Coating scandal: Londoners trapped in unsafe homes reveal fears, skyrocketing costs
The following week, London marks a dark anniversary. Four years ago, on June 14, a fire broke out at Grenfell Tower, leaving 72 people dead and many more injured, traumatized and homeless.
But for thousands of others, like Natalie Carter, the day will be more than a moment of reflection and remembrance. The apartment Natalie bought optimistically in 2015 is one of thousands of homes ravaged by major fire safety flaws that have come to light in the wake of Grenfell.
Natalie lives in Poplar and on May 4 she attended a meeting with representatives from home builder Ballymore for an update on the situation at her home in her New Providence Wharf apartment building.
There was good news – the tower stripping of the flammable ACM liner, the same material blamed for the fire that quickly spread to Grenfell, would finally begin later this month and should be completed by here the following summer, 2022. The bad news was that the works would cost £ 11.6million.
The government contributed £ 8million and Ballymore, who made nearly £ 100million in profit in the year to March 2020, initially offered £ 500,000 but has now agreed to pay for it. all the rest of the work.
Two days later, things got worse. Natalie, a program manager for an insurance company, was in the middle of a work call when dozens of WhatsApp notifications started dropping on her phone.
“I took a look and they said there was a fire in one of the … [other]… Blocks, ”she said. “I ended the call, grabbed my bag and my coat and left.”
“The smoke detectors failed, some of the fire doors did not close, and the ventilation ducts in the stairwells did not open, so the fire was escaping thick smoke.” , said Natalie, 43.
“It’s bad enough to know that we live in a dangerous building. But now we know our emergency precautions aren’t working either. “
The residents of New Providence Wharf have lived like this for four years. In addition to the fear and stress, the costs have skyrocketed.
The day before – security guards who have to patrol the site day and night to watch the fires – to the development costs £ 47,000 per cm. As a result, Natalie now pays around £ 8,000 a year in service fees.
“It’s a lovely place, but I can’t afford to live here anymore,” she said. But until the work on the site is complete, she has no choice.
Until the building is repaired, the two-bedroom apartment for which she paid £ 650,000 does not have a mortgage and is therefore unsaleable.
This is the kind of story Sebastian O’Kelly of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership has heard repeatedly since 2017.
He believes that the government’s overall strategy has been instinctive and flawed – a series of incremental changes in security policies and standards without a coherent strategy on how to finance them or even a prioritization of buildings most at risk.
Instead, as of December 2019, there is the EWS1 test system that building owners must perform to establish whether a building meets safety standards. Without EWS1, it is impossible to secure a mortgage on a property.
“A whole bunch of buildings were dragged into the crisis, which shouldn’t have been,” O’Kelly said. “There are a lot of low rise sites that have very minimal fire risk – they maybe have a small amount of ACM coating. But all professionals are so afraid of responsibility that they err on the side of caution.
“Only one in 10 sites pass EWS1, they can fail for a multitude of reasons, not just coating, and some don’t even have a date to complete one. “
He believes the government needs to investigate all housing blocks and tackle those most at risk first, rather than working on a first come, first served basis.
As to who should pay, he puts the whole debacle on the shoulders of those who built the blocs and the regulators (government and councils) who approved them.
“What they are doing, however, is to shift the costs onto the tenants who are the innocent parties,” he said.
Natalie fully agrees and believes the government should force developers to line up by arming the planning system. “They shouldn’t get building permits on new developments until they repair their existing buildings,” she said.
“Ballymore is still selling new apartments on the road even though they have yet to fix their existing problems.”
A spokesperson for Ballymore said work at New Providence Wharf will be completed next summer and the development’s fire protection systems have been checked following last month’s blaze.
He said the company was spending £ 20million – across its entire portfolio – to help tackle fire safety flaws. “The fire safety and siding restoration work that is underway at the New Providence Wharf building is being undertaken at no cost to tenants,” he said, adding that the service charges were “competitive.” for the region.
