Residents of Greenwich’s New Capital Quay housing development are demanding action to remove flammable cladding from their homes – the same type that is believed to have helped the fire at Grenfell Tower spread so quickly, resulting in the deaths of 71 people in June 2017.
The 12-block development, which is home to about 2,000 people, was built by Galliard Homes and opened in 2013 and 2014. But residents are now finding themselves stuck in a squabble between Galliard and the National House-Building Council (NHBC), which insured the building – and inspected the work when it was completed – over who should pay for the cladding to be removed.
NHBC says it is down to the Galliard subsidiary which manages New Capital Quay to prove that the development did not meet building regulations in force at the time of construction.
Despite local MP Matt Pennycook raising the residents’ plight in the House of Commons in December, the two organisations remain locked in a stalemate over the issue, with fire wardens making round-the-clock inspections of the blocks, next to the Thames and Deptford Creek.
Leaseholders fear being lumbered with the bill for removing the cladding – said to be up to £40 million – as well as the £1.25m annual cost of employing fire wardens until the work can be carried out.
Residents believe it is the largest housing development in the UK affected by the need to replace unsafe cladding.
‘Significant fire hazard’
Samples from New Capital Quay were tested in the summer as part of a national programme following the disaster in North Kensington. The samples were confirmed to be ACM, similar to that used at Grenfell Tower.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says the ACM type 3 cladding used at New Capital Quay “presents a significant fire hazard on buildings over 18m with any form of insulation”.
Nine of the 12 buildings at New Capital Quay are over 18 metres tall and considered at risk – the other three are considered small enough to allow residents to escape quickly.
Hyde Housing Association, which runs social housing at the site, put a “waking watch” of fire wardens to keep an eye on its blocks in August 2017, while Galliard – acting through its subsidiary Property Matters Management Limited (PMML) – followed suit the following month under advice from the London Fire Brigade.
This is meant to be a short term measure until issues are rectified – but leaseholders say the cost of the wardens is being added to their service charges.
Fire safety advice has also been changed from “stay put” to “evacuate” – worrying residents who may struggle to walk quickly down many flights of stairs.
Galliard – acting through PMML – opened a claim with NHBC and commissioned a fire safety expert to examine the blocks. However, the company has not shared the report with leaseholders, and the two parties have been unable to reach agreement on who is responsible for removing the cladding.
Last month, Galliard asked leaseholders at New Capital Quay to start making their own claims against NHBC to try to speed the process up.
Residents left fearful
The row has left residents in New Capital Quay’s 980 homes worried about safety – and in some cases, unable to sell their homes.
Ruth Montlake, 85, lives on the seventh floor of one of the blocks. She says there is no plan to evacuate the building if there is a fire. “There has not been a test or report of any type. I don’t know if I am meant to knock on my neighbours’ doors,” she says.
“I love living here, we have a happy home with beautiful views, but I have been scared ever since the fire safety advice was changed from stay put to evacuate.
“We don’t have any fire alarms in the building. I am hard of hearing; how will I know to evacuate? I am told that the fire wardens are not allowed to enter a building where there is a fire, instead they will stay at ground level and make a noise. I won’t hear that.
“I am very slow these days, I walk with a cane and on stairs I need to have a banister I can hold onto. I have not tried to walk down 7 flights of stairs, but I imagine it would take me a very long time. My worry is that I will get in the way of people evacuating more quickly, because I am moving so slowly I will create a jam and the people behind me will be endangered.
“Should I wait until they have all passed before I start my decent? Is it fair that an 85-year-old should endanger the life of others just to save herself?”
Unable to sell properties
Another resident, Cecile Langevin, bought a two-bedroom flat with her husband in 2014. But now she is pregnant with her second child, she wants to move – but says buyers are being put off by the uncertainty over the cladding.
“We accepted an offer four days after our flat went on the market and things were looking quite positive,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the buyer heard rumours about ACM cladding being used in our development and the potential risk of huge repairs being charged onto leaseholders.
“In answering the buyer’s questions, Galliard provided such alarming responses on the possible costs that our buyer withdrew their offer. We had no idea that we were at risk of paying to replace the cladding.”
Langevin added: “No one seems to want to help us, we bought in good faith and we need a solution urgently.
“My baby will be born in April and we need to find a safe home to settle where my son can start school next year.”
Social housing tenants also affected
One of the Hyde Housing Association residents said their advice had stayed at “stay put” – in contrast to the private residents.
The resident, who has asked to remain anonymous, said: “During August I noticed groups of London Fire Brigade officers visiting New Capital Quay,”
“I asked what was going on only to be told by Hyde that it was an internal investigation and that they couldn’t give me any other information.
“I found out from other residents that there was a serious fire risk – no one contacted me to advise me on what to do.”
The resident, who has mobility problems, added: “I am afraid if there’s a fire not only will I possibly not know but, I may also be unable to get out.”
853 has also been told that Hyde tenants have also been informed that they are now not eligible for the housing association’s exchange programme, leaving them, like their private neighbours, stuck at New Capital Quay. Hyde has denied this.
Local MP’s intervention
Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook raised the issue again in Parliament on Monday, asking housing minister Dominic Raab: “The New Capital Quay development in my constituency is just one of hundreds of private freehold developments across the country where cladding has failed and where the freeholder in question — Galliard Homes in this case — has washed its hands of all responsibility for interim fire safety measures and remedial works.
“Does the Minister agree that it cannot be right for leaseholders to pick up the full costs in such cases?” (watch here)
However, Raab was non-committal in his response: “My understanding is that, as a matter of general law, a freeholder cannot pass unreasonable costs over to leaseholders. There is always recourse to the tribunal and we know plenty of leaseholders have taken such action.
“We have been very clear that, morally, such costs should not be passed on to leaseholders.”
However, freeholders are already passing on bills for cladding works elsewhere. In Croydon, the management company in charge of the Cityscape apartment block has said leaseholders should pay the £2 million bill for removing the cladding.
In Slough, the local council is taking on the freehold of one block so leaseholders do not have to pay the bill.
Situation ‘very concerning for residents’
A spokesperson for NHBC told 853: “New Capital Quay is covered by NHBC’s 10-year Buildmark warranty and insurance and that we have received notification of a claim from management company PMML (subsidiary of Galliard Homes, the builders of New Capital Quay), on behalf of the residents.
“PMML is legally responsible for the ongoing safety of the buildings at New Capital Quay. So that we can make an assessment of the claim, we have asked PMML to demonstrate to us how the buildings as a whole did not comply with the Building Regulations in force at the time of construction.
“Unfortunately, PMML has so far declined to provide this information and has not responded to our requests to meet with them. You should be aware that it is the building as a whole which must comply with Building Regulations.
“We understand that the situation at New Capital Quay is very concerning for residents and we are committed to making an assessment of their claim as swiftly as possible once PMML has provided the necessary information. We have also offered to pay towards the costs of obtaining this information and are still awaiting a response to this offer.
“In addition, we have set up a dedicated website for residents to keep them up to date with our communications with PMML and our claims process.”
Hyde tenants ‘can still exchange homes’
Hyde asset management director Brent O’Halloran told 853: “All residents at New Capital Quay are entitled to take part in our exchange scheme which is subject to our standard criteria.
“There is a full evacuation policy in place at New Capital Quay for all residents regardless of tenure. This has been agreed by Galliard, the managing agent acting on behalf of the building freeholder, and the London Fire Brigade.
“We have been advised by Galliard that they have written to all residents to inform them of this.”
Galliard has not responded to a request for comment.