Crown Heights Basingstoke

ESTATE AGENTS in Basingstoke have been advertising flats for sale in the Crown Heights development, despite the block having a series of fire safety issues that make it ‘high risk’.

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 In the event of a fire, residents will have to evacuate, with stay put guidance rescinded, and local MP Maria Miller stated residents ‘didn’t create these problems [and] should not be left unfairly footing the bill if house builders have failed to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’. 

Most recently, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council called the situation a ‘travesty’, and set up a task force of officers from council departments ‘to offer support’. Basingstoke Gazette has reported however that estate agents in the area are advertising flats for sale in the block ‘without telling the public that they aren’t eligible for mortgages’, with nine listings found for properties on the Rightmove website.

These included listings from estate agents including Romans Basingstoke, Winkworth Basingstoke, Vesta, British Homesellers and Express, none of which had any ‘detail in their listings about the fire safety concerns which mean lenders won’t offer mortgages’. It news outlet contacted each of the businesses, with two – Vespa and Winkworth Basingstoke – removing listings as a consequence.

The adverts did not make ‘clear to the public that the homes were not suitable for those looking to take out a mortgage’, and none ‘mentioned the additional service charges new buyers would have to pay to contribute to making the building safe’. Emma Cooke, policy and information manager at the National Trading Standards estate and letting agency team, said: ‘Buying or renting a home is one of the biggest purchasing decisions that people make in their lifetimes.

‘Material information should be available to consumers making a property transaction in order for them to be able to make a fully informed decision. Failure to make this information available is a breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. This relates to any information that may impact on the average consumer’s transactional decisions.’

Only two of the listings made it ‘explicitly clear’ that properties would be ‘suitable for cash buyers only’, with Your Move’s senior sales negotiator Kieran Galloway stating it was ‘vital’ that estate agents were transparent about the block, with the two properties his company is representing there ‘advertised to investors only’.

He added that ‘as estate agents, we have to specifically list that these properties are available for cash buyers only. This is because you can’t get a mortgage on them because they are high risk’. He added in turn his concerns about FirstPort’s ‘poor communication and lack of transparency’, adding: ‘They are useless. We tried from January to December last year to get a report from them. And we couldn’t. They are disgusting.

‘Residents should not be paying for these problems. While some of the properties will get government funding, some of these owners will have to cough up anywhere between £2,000 to £17,000 on top of their mortgages.’

He noted though that ‘it was not necessarily all bad news for residents’, because they had received investor interest in quick sales, though owners ‘might have to accept they wouldn’t be able to get the price they were hoping for’. Vesta had been advertising a two bedroom apartment on the site, and after confirming it would remove the listing, a spokesman said: ‘Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

‘We have not been made aware that the final report on the cladding survey had been issued.  We will de-list the property and revert to the vendor for clarification on the current position. We endeavour to ensure all our listings are accurate at the time of publishing.’

The news outlet also noted that Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) have issued safety advice to residents, with its assistant director of prevention and protection Jason Avery stating that the fire and rescue service (FRS) recognises ‘concerns’ that residents have.

He added: ‘We recognise that residents will have concerns in relation to the emotional and financial impacts of the interim safety measures put in place and we will continue to work with those at Crown Heights to provide advice and support on the actions to take in an emergency.  Whilst the waking watch remains in place, the building has a temporary change to a simultaneous evacuation strategy until a new alarm system is installed.

‘We have taken a number of steps as a result of the recent external wall system report, including updating the information fire control holds on the building to ensure we can respond appropriately in the event of a fire. We will continue to liaise with the residents of Crown Heights and urge them to discuss any concerns they may have with us and the responsible person, FirstPort.’

It has also written to residents to provide information on support offered, and has urged those who might have issues with evacuating in a fire to contact them.

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