Crown Heights Basingstoke

CROWN HEIGHTS in Basingstoke was found to have combustible cladding, with residents now facing bills of thousands of pounds to cover waking watch patrols.

Basingstoke Gazette reported on the news that the high rise failed a cladding test in December 2020, with the building housing 250 flats, a gym, two doctors’ surgeries and a convenience store. It was found to have been clad in combustible materials, with expanded polystyrene discovered ‘with no fire breaks’, and leaseholders are reportedly set to face bills reaching thousands of pounds to fund a waking watch at the building until a new fire detection system is installed.

These will cost an average of £6,700 per week, with property manager FirstPort stating that a reserve fund will ‘help to cover this cost’, but not guaranteeing that leaseholders ‘will not be expected to cover the costs should this not be enough’. It stated: ‘The safety of our residents is our first priority, and we understand that this is an unsettling time for residents of Crown Heights.

‘Based on the advice of an independent specialist fire engineer, waking watch and amendments to the fire evacuation procedures have been implemented as a temporary measure at the development. The waking watch will be removed as soon as a new fire detection system is installed. This is currently being tendered and we are working hard to get this installed as soon as possible so the waking watch can be removed.

‘We are also working to submit an application for Crown Heights to the Government's new Waking Watch Relief Fund, which we hope will secure funding for the fire alarm installation if this application is successful.’

In the event of a fire, residents will have to evacuate, with stay put guidance rescinded, with local MP Maria Miller stating that residents didn’t create these problems. And residents should not be left unfairly footing the bill if house builders have failed to put in place essential fire safety measures’. Andover Advertiser noted however Mrs Miller having abstained on a vote in parliament earlier this week that called on the government ‘to remove flammable cladding from buildings quicker’.

She did not vote in the non binding motion called by the Labour party, but in a public statement said: ‘Residents have contacted me to say problems with fire safety have been identified at Crown Heights and I am working with representatives from the Residents Association to identify how to get those problems sorted as soon as possible.

‘I will do all that I can to support residents at this worrying and distressing time, and urge everyone concerned to work together in the best interests of the people who live in Crown Heights. I have spoken to the chief operating officer of the building management company and also the Chief Fire Officer for Hampshire, both have told me that the appropriate actions are being taken to keep residents safe. That has to be the prime concern right now.

‘Following the Grenfell tragedy in 2017 I met residents living in high rise accommodation in Basingstoke to discuss their concerns and as a result tabled a change in the law to ensure proper fire safety information is given to residents on a regular basis including information on the buildings’ fire alarm system and evacuation plan. This was taken up by the Government and included into the Government’s Fire Safety Bill.

‘EWS1 reports, put in place following the Grenfell tragedy, have identified fire safety problems with many hundreds of residential tower blocks across the country, over and above the problems already identified with the flammability of cladding immediately following the Grenfell fire. In 2017 Hampshire Fire Service confirmed to me that flammable exterior cladding was used only in a very limited way in Basingstoke.

‘But these more intrusive surveys now being undertaken are revealing additional fire safety concerns with the way high rise flats have been constructed, including the absence of fire breaks in the walls and the use of combustible wall insulation material. This may not be the same as flammable exterior cladding but it is no less concerning for residents and has been clearly identified as a fire risk.’

No date has been set for the works to begin, with FirstPort adding that they ‘have no control over the process’ and are waiting for information from the government’s building safety fund. Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council's cabinet member for homes and families, Tristan Robinson, said: ‘My prime concern is the safety and wellbeing of our residents.

‘I was approached by Crown Heights residents worried about the interim fire safety measures the building’s owners have in place following a recent survey report. Last week I attended a virtual residents’ association meeting to talk to more residents and hear their concerns. In response, we set up a group of specialist senior officers to look into what action needs to be taken as a matter of urgency.

‘Residents didn’t create these problems, and we are committed to working with the freeholder, management company, and home builder to remove the cost of the waking watch, introduced for their safety, and ensure that a new interlinked alarm system is installed as soon as possible. Discussions with the building management company and the fire service have reassured us about the interim safety measures to protect residents.

‘I am clear that the management company and freeholder need to progress their plans to install a new alarm system at pace, followed by any additional work deemed necessary on the building to give further reassurance. We will do what we can, working closely with the fire and rescue service, to ensure the work needed is carried out as soon as possible.’

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government added: ‘Leaseholders shouldn’t have to worry about the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects in high-rise buildings that they didn’t cause - and should be protected from large-scale remediation costs wherever possible.

‘We all want to see homes made safer, as quickly as possible and backed by our £1.6 billion funding we are making good progress on remediating unsafe homes. We are also working at pace to develop further financial solutions to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs. Our £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund is now open for applications and will help end the scandal of excessive waking watch costs for residents living in the highest-risk buildings with unsafe cladding.’