting Hill Genesis applied for a previous government fund in December and has not yet heard back.
Asked for her reaction to the government announcement, Rachel said she felt “frustrated” and said: “It was disappointing. Our whole lives are on hold and now for even longer.”
On the way Fairview had handled the issues at Frost Court, Rachel said: “I feel like they do not get enough stick for what they have done. No-one else is responsible for it but them.”
Kaley Cavill has been living in Echo Court for four years. Her block is within the Edition development, also developed by Fairview New Homes, and her housing association is Crabtree Property. A survey was completed previously which revealed numerous fire defects, including missing cavity breaks, but it's unclear whether the government funding applies to all residents as some parts of the development are above 18m and some are below.
Worryingly, Kaley said: “Our blocks have an internal courtyard that we share between residents and the fire brigade said these things [defects] are built in the balconies and are in a position where they cannot reach them.
“They are on the first floor surrounded by metal gates.”
Asked for her reaction to the government announcement, Kaley said she felt “emotional and angry” and added: “We were not hopeful, but we thought maybe they will realise. They are focusing on cladding still.
“Fairview has pretty much washed their hands of us. They said this was all signed off when the plans were put in place.”
A resident of Zenith Close, who did not wish to be named, said they felt the government funding had come too late. They have living in a property with the same combustible insulation used in Grenfell Tower, as well as missing cavity barriers around the windows, for four years. The Hill Group development is over 18m and, after extensive campaigning and media coverage, the process to remediate the cavity barriers is expected to begin this spring.
Asked for their reaction to the government's announcement they said: “It is that mix of 'thank god' we are finally being listened to, with [wondering] is it enough?
“It is too late for a lot of people.”
Addressing the House of Commons this month, Robert Jenrick said: “While the problem is not one of leaseholders’ making, it cannot be right that the costs of addressing these issues fall solely on taxpayers, many of whom are not themselves homeowners and can only dream of getting on the housing ladder.”
A Notting Hill Genesis spokesperson said: “The safety of our residents is of paramount importance to us and we are working with fire experts and developers to ensure any building safety issues are identified and rectified as soon as possible.
“This is a national issue affecting all building owners whether public or private. We recognise the inconvenience and worry this is causing residents and leaseholders and strive to keep them informed at every stage through letters, FAQs and resident meetings.
“Where interim safety measures such as 24-hour patrols or temporary alarm systems are required we have put them in place and will not be recharging residents. We will also be exploring all possible avenues for funding remediation work to mitigate any costs being passed to leaseholders.
“We know the process isn’t as fast as residents would like and do sympathise, but these issues are being repeated all over the UK and there are only a finite number of fire experts able to carry out investigations and eventually provide the EWS1 forms that confirm a building meets current requirements and allows normal lending to recommence. “We have a full investigation programme for buildings across our stock and continue to make progress on that.
“Meanwhile, we continue to work with fellow housing associations to lobby government for a transitional arrangement that supports normal lending while building requirements are met.”
A Hill Group spokesperson said: “We are working with Notting Hill Genesis to ensure the safety of the building and to keep residents updated about the situation.”
Fairview New Homes, Crabtree Property and Countryside Properties were contacted for comment but did not respond.