APPG, April 26
The chief executive of FirstPort welcomed more professionalism in the residential property management sector, especially when dealing with vitally important issues such as tower blocks with defective cladding.
Nigel Howell also told the APPG on April 26 how his company responded to the discovery of Grenfell cladding at Citiscape in Croydon, where last week Barratt decided to cover all the costs of cladding removal and fire marshals, even though it has no established liability and it built the site in compliance with regulations 17 years ago.
Mr Howell began by pointing out that there are 30,000 fires in dwellings in England every year and 25% of those are in apartments, “so there is nothing theoretical about what we’re talking about”.
FirstPort was immediately alert to the issues post-Grenfell and of its 3,800 buildings there were 111 high-rise buildings. Within those, 30 of them had some form of cladding.
Samples were sent to the Building Research Establishment “and it was found out that we have four with the wrong type of cladding. We did this within three weeks after Grenfell. So we moved very quickly to get on top of things.”
“Citiscape in Croydon was the first of those to come back as having the wrong type of cladding. I remember the day exactly and I remember the time exactly. It was pretty scary, being the chief executive of a company which has to look after the 95 families that live there.”
It immediately called in the London Fire Brigade, which inspected the building. Fire marshals were engage and cars no longer parked beside the building.
Firstport picked up the bill for the car parking and fire marshals, “as we are big enough and professional enough to be able to do that”.
FirstPort took the decision to appeal to the property tribunal as to liability to remove the cladding. It ruled on March 9 that both cladding removal and the fire watch were liable under the service charge.
LKP would point out that the freeholder of the site is the Tchenguiz Family Trust, based in the British Virgin Islands, and FirstPort’s management of the site is indefinite as it is embedded in a controversial tripartite lease arrangement.
Barratt took the decision to pay to remove the cladding as “they pride themselves on their customer service and quite a number of the residents – more perhaps than I would have thought – were original customers of Barratt back in 2001/2”.
“I understand from DHCLG that some buildings have not been tested for cladding and, if that is true, I would say that that seems to me to be the great unreported scandal of the post-Grenfell era At this length of time, if there are buildings where people have not being doing right action, that’s a very serious point.”
He added: “I do welcome the professionalisation of the property management sector. There are very low barriers to entry and some of the smaller end of the market, or less professional end, will not be performing to the same standards period. So I’m absolutely delighted that standards will be improved going forward.
“But I do wonder that while we are increasing the powers and rights of residents on-site and that is a good thing, there is an increase in the obligations on the fire safety. And the need for some quite technical understanding and professionalism on how to manage complex buildings. I do wonder whether we’re going to make some difficulties for residents in these circumstance.
“I do wonder whether we can find the very best of leasehold and the very best of commonhold to come up with some sort of tenure that’s fit for a modern world.”