Confusion and costs continue to rise for Cardiff leaseholders

Residents of a block of flats in Cardiff are still paying thousands of pounds in service charges following ongoing fire safety defects.

According to WalesOnline, leaseholders at Celestia apartment complex have been paying up to £7,000 in service charges due to ongoing remediation work, with residents telling reporters they are expected to cover costs while the developer Redrow continues its talks with Celestia Management Company Limited, which manages the complex.

Construction issues first became apparent in 2014, after which several concerns over life safety were raised. In 2019, Laing O’Rourke, the builder of the Redrow development, warned Celestia Management that there was a possibility that “fire breaks were missing on the external walls”. As previously reported by the FPA, further investigations revealed that firestopping and compartmentation was “very poor” or “non-existent”. Additionally, it was found that there were “missing or defective” external fire cavity barriers, and some timber cladding and insulation that had been used “did not meet the required standards”.

South Wales Fire & Rescue Service (SWFRS) served the building’s management company with Fire Enforcement Notices in 2019 to “rectify internal compartmental deficiencies and access issues”. However, work is still ongoing, with much uncertainty about when fire safety remediation work will be completed.

Earlier this year, one resident told ITV News that service charges had increased significantly since she first moved into her flat and was now expected to “pay £10,000 over the next five years to help with the issues, including replacing the cladding and fire safety repair work”.

Mark Thomas, an elected leasehold director of Celestia Management Company Limited, said: "There is every prospect that some leaseholders are going to find life increasingly difficult, and the doomsday scenario is that some may face the prospect of forfeiture because they won't be able to cope with all the increases.”

In light of the issues faced by leaseholders at Celestia and in other high-rises across the country, the Welsh government has been working with developers to offer a building safety programme for residents who have been hit by remediation issues. A spokesperson for Redrow confirmed that it had signed the Welsh Government’s Pledge Deed of Bilateral Contract, which commits it to remediate buildings over 11 metres that have “life-critical fire safety issues”.

The spokesperson said: “We continue to comply with all obligations under the deed of contract. We have provided significant financial support to the management company at Celestia. We have consistently said that we believe the housebuilding industry should play its part in resolving the issue of legacy fire safety in high-rise buildings and that the financial burden should not be borne by leaseholders. We have appointed expert consultants and we are working in close liaison with Celestia’s Management Company.

"We continue to move forward on the remediation of life-critical fire safety issues at Celestia. General service charges – relating to matters like utility costs, insurances, and general upkeep and maintenance of the buildings – are a matter for Celestia’s Management Company, which is run by resident representatives."

As reported by Inside Housing, the announcement follows a letter that had been sent by the management company to the Head of Building Safety Remediation in Wales, which stated that there was still uncertainty over whether Redrow intended to “meet its obligations and, specifically, identifies no intended works, much less any target dates to complete them”.

A government spokesperson stated: “All developers who have signed the Welsh government’s contract have returned their work plans in line with their contractual requirements.

We’re analysing these work plans and will work with developers to ensure remediation works are undertaken as soon as possible.”

A spokesperson for Laing O’Rourke added: “Laing O’Rourke has engaged proactively with the developer, Redrow, and with Celestia Management Company Limited (CMCL), including attending the site and several meetings with Redrow, CMCL, and their lawyers.

"We have also responded to various requests for technical information to assist with CMCL’s investigations and risk assessments. However, as legal proceedings have been issued, we are unable to comment further at this time."