Media City cladding

A tower block resident in Salford’s MediaCityUK has been told he will have to pay £13,000 to improve fire safety in the building in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Paul Wilkinson, who shares an apartment with his partner at The Heart Blue building, is due to receive the bill to replace wooden decking on his balcony and other fire safety precautions, unless a risk assessment deems otherwise.

The move comes after years of uncertainly regarding cladding and dangerous materials on buildings in the United Kingdom following the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June 2017. Flames spread through flammable aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding on the outside of the building claiming 72 lives.

The government launched a fund to cover the cost of replacing ACM cladding but this does not cover work to upgrade balconies.

Peel Land and Property Group, which owns MediaCityUK, has started work to upgrade fire precautions on other buildings in the area. It expects Mr Wilkinson and more than100 other residents to contribute to the costs which will be part of the service charge with sums varying based on balcony size.

Wooden decking replacement

But Mr Wilkinson said the cost is too high.

He said: “Eleven thousand pounds to replace wooden decking and then a couple of thousand pounds for testing costs, would you believe it?

“There is a cost of £300,000 for fire tests that all residents have to contribute to as it can’t be accessed by government funding. The government’s safety funds should be covering all the costs.

“The building safety fund doesn’t cover wooden decking on the balconies. My frustrations, really, isn’t with Peel, it’s with the government funding of it because it astonishes me how they can change the building regulations to say that wooden decking now unsafe but they’re not going to cover it in the fund.

“If it was wooden cladding on the side of the building they would fund it, but because I’m walking on it, they’re not going to fund it – it’s that really that bugs me,” he added.

“You would not believe it’s going to cost me eleven grand to replace this wooden floor! I could honestly get a private contractor to come in, replace this wood for a non-flammable wood, for at least £1,000 in my opinion. It’s unbelievable that it’s going to cost that much money!”

The frustration lies with the government

Initially, the £11,000 was charged to remove the balcony entirely, but Mr Wilkinson says they’re now looking at potentially not removing the steel balcony and just replacing the wooden deck.

He added: “That £11,000 could be reduced because I don’t think it’s going to cost as much without replacing the balconies.

“This is the government’s fault for changing the building regulations and then not funding some of the work. I’m thankful to the government for paying it on the fund but they aren’t paying it all.

“I don’t want to lambast Peel too much, they’ve obviously got the funding and they’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes to access it.

“I’m just a little bit deterred that they’re not contributing to any of the costs,” he said.

Help from funding

“There’s a lot of bad news but there’s some potential good news as well if we can allocate some of the ACM funding [to remove it] and then there’s another pot of £1bn for the cladding”, Mr Wilkinson added.

“There’s also the talk of the £1bn from the government isn’t enough. I think people are saying it needs to be 10-times that for everyone to gain access to it.

“I’d love them [Peel] to pay some sort of a portion of it if we don’t get the funding.”

A spokesperson for Peel Media said: “Peel Media has instructed a fire engineer to undertake a risk assessment of the balconies to advise whether any materials require replacement. The Government has made it clear that these costs are not related to the remediation of unsafe cladding and are therefore not eligible under any Government funding.”

Mr Wilkinson referred to a group pushing for the removal of dangerous cladding called Manchester Cladiators.

Having originally supported Manchester buildings, they’ve gone nationwide with a 10-point plan given that 246 high-rise buildings still have ACM cladding in some capacity in the UK.

“Some of these [other people] are getting bills of £50k, £60k and £80k so it’s only hoped that they can access that funding otherwise it’s going to ruin a lot of people’s lives,” Mr Wilkinson continued.

“We’ve come off a little bit lightly if you like – because they’ve managed to get £3.2m funding from the government – which obviously saves my costs. Without doing the figures, I’d probably be looking at 50-odd-thousand-pounds without the funding.

“Although it’s unaffordable, in a way, getting that £13k [bill], it’s a bit of a relief,” he added.

“The wife and I have come here to semi-retire and that is a combined annual salary for us!”

Passing on the cost

“All you’ve heard from the government, from all the government ministers, these costs that I’ve incurred should not be passed on to leaseholders. That’s been their message for the last three years.

“That’s what Peel are doing, they’re passing the cost on in my opinion,” he said.

The fire risk from cladding

A high-rise tenant survey led by Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, showed 77% of residents are concerned about fire risk in their homes due to cladding.

Salford cladding balcony
Image credit: Jack Heale via Piktochart

Asked whether Mr Wilkinson was worried about the risk of fire, his response reflects the financial strain this charge is putting residents under.

“To be perfectly honest, that’s at the back of my mind,” he said. “I would put the financial impact more [important] than safety.

“Just about every high-rise in Manchester’s got wooden decking’s at the minute, I’m sure this is going to prove to be a financial burden for all the leaseholders.”

On second thought, Wilkinson adds: “Yes I am slightly but there’s a policy here where we’ve got a good fire alarm system in our building and we feel a bit safer because we’ve got high-rise sprinklers.

“We’ve had this hanging over now since Grenfell, all the testing and the requirements. We’ve had these figures bandied about for the last two or three years. It’s been a financial strain.”

The dates for the works are yet to be confirmed.

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