Residents of two Green Quarter tower blocks have questioned why Lendlease are being left to continue working on Manchester City Council projects after accusing them of “ruining the lives of 342 leaseholders in Manchester.”
Just over a year on from the Grenfell tragedy in London, two tower blocks in Manchester’s Green Quarter are faced with the daily stress of knowing that they are living in a building which was built using the same highly flammable cladding that contributed to the disaster; and that they face a bill of upwards of £3 million to remove and replace it.
On June 14 last year, 72 people died when Grenfell Tower in West London burst into flames after a kitchen fire on the fourth floor of the 23-storey tower block broke out just before 1am.
On June 28 of this year, a fire broke out in the Masson Place development in the Green Quarter, a tower block which sits next door to the two blocks in question.
Thankfully, Masson Place was not built using Grenfell-style cladding, and so the fire was contained and extinguished with no one being injured.
This most likely would not have been the outcome had the fire started in neighbouring Vallea Court or Cypress Place, who also evacuated in panic when they realised a fire had broken out.
“People just heard ‘get out get out’ and so a lot of people did evacuate,” said Fran Reddington, who lives in Cypress Place.
“It put a lot of panic into people and really brought it home. At the forefront of everyone’s mind at the beginning was the cost but I think that really drove home the safety side of it,” she said.
Residents have been told the work to remove and replace the cladding will not start until autumn for Vallea Court, and spring for Cypress Place, but fear this could easily be delayed. Both have one single staircase down which hundreds of people would be expected to evacuate in the event of a fire.
“There’s fires everywhere. Another one in London last week. Another tower block,” said Fran.
“Everyone’s pretty on edge, and I guess that’s going to be like that now for another year and a half,” she told MM.
Although Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue have yet to confirm the cause of the blaze, it is believed to have been the result of sunlight being magnified through glass onto the dry wood, which set the balcony alight.
“That’s the closest call you could have got, literally metres away from our building,” said Fran.
“There’s nothing stopping that from happening in the other buildings on the same side of the road. And that’s so worrying because this sort of weather is carrying on and every day in the press you see another fire. And we’re getting no response back at all from anyone.
“What is going to have to happen for someone to actually step up?” she said.
Rebekah Turner, who works for Christian Aid in fundraising and campaigning, and also lives in Cypress Place said: “It’s just really scary and shows you how easily it can happen. The fire drove home that it’s a reality and was a real reminder that we’re living in an unsafe building.
“The fact that we’re living in an unsafe building is the bottom line. And there’s just no sense of urgency from either the owner or the developer. Even after the fire there was no sense of ‘right, actually, we need to get this sorted.’ Not a good situation,” she said.
Danielle Williamson, who rents out her flat in Vallea Court, spoke of the moral implications of having tenants stay in a building which is potentially dangerous.
“If the fire service says it’s okay for people to live there then that’s their call, but I certainly don’t feel comfortable,” she said.
“Makes you think: ‘my god, what if something happened?’ I would feel like that was blood on my hands.”
Danielle, a secondary school Spanish teacher, was set to sell her apartment but the deal fell through when the notice came about the cladding, and how much it was going to cost leaseholders.
And that is the other thing causing “constant worry” for the residents – the cost of removing this highly flammable material from their buildings.
Early estimates have calculated that it will cost every apartment £10,000 each, but with nothing properly costed yet it is widely believed that figure will rise dramatically, with no indication as to whether this would be one lump sum or instalments.
“I don’t know how anyone could afford such a bill,” said Rebekah Turner.
“It just seems very unfair that you buy somewhere in good faith and then find that the people who built the place, to reduce cost, chose this material that we’ve now got to pay for.”
“It’s a constant worry, I’ve no idea where that money is going to come from,” she told MM.
Leaseholders were taken to a tribunal by building freeholder Pemberstone on June 13, to ascertain who is liable for the costs as per the lease.
The result of the tribunal has not come back yet, however, two weeks ago residents were sent an invoice by Pemberstone for service charges which included costs related to the cladding and were given ten days to pay. On top of that, the cost of removing the cladding from the car park has been paid using the building’s reserve fund – again meaning residents are footing the bill.
For Danielle, the recent invoice amounted to £430 on top of the standard quarterly service charge which came to £458.
“[To charge for the cladding] is really immoral because the tribunal has not come back with a ruling yet, but I’m too scared not to pay because they have powers over you if you don’t. It’s like a rock and a hard place,” she told MM.
Fran said: “There’s a lot of confusion because of the tribunal being out. We’re normal people not legal experts, we’ve got full time jobs. Do we pay them? Can we not pay them? It’s getting really stressful for everybody.”
A spokesperson for Pemberstone said that no attempt will be made to collect the money for the cladding-related invoice until after the tribunal results come back and that money taken from the reserve fund will be paid back if the tribunal rules in residents’ favour, and said that residents have been told this.
Green Quarter residents roundly refute this, saying Pemberstone are now backtracking after originally requesting payment within ten days.
MM has seen evidence that the notice given to residents about invoice payments not being pursued until after the tribunal result was issued a full week after the initial invoices were sent out along with the ten-day deadline for payment.
In addition, leaseholders face increased mortgage rates as a result of the buildings being classed as unsafe until the cladding is removed.
The Green Quarter apartments were part of the area’s redevelopment, advertised as cheaper than renting flats in an up-and-coming area, and therefore attracted everyday sort of people.
People buying their first homes, putting savings and pensions into it because the wisdom was that property was worth more than money in the bank.
Residents crowdfunded over £11,000 for legal advice before the June 13 tribunal, but even that was not enough to afford legal representation.
With all the other costs being thrown at them, they are doubtful how feasible continuing a lengthy legal battle with Pemberstone and Lendlease will be.
“Unless we get it pro-bono, we don’t know if [a legal case] will be worth chasing,” said Fran.
“My view is it should be Lendlease [who pay] because they’re the ones who put the material on in the first place. I think it should be the developer,” said Rebekah.
“You read the amount of profit that the owners and developers are making a year and think why can’t they pay for it,” she said.
Fran told MM: “I know it’s complicated and there are so many parties involved, but I think leaseholders are the least liable for it. We’ve got the least access to funds.
“It’s just morally wrong. It’s making people almost lose their home.
“If you were buying a car, it would be whoever built that car that would be responsible for it. So, in terms of property, it was Lendlease who built it.
“Lendlease are doing a lot of work for the council. And it just seems wrong that Lendlease are getting away with ruining the lives of 342 leaseholders in Manchester, yet being awarded these contracts,” she said.
A spokesman for Lendlease declined to comment, and said Pemberstone have asked that all media inquiries be directed to them.
Following a meeting with tower block residents from throughout Greater Manchester on Thursday evening, Mayor Andy Burnham told Green Quarter residents he would speak to developer Lendlease on their behalf.
He also said he would look into getting other local government leaders to collectively write a letter to Westminster asking them to persuade the developers to foot the bill and speed up cladding replacements.
“We just need to try and get something agreed to while we’re riding this wave,” said Danielle.
“I just hope [the campaign] is not going to die a death.”
Image courtesy of Goolge StreetView, with thanks.