Residents of Greenwich’s New Capital Quay development, which is covered in flammable cladding, have asked for more help from Greenwich Council while their freeholder and insurer squabble over how the dangerous material is replaced.
The 12-block development, next to Deptford Creek, features a similar material to that used at Grenfell Tower, north Kensington, where 71 people died in a fire in June 2017. There are 2,000 people living at New Capital Quay, with a third of homes occupied by tenants of social landlord Hyde Housing.
Developer Galliard, which owns the blocks through a subsidiary, is in dispute with the insurer, the National House Building Council (NHBC) – which inspected the work when it was completed – over who pays to replace the cladding. In the meantime, a “waking watch” is in place, where fire wardens make round-the-clock inspections.
While local MP Matt Pennycook has raised the issue several times in Parliament, residents want Greenwich Council to do more to help them, and led a deputation to last Wednesday’s council meeting – postponed after last month’s snow – to address councillors.
However, council leader Denise Hyland denied the council had not listened to residents. She said that while the residents could depend on “100% support” from Greenwich, it would take its lead from the fire brigade on whether the blocks needed to be evacuated.
New Capital Quay resident Annabel Parsons told the council: “Thousands of residents are living in fear. Parents are afraid when they put their kids to bed at night that they don’t know how to protect them if a fire breaks out.
“One neighbour in her eighties fully expects to die in her flat. She has mobility issues and there are no measures in place to protect her.” There were also no arrangements in place for disabled residents on site, Parsons added.
“It is incredible that in the nine months after Grenfell, there has been no effective actions to out this situation right, and so many residents are at risk.
“I’m sorry to say we have also struggled to get information from Greenwich Council. Where other councils have got involved, Greenwich has not yet communicated with residents, nor offered direct support. We have submitted Freedom of Information requests in order to ascertain your position on these critical issues. And at times, we have felt we are fighting alone.”
‘We are being met with silence and resistance’
Fellow resident Charlotte Bull said: “Residents are doing all they can to obtain reassurance, but we are being met with a wall of silence and resistance from all the key players.”
Bull called for the council to communicate with residents and carry out its own inspections, ensuring fire safety instructions were sent to residents and calling for the cladding to be removed immediately.
“We want the council to work with us, and there is a lot the council could and should do.”
“We are not the enemy, we are Greenwich residents, and we’re fighting to prevent another Grenfell,” Parsons continued.
“You are a Labour council, with a long and proud history, but you’re presiding over one of the worst-affected boroughs in the country. We need Greenwich Council to show leadership and stand with us. Fire is a great equaliser, so please help us prevent a disaster,” she said to applause from the public gallery.
But Hyland, who is due to meet residents on Wednesday, struck a defensive tone in her response: “All of us have immense sympathy with New Capital Quay in particular, but with the 300-odd buildings in this country, half of which are council buildings affected by a similar cladding to that used in Grenfell Tower.
“Can I place on record that I have to dispute a statement that was made about the Royal Borough of Greenwich not responding – I’ve personally been watching the email traffic that has come in from New Capital Quay, I know that we’ve got ward councillors that are involved and have given a lot of support, actually, to the residents.
“Replies and responses have gone from this council to residents.
“I have to say our sympathy is completely with the residents: where they live has been blighted.
“It’s very easy for me to stand here tonight and agree with you, that cladding must be replaced, and it must be replaced sooner rather than later. Families who have another child on the way, they can’t sell, and what should have been an asset, an investment is now a millstone around their necks.
“100% support from this council and from me personally. Total support for the residents.”
‘Government has to bear responsibility’
Hyland added: “Our issue is that it is the London Fire Brigade that is the lead agency. The fire brigade’s powers of enforcement are swifter, more draconian, and more immediate than the local authority, which very often relies on magistrates courts and is a rather prolonged process.”
But the council leader also repeated the residents’ concerns back at them.
“The Government has to bear some responsbility for what’s gone on,” she said. “They cannot wash their hands of this. They are the people who have not updated the building regulations more recently; that cladding was assessed by the NHBC because the government privatised building regulations.”
“Something’s not right here is it? If the cladding is so flammable, why was it allowed to be marketed in this country and why did it pass under current building regulations. If I was the secretary of state, I’d work with the Treasury to replace this cladding and do it now, and then fight it out in the courts over who needs to pay.”
But she also seemed to show sympathy for the developer, after raising the issue of a block in Croydon where a tribunal found leaseholders had to pay for cladding to be removed rather than the freeholder.
“The government could get this cladding changed, and could if they needed to, put a charge on their properties so when the leaseholder sells, so it’d be at that point that they have to pay the £30,000 or £40,000 or whatever it works out to be.
“Personally, I’d rather the leaseholders didn’t have to pay a penny. That would be a happy situation. But when you have a developer saying ‘hang on, I built this to spec, the government have privatised building regulations, and the NHBC came along and passed it, and now it’s failed laboratory tests.’
“Well, where does that leave the leaseholders? What an awful situation they are being left in, to carry the can for the mistakes of others.”
Quizzed by Labour councillor
In a rare intervention from a Labour councillor, Greenwich West councillor Mehboob Khan – himself a former council leader, of Kirklees in West Yorkshire – raised an allegation that the cladding used at New Capital Quay had been withdrawn by its manufacturer in 2013 after a fire in France, and said the council “needed to quantify” whether it had been used at New Capital Quay.
But Hyland said: “You’re quite right to be circumspect over the cladding. This is a point I raised with the director very early on – is the cladding that is actually on the building the same as in the paperwork? And I think we need to be very careful about the timeline.
“You could think it’s alleged negligence or manslaughter, but on the other hand it might have crossed as two emails can, where cladding is withdrawn but at the same time someone has bought a job lot. But I have no reason to believe at this time to believe the developer did not act in good faith.”
Hyland added there was also an issue with the cladding at one of the blocks at Greenwich Square, the development on the site of the former Greenwich District Hospital. “We need the little man or woman to be looked after by the government to have the value of their homes reinstated by the replacement of the cladding.”
However, she did not answer another question posed by Khan, who asked her to outline just what pressure had been placed on Galliard and NHBC to resolve the dispute.