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‘I can’t sell my Greenwich flat because experts can’t agree on safety of cladding’

The confusion has delayed necessary works being carried out on the building.

Homeowners with flats in Union Park, East Greenwich, are struggling to put their homes on the market as different fire safety assessors have disagreed on whether the cladding in their building is safe.

Dr Lisa Smith, 42, moved into Union Park in 2013 while she was pregnant with her first child.

News Shopper: The Union House estate in East Greenwich (Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon)The Union House estate in East Greenwich (Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon)

The complex’s structure is lined with thick wooden panels on the outside. Since moving in, Dr Smith said she and her husband have never had any concerns about the building’s fire safety.

She said the building received a fire safety risk assessment from MAF Associates in January 2020, which stated remedial work was needed on the structure’s lower balconies.

The B2 rating given meant the work was required to bring the building up to acceptable fire safety standards, making it difficult for homeowners to sell their properties if they wished to move before then.

Dr Smith told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Our managing agent had some kind of an issue with the result of that first fire assessment report… It’s still unclear as to why that was, but our management agency LRM, London Residential Management, decided to discount that first assessment and appoint a new fire assessing company to carry out further assessment.”

Leaseholders living in buildings over 11 metres tall can avail of the Government’s Building Safety Fund, set up following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, to compensate for works required to replace cladding in their building.

However, as a portion of Union Park is under 11 metres, Dr Smith and other leaseholders were not able to have the costs of remediating their building compensated.

She said the cost per flat of updating the building’s balconies, as suggested in MAF Associate’s report, was up to £7,000, but that this sum significantly rose when her managing agent appointed Trifire as the surveyors for a further assessment.

Dr Smith said: “They came back with the conclusion that all of the cladding needed to be taken off and replaced completely.

“So obviously, at that point, the cost to the leaseholders was going to be enormous, like one of those tens of thousands of pounds situations. At that point, the residents were challenging that and saying, ‘Why are there these two completely different conclusions?’”

She added: “If you were to look at the two reports, they’re like chalk and cheese. It’s just a complete mess.

“This is a scandal in itself, that there’s just such variability in the conclusions that the various different fire assessors are coming to.”

While both MAF Associates and Trifire gave Union Park a B2 rating, Dr Smith said the financial burden of carrying out the work recommended in Trifire’s report would be too extensive for many living in the building.

The resident said she planned to sell her flat to move with her family to Finland for her husband’s job in 2020, but this plan was put on hold once she and other residents contested the conflicting fire safety reports.

The couple eventually moved with their two children in 2021. Dr Smith said they have been forced to rent out their flat, instead of selling it, to buy a new property abroad, as a result of the building maintaining a B2 rating, making them ‘accidental landlords’.

Dr Smith said: “We took out a two year fixed rate mortgage, thinking that two years would be enough time for things to be clarified enough for us to be able to sell our flat… September 1 will be the end of that mortgage term, and our mortgage payments will go up from £1,170 a month to £1,780 pounds per month on the standard variable rate as it currently stands, but that is expected to increase obviously.”

The resident said she never thought that she and her husband would be in the same position they were in two years after leaving London, and the time it has taken for the issue to still not be resolved has been ‘soul destroying’.

She said a copy of Trifire’s report, recommending all of the building’s cladding to be replaced, was sent to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

She said: “They completely condemned the report basically. They said that it didn’t meet the required standards, there wasn’t enough information and that the conclusions were completely invalid.”

Dr Smith added: “From a safety point of view, I don’t feel like there’s an issue to be honest. I think that people stand to make a lot of money out of work being done to buildings, that’s my feeling.

“Especially in buildings that are under 11 metres where there is no immediate risk.”

Fran Dean, 59, bought her flat in Union Park in 2013. Like Dr Smith, Ms Dean said she has never been concerned about the wooden cladding on her building.

Ms Dean told the LDRS: “Nobody here is worried about burning in their bed. Nobody even thought this issue would be relevant to us, honestly… It just doesn’t seem proportionate to suddenly tell us we need to spend thousands per flat to change something that has never, to us, been dangerous. “

The resident said she never planned to stay in London.

However, she said the halt in work progressing to allow the building to achieve a higher fire safety rating has left her trapped, despite her plans to retire in the next five years.

Ms Dean also said that residents found it odd that the building’s management company, LRM, started listing themselves as ‘cladding experts’ after Trifire’s fire safety report was contested.

She said: “Everybody’s got a different story. I’m old, I want to retire. I’ll be 60 next year but I’m stuck because I can’t sell.

“And then there’s people with little kids, there’s one and two bedroom apartments where families are all squished together because their family expands and they can’t move away.”

She added: “If you go on to the LRM website, to us it’s a massive conflict of interest because they call themselves now cladding experts. So you’re our managing agent, but you’re a cladding expert. That seems weird to me, to all of us. It’s a conflict of interest.”

Dr Smith and Ms Dean said another management company is due to take over running Union Park in September, with conversations on how to remediate the building in a reasonable way being positive so far.

Despite this, Ms Dean said many residents are still worried about how much remedial work to the building may cost after Trifire’s report.

Ms Dean said: “It’s just mad. Most people that I’ve talked to have said they’re trying to squirrel away up to £30,000 to feel confident that they can face whatever comes.”

She added: “Obviously the most horrific thing is for people who are in over 18 metre buildings with bad cladding, that’s clearly the worst case scenario.

“But then places like this are collateral damage to all of that, where people’s lives are still being affected. They might not be in mortal danger, but actually their quality of life is just… We’re just trapped basically in situations not in our making.”

A spokesperson for End Our Cladding Scandal, a campaign aimed at resolving building safety issues in the UK, told the LDRS: “Genuinely high-risk buildings of all heights must be made safe to live in by remediation or mitigation of cladding and other safety defects, at no cost to the blameless leaseholders.

“But for buildings under 11 metres, we are concerned that there are still too many cases where companies appear to be over-specifying remediation work. There is absolutely no disincentive to them doing so, because in buildings of this height it is the innocent leaseholders who have been left to pay enormous uncapped charges for remediation – with no support from the government, developers or building owners.”

The campaign said they would like to see more work done by the Government in determining which buildings under 11 metres require essential works, with a Building Safety Fund being established for such remediation. They said they have repeatedly raised concerns with the DLUHC about Trifire and other fire safety assessors.

LRM, MAF Associates and Trifire were approached for comment, but had not responded at the time of publication.


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