By Harry Scoffin
Adriatic Land, whose ownership is hidden but which proclaims itself a long-term custodian of apartment buildings, came under scrutiny from BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme on June 11.
Listeners heard that leaseholders at Barking Riverside, in east London, have returned to combustible homes at the development.
One year has passed since the east London blaze, which saw 15 fire engines and around 100 firefighters descend upon Samuel Garside House, a newly built six storey block of flats.
The slow pace of remediation has led to Barking fire leaseholders to urge Adriatic Land to leave the site: at a meeting the day before the BBC Radio 4 programme aired, owners demanded that they “forfeit their freehold”.
“Potential dangers have been reported in a risk inspection months before the fire,” said presenter Winifred Robinson.
Leaseholders told reporter Melanie Abbott of their frustration with the freeholder and its appointed managing agent.
They allege that Adriatic Land and Homeground – the management arm of the £2 billion Long Harbour fund – have not expedited removal of all flammable timber wood cladding from the block.
“You can’t actually feel completely safe. The timber is still there, on our side at least,” said one leaseholder.
“I was bit worried, to be fair, with that beautiful weather [on June 9 last year]. I was thinking people were going to do stupid things like having a barbecue or maybe some kids play[ing] with fire. You never know what could happen. I was quite stressed,” said another.
Melanie Abbott asked the leaseholders how they felt when they learnt that a January 2019 fire report had identified unsafe “cladding on the balconies … [and] nothing had happened”.
“We were furious. We’ve got dangerous materials as part of the building. Knowing that the fire assessment tells you to do something and you just ignore it. This is purely outrageous. We had to go to therapy to cope with this,” said an unidentified male leaseholder.
“It could have killed someone. We were so lucky that no one died,” said a female lessee.
Another resident, who gave her name simply as Ruby, said “I don’t feel safe at all”.
She stated that while the freeholder has removed the timber from the front of the building, “I live at the back and I am on the third floor in block C and the cladding’s still there”.
Ruby has not yet returned to her apartment, but said “I am so scared of actually going back because I feel I would be living in a matchbox”.
She added that the “timber acts like an accelerant” in a fire.
In a statement to the programme, managing agent Homeground, which works on behalf of the freeholder, claimed that “the delays are partly because residents wanted specifications, including colours, changed and partly due to lockdown”.
The statement continued:
“Our focus has been on ensuring the remaining works are completed and the rest of the residents can move home safely. All the displaced residents have been protected from any cost resulting from the fire, including temporary accommodation, and we are working to expedite the works.”
The programme also heard from ARMA’s chief executive Nigel Glen, who spoke of a nationwide shortage in fire experts, an issue he said was being compounded by a lack of shortage of professional indemnity insurance allowing professionals to carry out the inspections, which has provided “a bottleneck”.
He added that cladding problems are likely to continue for another “five, maybe 10” years, although “it is not very nice to say that to people”.
Asked about leaseholders unable to sell or remortgage their flats, Dr Glen said he had gone through the UK Action Cladding Group (UKCAG) report on the mental health impact of the post-Grenfell building safety crisis, which was “harrowing reading”.
He urged people to read it.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick declined to appear on the programme, suggested presenter Winifred Robinson. She said they hope he will come on You and Yours in the future.
Instead, MHCLG sent a statement saying they recognise residents’ concerns, adding that they will be bringing forward Building Safety Bill, incorporating Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations, which will amount to “the biggest change to building safety in a generation.”
Ms Robinson said wryly: “Well, I’m sure we’ll be reporting on that.”