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We can’t afford £100,000 each to make our buildings safe

Leaseholders at Manchester’s Salford Quays could be hit with £100,000 bills each to remediate their buildings. Facing bankruptcy, the residents tell us their story

This is a guest post by Jake Brammer. All views expressed are Jake’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

I write this on day 10 of the second COVID-19 lockdown in England with the pandemic affecting mental as well as physical health across the UK.

For the residents of Millennium Point and Millennium Tower (Salford Quays), we have the added pressure of living through lockdown in a building we’ve been told could have fire-safety defects.

Those defects could potentially cost more than £100,000 per leaseholder to remediate.

Living in a building that could be considered a fire-risk keeps me up at night. The prospect of facing a £100,000 bill keeps me up at night too.

The threat of bankruptcy looms and, as I work in financial services, I would lose my job, my career and my home. My life will remain in lockdown after 2 December. It’s the same for the 200 flats making up Millennium Point and Tower.

Defective fire cavity systems

At the beginning of October, we were advised that we will likely need to fix the defective fire-cavity stopping system. Essentially, the fire-breaks/compartmentation had been found to be “undersized, poorly/incorrectly installed and generally in poor condition”.

To fix those defects, our compliant cladding and insulation (yes, you read that right – our cladding is compliant!) will need to be ripped off and either replaced or stored and then put back onto the building when the wider issues are remediated.

That’s why our potential costs are astronomical. And it gets worse – we’re told that neither building was fully compliant with regulations at the time of construction. You might think at this point we’d be able to claim under warranty but, as they were built in 2007, we may not have any recourse.

The original contractors and developers also all went into liquidation many years ago.

When buying our properties we all had surveys undertaken as part of the sales process. As surveys are not intrusive (going into the exterior walls of buildings), none of these issues ever came to light.

We would never have purchased these flats if a survey flagged what we now know.

Impact on our residents

Janet and Elwyn purchased their property so they could live next to the Lowry Theatre and have access to the Manchester nightlife they love so much. Elwyn cares for Janet and had to retire to do so.

All Janet and Elwyn wanted to do was live near the things that bring them so much joy – how can any leaseholders, especially retired ones, possibly deal with these bills? The defects that plague our buildings make them unsellable.

Adi, an NHS key worker, put his property on the market the day before we received the news. He spends his days on the NHS frontline, in the middle of a global pandemic, while facing financial ruin and the prospect of losing his home.

We have a number of key workers living here: it can’t be right that those people who have kept the country cared for this year could be facing homelessness.

‘The money just isn’t there’

The management company for Millennium Point and Tower applied for the Building Safety Fund on the day it opened. Given that our cladding is compliant, we don’t know if we qualify – the wording is so vague that we can’t even guess if we’re eligible.

Application is also complicated for us as there aren’t enough funds in reserve to pay for the works, so we won’t meet the 31 December 2020 costed tender deadline. The money just isn’t there.

Even if a miracle were to happen and we are eligible for funding, it may not be for the full amount and leaseholders would still be facing bankruptcy for any costs not paid.

No matter which way you look, the bills leaseholders could be facing across the country are crippling. We can’t keep going to bed at night not knowing if we’ll have a future.

We need help, we need a solution, we need to end this scandal.

This was a guest post by Jake Brammer. All views expressed were Jake’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.