In limbo over fire safety

Prowse Court leaseholders Edel Smullen (left) and Basim Jafar (right) have been told the timber cladding on their balconies does not meet the required fire safety standard
Prowse Court leaseholders Edel Smullen (left) and Basim Jafar (right) have been told the timber cladding on their balconies does not meet the required fire safety standard

Edmonton leaseholders could have to foot bill for cladding deemed a fire risk, reports James Cracknell

Residents living in a modern housing block in Angel Edmonton could have to shell out thousands of pounds each to replace timber cladding deemed a fire risk.

Leaseholders at Prowse Court in Fore Street have become entangled in a blame game between the offshore company that owns their freehold and the original developers who built the block in 2015.

Prowse Court is a private development built above Silverpoint Medical Centre. While it was said to comply with building regulations at time of construction, tougher rules introduced after the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017 mean that all tall buildings must undergo an external wall system (EWS) fire review and obtain a certificate to prove their block complies.

Across the UK, hundreds of buildings are believed to fall below the new required standard, including modern blocks such as Prowse Court, where balconies have been timber-clad. Leaseholder Basim Jafar told the Dispatch: “We employed a company to look at all the architects plans and they drilled a hole in the wall and said they weren’t concerned about the walls – but they were worried about the ‘thermowood’ on all the balconies.

“Although it has been treated to make it fire resistant, they said it can still contribute to fire. We don’t know how long the chemical treatment will last on it anyway. EWS forms are now required by mortgage lenders for buildings of 18 metres or higher, to show they are safe. We’ve got a B2 rating – until we get a B1 rating we can’t move, we can’t sell our flats. Unless the work gets done sharpish everyone is stuck.”

The building’s freeholder, offshore property investors Adriatic Land, deny responsibility. Instead they blame developer Countryside Properties for choosing the materials used in the building’s façade. Countryside did not respond to a request for comment, but a spokesperson for Homeground Management, appointed as freehold manager by Adriatic Land, said: “All parties have bought these assets in good faith but the changes of regulations from government have left leaseholders in troubling positions.

“As these issues are ultimately due to a serial failure of regulation over many years, the onus must be on the government to resolve the challenges in buildings like this, where the resident management company, who have sole responsibility for building safety and management, do not have the expert knowledge or resources.”

While the resident management company, Highmead, is making an application to the government’s new £1billion ‘Building Safety Fund’, Basim does not believe it’s big enough to cover all the work needed across the UK. “I am angry at the government because if building regulations had been good enough in the first place this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

“I am angry at the architects and builders – they should be thinking about the value of people’s lives rather than making money for shareholders and taking a few pence off per square metre. I am angry it is unsafe and we are picking up the bill.”

Edel Smullen, another leaseholder at Prowse Court, added: “It is decades of deregulation that have caused this. As a leaseholder you just have no rights – you don’t own the building, you don’t own the walls, yet you are liable to pay the cost.”

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “I will not accept any excuses from building owners who have yet to take action and those responsible should register for the fund so that they can start the remediation process immediately. I have also reached an agreement with local leaders so that this important work can continue safely during the pandemic.”