Crown Heights Basingstoke

BASINGSTOKE AND Deane Borough Council called the situation at Crown Heights a ‘travesty’, and set up a task force of officers from council departments ‘to offer support’.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the high rise had 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 set to face bills reaching thousands of pounds to fund a waking watch 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’. In the event of a fire, residents will have to evacuate, with stay put guidance rescinded, and local MP Maria Miller stated residents ‘didn’t create these problems [and] should not be left unfairly footing the bill if house builders have failed to put in place essential fire safety measures’. 

Basingstoke Gazette has now reported that council leader Ken Rhatigan has pledged to support the residents, stating that the uncertainty they face is a ‘travesty’, and that the council ‘will ensure that whatever is required from us, that we provide and that we…get the best outcome from a terrible situation’. New council chief executive Russell O’Keefe has also set up a taskforce of officers from various different council departments ‘to offer support’.

Mr Rhatigan added that residents should not have to ‘put their hand in their own pocket’, and stated: ‘I feel for the residents who, through no fault of their own, have worry and distress. Some of them are housing association tenants and I think it is beholden upon the housing associations make sure that anything that can be done to communicate with residents is done, so some uncertainty is going to be taken away.

‘It is not right that they are likely to have to put their hand in their own pocket, which is completely distressing for something that is not their fault. I think some of the responsibility has to lay with the developer, with the freehold owner and has to sit with the management company.

‘It is now three and a half years since Grenfell, and it is in my view a travesty that even through all this time we are only now getting to see the full extent of the problem and it is one that we as a borough will help co-ordinate communications.

‘We can’t fund what is not ours, but we can make sure that everybody, and especially those that don’t have English as a first language, are aware what help they can get, whether that be through a fantastic Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Basingstoke, one which we fund funnily enough, they can get the correct housing advice. We will ensure that whatever is required from us that we provide and that we work with out partners to ensure we get the best outcome from a terrible situation.’

Mr O’Keefe said the project team were ‘working on how we support the process to get the best possible outcome we can’, adding: ‘It is an incredibly difficult situation and for the individual leaseholder through no fault of their own, it is a horrible position to be in.

‘We’re working with the fire service with what’s called the responsible person, who is the person responsible for the fire safety measures on the building, making sure that the necessary measures are in place at the moment to ensure that everyone is safe day to day now, and we want those to be the most efficient measures as quickly as possible.

‘The usual process that happens is that when it is first discovered it starts with a waking watch, very quickly you try and move to an integrated alarm system and a simultaneous evacuation plan, because that is a better solution and a cheaper solution, and as quickly as possible you try and deal with the physical issues in terms of changing the building.

‘We are working with the different parties on that to ensure that it is done as quickly and efficiently as possible, in a way that engages residents, and ensures they know what is happening when "We have got a very good housing service who are there to provide advice and guidance to individual leaseholders and residents. What we want to try and do is to ensure that any actions the government takes are ones that support the difficult situation the individual leaseholders are in.

‘We are fortunate there is more money available for the physical measures, but obviously there is still a range of costs you incur which are potentially huge for an individual before you get to that. We want to see the government consider that in terms of any future measures they may do.

‘This isn’t just something affecting Basingstoke and Deane, and from my perspective I want to ensure that with any development we support in the future we make sure that they are built to the highest possible standard so we never have these issues again.’

Mr Rhatigan added that he, Mr O’Keefe and Ms Miller had met to discuss the issues, noting: This is how seriously we are taking it, the leadership of the borough are getting involved […] and that level of awareness has risen hugely in the last few weeks on the basis of such a strong campaign from yourselves. I think what we need to do is to pull everyone together in a meeting, ensure that we understand our responsibilities on it.’

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