Highbury College bosses face £2.9m refurb bill as Portsmouth tower cladding fails Grenfell test

Highbury College's tower is being reclad as it has Grenfell Tower style cladding posing a fire risk. The college said measures are in place to mitigate the risk. Picture: ECD Architects Ltd
Highbury College's tower is being reclad as it has Grenfell Tower style cladding posing a fire risk. The college said measures are in place to mitigate the risk. Picture: ECD Architects Ltd
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A CASH-STRAPPED college is facing a £2.9m bill to replace dangerous cladding that has failed safety tests brought in after the Grenfell tragedy.

Highbury College’s 10-storey tower in Cosham, housing teenagers aged 16-18, is set for major work replacing the ACM-style cladding with that made of aluminium.

Horatia House and Leamington House, owned by Portsmouth City Council, were stripped of their cladding at a £1.2m cost two years ago.

But the college, led by principal Stella Mbubaegbu who is facing criticism for a £150,000 spend on her corporate credit card, is waiting to hear if it will get any funding for the 65-bed block.

READ MORE: Highbury College principal charged £150,000 to corporate credit card

A former student who paid £4,000 to stay in the block between 2017/2018 said she was not told about the cladding but it should have been changed sooner.

The 20-year-old, who asked not to be named, said: ‘It’s really shocking.

‘They have so many young people living in there, you would think for the amount of money they were getting they would have changed it straight away and also prioritise the safety of those who lived there. It’s so careless.’

A college spokeswoman said Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service ran a safety check and confirmed there are ‘robust and appropriate fire safety measures to mitigate the risks from fire’ and it ‘declared the building is safe for continued use’.

READ MORE: Portsmouth's Highbury College principal Stella Mbubaegbu insists: 'I'm not a flagrant spendthrift - none of this £150,000 bill was for personal gain'

The eye-watering bill will hit the college hard as Ms Mbubaegbu warned the sector has seen government cuts of 30 per cent in the last 10 years.

Highbury’s sixth form shut this year, it took out a £1m loan offering the floors of the tower as collateral, and is still battling to recoup £1.4m from a Nigerian state.

A Highbury College spokesperson said: 'The safety and wellbeing of our students and staff is of upmost importance and we continue to fully engage with the government-wide work, including all relevant agencies, to ensure all of our buildings are safe including the ongoing project to replace the cladding.

‘The project has recently received full planning permission and an appointment of a contractor is expected in December with a start on site soon after. The works are expected to take 12 months.

READ MORE: Department for Education expresses ‘deep concern’ over Highbury College principal’s expenses

'We communicate fully with our students and residence and will continue to do so in the future.'

When asked by trade magazine FE Week whether the governors had been made aware that the cladding had failed a safety test, the chairman of governors, Tim Mason, said: ‘I don’t know if we were told. I can’t remember.’

Planning permission was secured in August.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: ‘The college has made an application to the ESFA for funding for their re-cladding project.

‘The Department for Education will announce the outcome of this application in due course.’

READ MORE: Highbury College principal clocked up £5,000 phone and data bill including £34 charge for three-second Saudia Arabia call

Back in 2001 work to refurbish the tower was temporarily halted when asbestos was found in ducts running from the boiler room.