How were city flats with fire safety problems signed off as safe?

Read Mills development

The Read Mills development - Credit: Archant

Apartments where residents could face huge bills for fire safety work did not meet building regulations when they were constructed - despite being signed off by inspectors.

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

But in March 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 aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017. PHOTO: PA

The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017. PHOTO: PA - Credit: PA

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

He also found that when built in 2007 the apartments did not meet building regulations, which had been in place since 2000 to prevent the spread of fire.

Documents sent to this newspaper show the plans were signed off in 2006 on behalf of Norwich City Council building control by a company called CNC. They signed another document stating it had been built in accordance with building regulations in 2007. 

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A spokesman for CNC said the responsibility for complying with building regulations lay with the builder and checking fire safety was not their responsibility. 

They said: "The inspections which building control bodies undertake should not be confused with full site supervision." They said the documents they issued were "not a guarantee" that the building work had actually been carried out.

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The survey's findings has left leaseholders angry and they say the developer PJ Livesey should foot the bill for all the work.

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: Archant

Tom Skinner, who lives at New Ferry Yard, said: "It has been a rollercoaster of emotions. The worst thing is the fear of the unknown. We still don't know who will pay for it or how much it could cost.

"Finding out the building was not complaint with regulations from the time came as a real surprise." 

The inspectors found Mr Skinner's block was missing barriers which stop the spread of fire called cavity barriers, meaning it did not meet building regulations currently or when it was constructed. 

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

Riverside flats in King Street, Norwich; New Ferry Yard, New Half Moon Yard, and the Malt House, tar

Residents at the Read Mills development hope to get the results of a fire safety survey on their flats in the next few weeks - Credit: Archant

In a letter to PJ Livesey, leaseholders at another one of the blocks, Albion Mill, wrote: “We are now at a complete loss and filled with considerable fear and concern.

"We are being told that we are now living in a substandard development with flawed past controls and inspections, poor past building standards with potentially serious safety concerns for everyone who lives here.”

At Albion Mill the inspector found cladding called ACM which was also used on Grenfell. External walls were also missing cavity barriers.

A spokesperson from PJ Livesey said it had commissioned its own independent fire engineer to examine the findings of the survey.

“We recognise the urgency and are pushing for this to be completed as soon as possible," they said. "Once received we will consider the contents before reverting back to the management company.”

At the tallest block in the development, Cannon Wharf, the external walls were again found to be not compliant with building regulations.

In two parts of the building, flammable insulation was exposed, while around balconies fire barriers were not installed properly. The survey said timber needed replacing, render needed repairs and cavity barriers had to be installed. 

Norwich Residential Management (NRM), which manages the development, said it had passed the survey to PJ Livesey, the building’s owner and CNC.

On funding the work recommended by the report, it said Cannon Wharf was over 18 metres meaning it can apply for government cash to remove cladding. 

Buildings below 18m can also apply for a government finance scheme, but that would mean the leaseholders effectively borrow for the cost of repairs, with repayments capped at £50 a month.

A spokesman for NRM said: “We are awaiting further guidance from the government regarding funding before looking to work with the leaseholders on a road map to resolve issues.”

Across the country, leaseholders in flats are facing huge bills for surveys and repair work post-Grenfell.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this month stating that the fire safety scandal was causing “crippling debt and serious mental health impacts” for leaseholders.

MP for Norwich (South) Clive Lewis at the Fridays for Future climate protest on the steps of city ha

MP for Norwich South Clive Lewis - Credit: Archant

He called for a deadline by which all building safety defects had to be removed and said leaseholders should not pay for the cost of repairs. 

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