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Cladding: £1.7m bill to fix Holloway tower’s fire danger

‘Constant anxiety’ for residents over cost of making their homes safe

19 March, 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Chris Gibbons at the L’Ecole flats in Hornsey Road [Photos: Vita Moltedo]

TENANTS in a tower block covered in dangerous cladding are in a state of “constant anxiety” as they collectively face bills of up to £1.7million to have it removed.

The L’Ecole Development in Hornsey Road, Holloway, partly run by housing association Peabody, has failed fire safety checks. Leaseholders and shared ownership tenants now say they feel trapped with no prospect of being able to move.

It is one of many cases across the country where fire safety issues could leave residents with eye-watering bills to remedy the cladding.

Similarly, people living in new flats in Queensland Road that were built during Arsenal’s move to the Emirates Stadium have been told new works will be needed.

Islington’s housing chief, Labour councillor Diarmaid Ward, has written to Peabody’s chairman, Lord Bob Kerslake, calling for him to intervene at L’Ecole. The cladding does not contain the same materials found at Grenfell Tower in west London, where 72 people died in a fire in 2017 – the tragedy which led to a series of safety reviews of other buildings.

But it has failed External Wall Survey (EWS1) checks. The government announced last month that it would provide an extra £3.5billion to remove cladding from buildings more than 18 metres high which failed the EWS1 checks.

L’Ecole is only 15 metres and, as a result, the bill could be left with 46 affected households.
Peabody receive rents and service charges from 18 “shared ownership” tenants in the development.

Chris Gibbons, one of the shared ownership tenants, who has lived in the building for more than a decade, said: “When we first became aware of this issue about 12 months ago we heard nothing from Peabody, which I found shocking. We are worried for our wellbeing, our lives and for our financial security.”

The 40-year-old added: “Some of my neighbours who are just about paying their bills by the end of the month are now suddenly faced with huge debts that will be added onto their rent or they will have to take out loans.”

Peabody does not own the freehold of the building.

In his letter to Lord Kerslake, Cllr Ward said: “To date, Peabody have given no indication of how they will be assisting leaseholders with these astronomical costs or acknowledged the responsibility they have to the residents, all of whom are their tenants as well as being shared owners.”

He added: “Peabody were content to sell these leases and regardless of the legal position, they have a moral responsibility to work with the residents to ensure that they do not face remediation bills of tens of thousands of pounds.”

Shared ownership allows those who do not have enough funds to put a payment down for a full mortgage to enter into an agreement with a government-approved partner to get a mortgage for part of their home and then pay rent for the other part.

It comes under the bracket of “affordable housing” in new developments.

Cllr Ward provided two accounts from residents who are stuck in the building in his letter. One tenant, who did not want his name to be published, said that he was now living in a one-bedroom flat with his wife and two children unable to move as no bank will provide a mortgage to prospective buyers.

He added: “With the recent birth of our second child, the property has now become overcrowded and is having an impact on our two-year-old son’s development and my wife’s mental health.”

In another case, a 43-year-old woman entered into a shared ownership agreement in 2019, only a few months before the fire safety checks were carried out and a bill of up to £35,000 was delivered to each tenant.

“I do not have that kind of money,” she added.

Pinnacle Property Management have been managing the building on behalf of freeholder Premier Ground Rents.

The Tribune approached both for comment several times but neither responded.

A Peabody spokesman said: “We have been working hard to support residents through this really difficult situation, and met with them recently alongside Cllr Ward. Hearing about their circumstances was deeply moving, and we reiterated our support in helping them to avoid building safety-related costs where possible.

“As Cllr Ward is aware, we did not build the block, we do not own it, and we are not the managing agent. We bought the properties and only became aware of the problems once the building owner undertook an investigation.”

The spokesman added: “We are also seeking more information from the freeholder about the building, the proposed works, and the costs – which we consider to be very high.”

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