RESIDENTS in private apartment buildings are calling for the Welsh Government to help them in a fight over who should pay to rectify fire safety issues.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy highlighted serious safety flaws and also led to enhanced fire safety regulations but leaseholders in private apartment blocks fear the costs of the repairs will fall on them without intervention. 

Sunil Patel, who lives at the Celestia complex in Cardiff Bay, fears bankruptcy and faces a large bill to rectify fire safety defects at the private apartment development where he bought a new build flat in 2007.

Leaseholders at the complex, which has more than 450 flats, have found themselves in a situation familiar to thousands of others across the UK - having to fund essential work to replace cladding that poses a fire safety risk or rectify work that doesn’t comply with enhanced fire safety regulations.

The horrific Grenfell tragedy in 2017, in which 72 people died as a fire engulfed the west London high rise, exposed building safety flaws - chiefly that highly-combustible cladding had been allowed to be used on housing developments and refurbishments across the UK.

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As a result, councils have undertaken the mammoth task of removing, and replacing, cladding from high-rise blocks but those in private apartments are in limbo and further fire safety and building regulation flaws have come to light.

Work needs to be carried out but disputes over who should pay are unresolved.

The only certainty is the cost will eventually fall on leaseholders like Sunil. The married 48-year-old father of two is part of the Celestia Action Group, which is campaigning for action to be taken on the building issues, and is appealing for Welsh Government support for residents of about 50 buildings in Wales that are affected.

At Celestia, a waterfront complex a stone’s throw from the Senedd, made up of seven buildings holding 457 one and two-bedroom apartments, residents have been told they cannot use their balconies on safety grounds.

Enhanced fire safety regulations mean timber cladding must be removed while at the tallest building in the complex, the 15-storey Vega house, a sprinkler system must be installed.

A 24-hour, seven day a week, walking fire safety watch patrols the complex after a 2019 fire inspection by the fire brigade uncovered a lack of internal fire compartmentation that could have forced the abandonment of the building.

Developer Redrow has funded the £1.5million cost of rectifying that issue but leaseholders, at present, face the larger costs of replacing the wooden cladding and related issues.

The Celestia Management Company (CMCL), which is made up of leaseholders, would ordinarily collect service charges and maintain the upkeep of the development in accordance with the leases.

However, the row over fire safety means it must negotiate with Redrow which sold and marketed the complex.

Mark Thomas, another leaseholder, who chairs the CMCL, says it wants Redrow and construction giants Laing O’Rourke to accept responsibility but would like the Welsh Government to step in before leaseholders are made bankrupt.

He said: “Our position as leaseholders is we don’t particularly want taxpayers’ money.

“Our view has always been it’s the developers, the people who built it, that should be made to remedy it but in the absence of them doing that we would look to the Welsh Government to support us.”

The National Wales: Celestia concierge staff Luke Haggett and Joe Gauci with residents Mark Thomas, Lorna Wainwight and Ruth WainwrightCelestia concierge staff Luke Haggett and Joe Gauci with residents Mark Thomas, Lorna Wainwight and Ruth Wainwright

In England the UK Government has faced criticism of its £5billion fund for the removal of cladding as costs are estimated to reach £15billion and leaseholders must make up any shortfall.

The Conservative government has said under its scheme no leaseholder will pay more than £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding.

But in Wales few details of a building safety fund have been forthcoming though Labour promised one at May’s election.

Sunil points out the party, in opposition in England, is clear leaseholders shouldn’t be made to pay for the failures of developers but thinks in government in Wales, the party is dragging its heels.

While Grenfell exposed fire safety shortcomings, private leaseholders are discovering the extent for which they are responsible for maintenance.

“The doomsday scenario should we fail to secure any agreement with Redrow, Laing O’Rourke or the freehold managers, or any funding from the Welsh Government, is we will have to issue service charge demands to leaseholders to complete the works,” said Mark.

The experience has illustrated to him that many residents are unaware of the “complex, legal obligations” leasehold places on purchasers.

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Sunil says: “Like a lot of people I can’t afford to put up thousands of pounds to remedy something that’s not our fault.

“We have elderly people who can’t afford the potential costs there are others with kids, who can’t afford to move and are stuck in these apartments. Time is ticking and we would like some help before people have to declare bankruptcy.”

Mark says there is anger the firms involved are still able to build new homes while the issue remains unresolved: “Most people feel ripped off. We’ve given Redrow an awful lot of money, these were sold as prestige apartments, and just over a decade later we are looking down a barrel at all these problems.

“You get more protection if you buy a kettle or a toaster than a £250,000 flat.

“People want their homes to be safe and to get on with their lives.”

The National Wales: Another part of the Celestia complex in Cardiff BayAnother part of the Celestia complex in Cardiff Bay

Nigel Palmer, south Wales MD for Redrow, said it is aware of the “stress and burden” on residents due to “new standards set by government” and it has engaged with all involved to try to resolve these “complex issues”.

His statement added: “Despite not being the freeholder or having any legal obligation to do so, we have also provided significant financial support to the management company.

“We will continue to closely liaise with everyone associated with Celestia.”

A Laing O’Rourke spokesperson said it has engaged with all parties and provided technical information but it understands some tenants have started legal action against Redrow, which has issued proceedings against it and is unable to comment further due to the legal action.

The Welsh Government said it has put £32million aside for building safety issues, in both public and private housing, this financial year and will announce further details on a fire safety fund shortly.

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