Portishead Marina

RESIDENTS OF blocks around Portishead Marina are paying for waking watches and fear they will also ‘have to foot the bill’ for fire safety repairs to the buildings.

Last December, resident of the Ninety4 On the Estuary development in Portishead were among residents of blocks across Bristol and Portishead facing huge bills for cladding remediation and alarm installations, and Bristol Post has now reported on a meeting that saw residents of blocks in Portishead Marina explain how they are ‘stuck in limbo unable to sell their flats […] facing skyrocketing costs’.

Around 1,000 people live in the blocks ‘but there are believed to be others’ affected ‘across the district’, and while the buildings do not have aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, their external structures ‘contain other potentially hazardous materials exposed since the blaze’ at Grenfell in June 2017, with some ‘lacking important safety measures’.

As a result, residents are paying for waking watches and ‘fear they will also have to foot the bill for the work to make their homes safe’, with local councillor and resident Huw James telling a webinar set up to discuss the issues earlier this month: ‘The Grenfell Tower fire was a national disaster that woke up the regulators, government and British public to the issues of building safety and fire regulation that we’d accepted as a given.

‘Residents really are dealing with this on their own. That isn’t acceptable. Leaseholders are pushing things forward because they are feeling the heat from these issues.’

He added that the insistence of insurers that waking watches be installed mean that costs ‘are skyrocketing’ for residents, with one of the blocks seeing a ’12-fold increase’, but he ‘cast doubt’ on whether the waking watches would be able to warn every resident ‘before a fire spread’. Yvonne Povall, whose mother lives in the block, said that she had gone from paying £300 per year in service charges to spending that much each month, adding ‘that’s what’s crippling her’.

On top of the ongoing costs, the news outlet pointed out, obtaining mortgages or finding new tenants is difficult ‘while work on their properties is outstanding’, while ‘complicated forms’ and the COVID-19 pandemic have ‘slowed everything down’. Resident Katrin Michael added: ‘There’s so much waiting and waiting. I really hope to God that another Grenfell doesn’t happen in the meantime. If we continue at this rate, people are going to lose their lives.’

Some of the buildings in the development are also ‘just 50 centimetres shy’ of 18m, and therefore would not ‘qualify for support’ from the government funding available for cladding remediation. Local MP and shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire questioned the ‘arbitrary’ limit, and said this should not be the difference between a ‘safe home and financial ruin’.

In turn, Baroness Kath Pinnock – who had put forward amendments to the Fire Safety Bill on ensuring leaseholders do not pay for fire safety works – told the webinar that the only solution was for the government ‘to cover all the costs up front and try to recoup the money from contractors, manufacturers and developers’.

She added: ‘A lot of people living in these apartments are in limbo. I’ve heard some really heart-wrenching tales from leaseholders about the huge costs they’re expected to pay. Some people have been driven to the edge, in terms of their finances and mental ill health. I know of one person who’s chosen the route of bankruptcy. There’s no way any leaseholder should be expected to pay for structural remediation.’

The news outlet also pointed out that fellow local MP Dr Liam Fox spoke out for residents in the recent government debate on cladding, where he said that builders of ‘substandard dwellings need to be held to account’. He also said: ‘It is not about buildings; it is about people. It is about their hopes and their fears, their savings and their future.

‘All the government’s instincts on this issue have been right and the amount of money put aside is generous. What we now require is not good intentions, but delivery.’