As yet another anniversary of the tragic fire at Grenfell passed this summer, and against a backdrop of Government announcements, application deadlines, and hundreds of residential blocks across the country still deemed unsafe in the event of fire, it is hopefully time to offer hope to leaseholders who have effectively been trapped by the issues surrounding cladding remediation.
The biggest - and most challenging - project we have probably ever undertaken for one of the properties we manage is almost at an end. We have taken this 14-year-old city centre development through the process of making it safe post-Grenfell after it was confirmed, despite technical drawings indicating to the contrary, that it was clad in Aluminium Composite Cladding (ACM).
The journey for this beautiful development with 130+ residential apartments and several commercial units started in the immediate aftermath of Grenfell when at a swiftly organised meeting with the Fire Service, local authority and RTM Board, it was agreed that the fire strategy should change from “stay put” to evacuation. A waking watch was put in place immediately and ran for six weeks until the alarm system could be upgraded.
What followed was the execution of an extremely effective working partnership between the Encore team, residents and the RTM Board, together with our expert advisors. The fire engineer and building surveyor, various architects, structural engineers, cladding specialists and local authority building control/planning all played key roles once it was agreed that we would seek to install a Euroclass A1 (non combustible) solution.
The huge cost of such a project has caused anguish and frustration for many leaseholders similarly trapped in buildings with both ACM and non-ACM cladding across the UK. The question of who pays has dominated media stories ever since the impact of cladding on the fire at Grenfell became known, and like other managing agents we were very much aware of the effect such a significant cost would have on the 136 households at this development.
We were therefore quick to take advantage of the initial £200m Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) fund designed to tackle the removal and replacement of ACM cladding on private residential developments. Collating all of the information required to apply to the fund required significant communication with around 180 leaseholders, including joint owners, many of whom live overseas. The successful completion of this stage of the project was down to the persistence and determination of the Estate Manager and her team – and their vast knowledge both of the technical details and the building itself.
Now, almost three years after the tragedy at Grenfell that prompted such a huge volume of work for property managers, freeholders and landlords across the UK, Homes England - working on behalf of MHCLG - have confirmed that funding has been made available for the entire project – with additional monies made available should project costs increase.
Finally, we can report a success story around cladding remediation, and the key factors for getting us there. The ability for us as managing agents to understand the problem, the requirements for the solution and who, and how, to mobilise in order to achieve a cost effective solution within a controlled timeframe was vital. Working with the community during the entire process to ensure they understood what was going on, listening to their preferences and ultimately keeping them safe at all times was equally important. All of this demonstrates the high level of professionalism and preparation of the managing agent - and their commitment to getting the best possible result for the people they serve – whether that is the residents themselves or the freeholder or developer of the building.
Our work doesn’t stop there of course as we respond to the Government’s new £1bn Building Safety Programme aimed at helping to fund the removal of unsafe non-ACM cladding. The new scheme was announced in March 2020, just two weeks before the UK went into lockdown, and we are delighted to be able to tell residents that all qualifying properties in our portfolio have now been registered – well in advance of the 31 July deadline.