Leaseholders at St George’s Island in Castlefield and Transport House in Salford have been told by property managers it would cost millions to fix cladding issues to make their homes fire safe.
The fees, which include VAT, include a total of £3m for Transport House upgrades and £36m for St George’s Island. This equates to roughly £100,000 per leaseholder at Transport House and £80,000 per leaseholder at St George’s Island.
Tamsin Flood has lived at the Dandara Group-developed St George’s Island for more than four years. She can enviously look out her window and see other developments that she almost moved into. They do not have faulty cladding that needs replacing under the Government’s latest fire safety regulations. If she had made a different choice then, she would not know the fear of facing an £80,000 bill to make her home safe.
“When you buy, you do all your due diligence,” she said. “You engage the solicitors and surveyors. You take every step required. It didn’t cross our minds we’d be in a situation like this when we bought back in 2016. We couldn’t have dreamt of this happening.”
She told Place North West she remembers opening up the post to see the final price. How shocked she felt.
“That was quickly followed by panic and sheer horror for how we and other residents would possibly afford it,” Flood added. “How would we be able to get this money together? People have gone bankrupt from this.”
But St George’s Island’s property management firm is confident that residents will not have to pay anywhere close to the £80,000 sticker price. Shaun Ryan, director at Clearwater FM, said the group has already received more than £2m in pre-tender support to start the remediation efforts. The Government’s £5bn Building Safety Fund will likely cover a lot of the costs, he added. Whatever is left, would hopefully be picked up by insurance.
“The leaseholder is the last port of call,” he told Place North West.
At Transport House, the future is more uncertain. Coming in at five storeys and 13.4 metres high, it does not meet the Building Safety Fund threshold of 18 metres. Leaseholders will have to apply for a Government loan scheme, announced in February, to pay for the costs.
However, housing secretary Robert Jenrick has said that no leaseholder will pay more than £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding under the scheme.
Irwell Valley Homes, the property’s freeholder, said the £3m remediation costs would cover the full removal and replacement of the render and fire cavity breaks. That figure includes VAT and fees. Leaseholders are also being billed for a waking watch service and the replacement of a wooden deck.
The news of the Transport House residents’ predicament was met with strong words from Rebecca Long Bailey, MP for Salford and Eccles.
“The residents of Transport House are victims of a fire safety crisis for which they bear no responsibility and it is abhorrent that such victims are being forced to take financial responsibility,” she said. “These are financially devastating sums and some leaseholders may even face bankruptcy and lose their homes as a result.”
Paul Dennett, Salford City Mayor and chair of the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force, agreed.
“It is disappointing that the Government is still failing to address the issue that fire does not recognise arbitrary height limits, and instead expects residents living in blocks under 18m to get into further debt to fund remediation work,” he said. “This is not a solution.”
Giles Grover, co-leader of activist collective Manchester Cladiators, insists that the Government’s current plans are failing to meet the problem head-on.
“The Government now realizes the state of the built environment in this country, but it’s not doing enough to tackle it,” he said.
For Grover and Flood, there is no single clear solution to the cladding issue. They want Whitehall to increase the Building Safety Fund and move quicker on making payments. After that, the Government should pursue repayment from parties they deem to be liable, according to Flood.
Both commentators want changes to the survey system that determines what needs to be done to make a building safe. They argued that the survey needs to offer solutions that may mitigate risk, such as adding sprinklers, rather than insisting on big, high-cost changes.
The problems facing tenants in buildings like Transport House go beyond just the cladding remediation costs themselves, according to Dennett.
“Residents tell me how they not only fear the bills for making their homes safe but are also being hit with unaffordable bills for short term fire safety measures and inflated insurance cost,” he said. “Many buildings are struggling to obtain insurance cover and we have seen in many cases four-fold increases in insurance costs with some insurance premiums increasing ten-fold.”
Both he and MP Long Bailey are calling for action.
“I have written repeatedly to the Government and the freeholder to demand that leaseholders be protected from these costs,” MP Long Bailey said. “The Government must recognise the moral duty they have to these residents and immediately ensure that the Building Safety Fund covers all of the works required and that the freeholder must actively seek to protect residents from these life-changing costs.”
Transport House and St George’s Island are not the only Greater Manchester buildings facing cladding issues. Others include City Gate, The Quadrangle, One Smithfield Square, Pall Mall House and Wilmslow Park in Manchester.