The upholstery crisis really hit Charlotte Daus when her nine-year-old daughter Deborah asked her if she could put some of her stuffed animals in the car instead of in her bedroom.
“She was worried about what would happen if there was a fire, she wanted to make sure they were safe,” said Charlotte, 39, a union official at the Royal College of Nursing.
“It’s worrying for kids to have to think about fires and what would happen if we had to go out in the middle of the night, and as a parent you want your kids to have as stress-free lives as possible. . “
In 2013, Charlotte had bought a 50 percent stake in a two-bedroom flat in Colindale, northwest London, with Deborah’s father, but was
unfortunately widower the following year. Since then, mother and daughter have lived in the apartment, which was built as part of the redevelopment of the Grahame Park estate.
Ironically, the post-war estate was built of concrete – considered ugly
by some, but reasonably sheltered from the fire – but many of its sparkling new buildings had cladding panels and wooden balconies.
It wasn’t until last year that an ESW1 review was finally completed on Charlotte’s six-building development. It failed on a series of points: wooden balconies, combustible insulation and insufficient firebreaks between the apartments.
Notting Hill Genesis at least footed the bill for the watch watch that has patrolled since and developer Countryside, which made a profit of £ 54million in the year through September, has said it would take care of the firewalls.
However, three of the six blocks, including Charlotte’s, are too low to receive any government assistance for the rest of the work.
This leaves him with crucial questions unanswered: When will the job be finished and how much will it cost? “I loved living here, it’s a beautiful community, but it was massively soured for me,” she said.
“I try not to think about it too much, because if I start to think about what I would do if I got a £ 70,000 bill, then I wouldn’t eat, sleep, or be able to do anything. it would be.”
A timeline: key events since the Grenfell tragedy
June 14, 2017: A refrigerator catches fire in an apartment in the Grenfell Tower. In no time, the whole block is on fire, costing 72 lives. It appears that the tower had been recently renovated using an aluminum composite material (ACM) coating to embellish it. The building’s fire doors and ruptures were later found to be inadequate and sections of insulation to be flammable.
December 2017: More than 100 Grenfell survivors are spending Christmas in temporary accommodation. After months of investigation, it is confirmed that at least 284 towers in the UK are known to be covered with a dangerous coating.
January 2018: Mortgage lender turns down loan for apartment in Southend citing fire safety concerns, while apartment owners in Citiscape, a block in Croydon, are warned they face a £ 2million bill for removing potentially hazardous coating from the building.
May 2018: Government pledges £ 400million to help remove cladding from city blocks; the first phase of the public inquiry into the Grenfell tragedy opens with the testimony of firefighters.
December 2018: The number of buildings known to contain hazardous coatings has grown to around 1,600. There is an almost total lack of clarity on who will pay to make them safe and no time frame for the job to be done.
May 2019: The government is offering £ 200million to help remove siding from private apartments.
October 2019: A report on the tragedy strongly criticizes the failings of the firefighters. Today, it is estimated that around 600,000 people are stuck in unsaleable apartments.
December 2019: The government is introducing the EWS1 testing system, and mortgage companies are systematically starting to apply for an EWS1 before lending on a property. Apartment owners often only find out when they try to sell and the deal fails when their buyer cannot get a mortgage.
January 2020: The second phase of the Grenfell investigation opens, with evidence that ACM’s combustibility was known long before it was installed at Grenfell Tower and that fire safety concerns for tower residents have been ignored.
February 2020: Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced that the government will offer loans to finance safety work in blocks shorter than 18 meters, which are not eligible for state aid. The cost of repaying these loans will then be passed on to tenants through their service charges.
March 2020: The government is adding £ 1bn to its funding to remove hazardous coatings from private blocks.
February 2021: The Treasury is presenting a plan to start taxing the profits made by home builders to raise the funds needed to remove faulty siding. He also plans to introduce a tax on building permits for towers to raise more money.
May 2021: Relatives of Grenfell Tower victims are calling for the building to be covered with plants and trees as a living memorial to the victims.