Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

Author Bio ▼

James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
October 10, 2022

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The Video Surveillance Report 2022

Building safety

Government takes first legal action against freeholder for failure to remediate fire safety defects on Stevenage tower block

In a move said to ‘reaffirm the government’s commitment’ to protecting tenants, the Department for Levelling Up has begun legal action against a freeholder for failing to act on fire safety defects at a 15-storey tower block in Stevenage.

This is the first time a freeholder has faced legal action, brought by the newly created Recovery Strategy Unit. Working closely with enforcement authorities, the Unit has been set up to identify and pursue firms who repeatedly refuse to fix buildings.

Legal action has started against Grey GR Limited Partnership (owned by RailPen), which is the freeholder for Vista Tower in Stevenage. The firm has been given 21 days to commit to remediate the tower’s fire safety defects or an application will be made to the courts.

This action follows two years of delays for more than 100 residents living in the tower. Leaseholders of Vista Tower have been handed bills and been left unable to sell, despite unsafe cladding being identified on the building over two years ago.

While the building registered with the Building Safety Fund in 2020, the funding agreement is yet to be signed, meaning the government has been unable to release the money. There are said to be at least 23 other buildings registered with the Building Safety Fund that have been unable to progress due to unnecessary delays. The department is examining these cases closely and considering next steps.

The Building Safety Fund reopened in July, with £4.5 billion made available to applicants from residential buildings that are 18m or above as part of the wider Building Safety Programme.

“Lives have been put on hold”

Levelling Up Secretary of State, Simon Clarke said: “The lives of over 100 people living in Vista Tower have been put on hold for over two years whilst they wait for Grey GR to remediate unsafe cladding.  Enough is enough.

simon clarke

Simon Clarke, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Image source: gov.uk

“This legal action should act as a warning to the rest of industry’s outliers – big and small. Step up, follow your peers and make safe the buildings you own or legal action will be taken against you.”

Sophie Bichener, leaseholder in Vista Towers said: “We thank the Government for helping us, and leaseholders across the country – Vista Tower residents simply want to live in safe and secure homes.

“This action is a step in the right direction for the innocent leaseholders still desperately pleading with their building owners to take responsibility.

“Now the leaseholder protections are in force – it should serve as a warning to those entities still playing games and doing all they can to dodge their legal obligations.”

The Secretary of State will also consider issuing an application for a Remediation Contribution Order against other entities associated with Grey GR including Railways Pension Trustee Company Limited (RailPen) and Railtrust Holdings Limited (Railtrust), requiring them to financially contribute to the remediation costs.

Freeholders aren’t the only stakeholders in the remediation process to be put under recent scrutiny. In August, the High Court in London handed down a landmark judgement that found a contractor liable to pay damages towards the cost of removing cladding it had fitted that was deemed to be unsafe.

Leaseholders are now able to apply for a remedial order and are encouraged to do so if the owner of their building is failing in their responsibilities. More guidance can be found here.


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