It's not our problem, says builder of flats hit with fire-safety issues

Residents at the Read Mills development hope to get the results of a fire safety survey on their fla

Fire safety problems were found last year at the Read Mills development but the developer says they have no liability for them - Credit: Archant

The developer of Norwich riverside flats where fire safety problems were uncovered has denied there are any issues and says it has no liability for them. 

The Read Mills development on King Street was built in 2007 by developer PJ Livesey. At the time they were signed off by an inspector as meeting building regulations. 

But in March last year the five apartment blocks, in which scores of people live, were surveyed at a cost of £60,000 to find out what work needed doing to meet the latest fire safety guidance, brought in after the Grenfell tragedy. 

The inspector came up with a list of issues, including with the cladding, insulation and balconies. 

But he also found that when built in 2007 the apartments did not meet building regulations from the time to prevent the spread of fire; those regulations had been in place since 2000. 

The survey's findings left leaseholders angry and they wrote to Manchester-based PJ Livesey saying they were filled with “fear and concern”. The company said it would examine the survey and respond “as soon as possible”. 

Ten months later, the developer has now responded. They disputed the survey's findings and said they had no liability for any issues.

The Read Mills development where residents have paid £60,000 for a fire survey

The Read Mills development where residents have paid £60,000 for a fire survey - Credit: Denise Bradley

In an email to the buildings' managing agent, Watsons, they wrote: “Members of the development team which worked on Read Mills remain with the company and can recall in detail the measures that were required in order to comply with building regulations at the time and the steps that were taken to ensure compliance. 

"It is well established that no liability attaches to a developer which complied with the building regulations in force at the time."

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They added that they had not been "provided with evidence" that the work stated in the fire survey needed to be done or was the result of a failure to comply with building regulations at the time of the development.

Resident and chairman of the Read Mills Management Company,  Tony Millings, called on PJ Livesey to visit the building as soon as possible and questioned how they had arrived at such a different conclusion to the fire surveys.

He has also written to Norwich South MP Clive Lewis and secretary of state for Levelling Up Michael Gove.  

He wrote: “Our development is now suffering the consequences of an unhelpful developer which is contributing to the ongoing distress of leaseholders who have already incurred substantial costs for surveys and insurance premium increases.” 

Read Mills development

The Read Mills development - Credit: Archant

In the survey last March, the inspector found cladding called ACM which was also used on Grenfell.

External walls are also missing cavity barriers which stop the spread of fire.  

They also found a cladding panel which did not meet fire safety regulations and they said timber decking on balconies needed removal. 

A fire risk assessment was also carried out on the buildings in December which found there was a “substantial” fire risk rating at Albion Mill, Cannon Wharf and The Malt House. 

Until the fire issues are resolved, residents are unable to sell or re-mortgage their properties, leaving them in limbo.

However, PJ Livesey's response is likely to delay any resolution further as it is still unclear who will pay for the work needed.

A spokesperson for PJ Livesey said: “We have shared the conclusions of our own fire safety officer with the leaseholders at Read Mills and continue to liaise with them and respond to their comments.

“We are a conscientious, family owned developer and we are co-operating fully with this ongoing situation and will be seeking further guidance and clarification from fire engineers to try and resolve the best way forward.” 

Mr Millings added: "Watsons have been extremely supportive in helping to take things forward."

What is happening with the cladding crisis? 

In January the secretary of state for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, called on developers to pay for the estimated £4 billion repair bill.

He has given them until March to come up with a solution or warned he would draft his own solution into law.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove giving his keynote address during the Conservative Party Conferen

Communities Secretary Michael Gove giving his keynote address during the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Picture date: Monday October 4, 2021. - Credit: PA

However, this only covers cladding on buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres high.

Flat-owners have found that cladding is only one part of the repair bill and in the case of the Read Mills development, PJ Livesey claimed that all the buildings, apart from one, were above 18m so any plans Mr Gove has to make them pay would not apply.

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