Portishead residents facing skyrocketing costs due to unsafe cladding
- Credit: Stephen Sumner
North Somerset residents caught up in a fire safety scandal exposed by the Grenfell Tower tragedy are stuck in limbo unable to sell their flats and facing skyrocketing costs.
Most of the estimated 1,000 people live in blocks around Portishead Marina but there are believed to be others across the district.
The buildings do not have the same flammable cladding as Grenfell Tower did but contain other potentially hazardous materials exposed since the blaze, with some lacking important safety measures.
That leaves residents forced to pay for costly waking watches operating up to 24 hours a day to alert them if a fire breaks out, and fear they will also have to foot the bill for the work to make their homes safe.
Portishead councillor Huw James, who lives in one of the affected properties at Portishead Marina, told a webinar on the issue on February 18: “The Grenfell Tower fire was a national disaster that woke up the regulators, government and British public to the issues of building safety and fire regulation that we’d accepted as a given.
“Residents really are dealing with this on their own. That isn’t acceptable.
“Leaseholders are pushing things forward because they are feeling the heat from these issues.”
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Cllr James said insurers’ insistence on waking watches mean the costs for residents are skyrocketing, with one block seeing a 12-fold increase. But he cast doubt on whether the patrols – reliant on staff with 'very little training' going into burning buildings – would be able to warn every resident before a fire spread.
Yvonne Povall told the webinar her mum had gone from paying £300 a year in service charges to forking out that sum every month, adding: “That’s what’s crippling her.”
As well as ongoing costs, the future for many leaseholders is uncertain. It is difficult to secure mortgages or find new tenants while work on their properties is outstanding, there are complicated forms to fill out and the pandemic has slowed everything down.
Katrina Michael, a resident affected by the scandal, said: “There’s so much waiting and waiting. I really hope to God that another Grenfell doesn’t happen in the meantime. If we continue at this rate, people are going to lose their lives.”
While they wait, residents are left fearing they will have to foot the bill for the work.
The government has made more than £5billion available to make high-rise buildings safe – but there are claims the final bill could be £16billion or even more.
Some buildings in North Somerset are just 50 centimetres shy of the 18-metre threshold to qualify for support.
Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Kath Pinnock told the webinar the only solution was for the government to cover all the costs up front and try to recoup the money from contractors, manufacturers and developers.
She said: “A lot of people living in these apartments are in limbo.
“I’ve heard some really heart-wrenching tales from leaseholders about the huge costs they’re expected to pay. Some people have been driven to the edge, in terms of their finances and mental ill health. I know of one person who’s chosen the route of bankruptcy.
“There’s no way any leaseholder should be expected to pay for structural remediation.”
Baroness Pinnock has filed one of several amendments to a new fire safety bill that is set to be considered this week. It says leaseholders and tenants caught up in the scandal should not be expected to pay towards the cost of structural repairs to their properties.
North Somerset MP Dr Liam Fox spoke out for residents in a House of Commons debate on February 1, when he said the builders of 'substandard dwellings need to be held to account'.
He said: “It is not about buildings; it is about people. It is about their hopes and their fears, their savings and their future.
“All the Government’s instincts on this issue have been right and the amount of money put aside is generous. What we now require is not good intentions, but delivery.”
Resident Nick Parsons praised Dr Fox’s 'impassioned' speech but said the real test will be if he votes for the amendment on Wednesday.