Tower Owners Face Legal Action Over Cladding Remediation Failure
The owners of a tower block in Stevenage are the first to face legal action from the government for failure to remediate the building's fire safety defects. The 15-storey Vista Tower is awaiting a £15 million remediation project to remove and replace its combustible cladding and flammable insulation. The government has confirmed that owners Grey GR has 21 days to commit to remediating the tower before they will apply to the courts to begin legal action.
The action is the first by the Recovery Strategy Unit, part of the Department for Levelling Up, Homes and Communities (DLUHC). Housing secretary Michael Gove said in June that the unit would pursue freeholders that have billed leaseholders for fixing historic fire safety defects, and would take enforcement action. Grey GR responded by issuing a statement that says that the notice it had received from DLUHC had factual inaccuracies, without specifying exactly what they were, and that the company was seeking legal advice.
Grey GR is owned by Railpen, a company that administers several pension schemes, including the Railways Pension Scheme, and manages around £37bn in assets. According to DLUHC, the housing secretary at the time, Simon Clarke was considering applying for a remediation contribution order against Railpen and its associated firm Railtrust which would require them to financially contribute to the remediation costs.
Leaseholders of Vista Tower have been facing service charge bills of up to £208,000 and have been trapped, unable to sell their flats since unsafe cladding was identified on the building more than two years ago. Vista Tower was registered with the Building Safety Fund in 2020, but the funding agreement is yet to be signed, meaning the government cannot release any money.
Mr Clarke said: “The lives of over 100 people living in Vista Tower have been put on hold for over two years while they wait for Grey GR to remediate unsafe cladding – enough is enough. “This legal action should act as a warning to the rest of the industry’s outliers – big and small,” he added. “Step up, follow your peers and make safe the buildings you own or legal action will be taken against you.”
DLUHC said there are at least 23 other buildings registered with the fund that has been “unable to progress due to unnecessary delays”. The department has said it was examining these cases closely and considering the next steps. Leaseholders in buildings with safety defects can now apply for a remedial order and are encouraged by the government to do so if the owner of their building is failing in their responsibilities.
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