Gunwharf Quays residents in Portsmouth facing combined £17.4m cladding removal bill

RESIDENTS at more than 300 flats in Gunwharf Quays are facing a combined £17.4m bill for work to remove fire-risk cladding that could transform the area into a ‘building site’.

By Ben Fishwick
Thursday, 19th August 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Friday, 20th August 2021, 2:04 pm
The Blue Building, Gunwharf Road, Portsmouth. Picture: Google

The work could last years and it’s feared the work at East Side Plaza will be on a scale that potentially deters shoppers and restaurant-goers, although the cladding issue only directly affects the blocks of flats at Gunwharf, not the shopping area.

Concerns were first raised at the five-storey Blue Building when a new fire report recommended removing cladding, and bringing in fire marshals until this was done.

This also led to marshals being put in place at the 29-storey Lipstick Tower and 11-storey building The Crescent in case residents needed to quickly flee a blaze.

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Gunwharf Quays, showing the Lipstick tower with the Crescent building to its right in the picture Picture: Sam Towner Instagram:

The work is set to cost £17m - and leaseholders have been told they will be liable for this if bid to a fund set up after the Grenfell Tower blaze fails.

In July last year, residents bid for cash from the government’s Building Safety Fund, set up to help fund the removal of cladding following the Grenfell tragedy.

More than a year on, no final decision has been made, and there is no guarantee the government will pay the full amount - leaving leaseholders with an uncertain future.

Manny Gatt, 62, lives in the Blue Building with his wife Sylvia - and is facing a possible £70,000 bill for the remediation work.

Mr Gatt said the ‘dream’ of living in Gunwharf has been ‘shattered’ as it now feels like a prison and the couple think about the potential costs ‘every day’.

He said: ‘On top of this we face months, potentially years, living in a building site with little prospect of being able to sell or mortgage until our homes are deemed safe.

‘Surely in a just world those responsible for these defects would step up and be accountable for addressing unsafe cladding.’

Sylvia added: ‘People won’t want to shop in a building site. The shops are going to be affected, the restaurants are going to be affected.

‘They won’t want to work around dust and hammering.’

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Fellow Blue Building leaseholder Peter Kemp has been campaigning alongside resident Mr Gatt for more than a year.

Mr Kemp said: ‘The problem we have is until the money is in place the building works can’t take place.

‘If we get some funding leaseholders have still got to cough up and it will be tens of thousands of pounds.’

Some leaseholders have already sold up at a loss, The News understands.

This is happening now because the resident management company overseeing all three buildings last year asked Berkeley Homes, the original builder, to provide an external wall fire survey (ESW1) for each building.

After a delay in receiving the Blue Building’s report, the management company commissioned an independent ESW1 for the five-storey block.

That report advised cladding remediation work was needed, in conflict with the ESW1 that Berkeley Homes later supplied.

Due to the differing conclusions, residents lobbied the management company to commission reports for the Lipstick Tower and The Crescent. These also differ with the major developer’s own ESW1 reports, The News understands.

The management company then put in bids to the government Building Safety Fund well before before the original deadline in December last year.

It’s understood the independent fire engineer who compiled a report for Berkeley Homes has seen the second Blue Building ESW1 but maintains his original conclusion.

Encore Property Management Group is the managing agent for Gunwharf Quays Eastside Plaza Management Company Ltd.

An Encore spokeswoman said: ‘The safety and security of residents who live within the Eastside Plaza development is paramount.’

Fire marshals were needed following a switch in fire policy to evacuate in the event of a fire, instead of an order to stay put. This was as a result of the recommendations in the new reports.

The Encore spokeswoman said: ‘We are pleased that the application has been invited to the next funding stage, and has been successful in obtaining pre-tender financial support for the residents which allowed a lead consultant to be appointed and the remediation work tendered ready for submission to the BSF.’

She added: ‘We are working hard with the (residents management company), residents and external consultants to help ensure a successful application to the Building Safety Fund.’

A plan has been submitted to Portsmouth City Council in relation to replacing cladding at the Blue Building.

New temporary fire alarms - funded by a £30m government fund - are due to be installed at The Crescent and Lipstick Tower to replace costly fire marshals.

Leaseholders at the Blue Building had already spent £70,000 on fire marshals before they won funding for the temporary fire alarms needed to facilitate an evacuation in a blaze.

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan has been working with residents and said: ‘While any progress on vital fire safety works is welcome it is outrageous that residents are being faced with huge and unexpected bills to fix problems they did not create.

‘I have consistently raised the government’s failure to get a grip on the cladding crisis in Parliament on behalf of those affected.

‘It is a national scandal that Portsmouth residents are still awaiting a decision from the Building Safety Fund.

‘Health and safety must be the priority.

‘Ministers should take responsibility, focus on the rapid disbursal of funds to fix these issues, while pursuing developers and recovery costs at a later date where possible.’

Berkeley Homes declined to comment.

Some 23 applications in the Portsmouth area have been made to the Building Safety Fund, figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government refused to answer questions on why the bid had not been decided despite being submitted more than a year ago, nor comment on any other bids that had been submitted from Portsmouth.

They said: ‘It is essential that building owners take swift action to fix dangerous cladding and the government will fund every eligible application to the Building Safety Fund. We are progressing applications as quickly as possible.’

A spokesperson for Landsec, which owns the retail section of Gunwharf Quays, but not the flats, said: ‘Project planning is on-going for East Side Plaza. The buildings do not belong to us, nor is it our tender, so we cannot comment yet on the effect these works will have, but we expect to work closely with the freeholder and Encore, the managing agents, to come up with a solution that minimises disruption, if any, for our commercial brand partners. This will be a collaboration between all parties.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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