Jack’s Story (an NHS Doctor)

Block Name: The Nile

Block Location: Deansgate, Manchester

Block Stats: 138 Flats

Block Issue: Zinc cladding without horizontal fire breaks, despite the building being over 18m. Also requirement for widespread improvements to pipe and cable penetration firestopping

My Personal Story

My wife and I bought a flat in the river city complex in Central Manchester as our first rung on the housing ladder. About a third of the buildings are covered in zinc cladding. I am a doctor in the NHS, and in early 2018 I had interviews for my registrar training and was allocated to the South Coast. Our flat was duly put on the market, and in the process of being sold when the management company first made us aware of the potential fire safety issues. This caused the sale to fall through in August 2018 and forced us into the position of unwilling landlords – not moving south was not a feasible option. At that time, we were staying in a friend of a friend’s spare room, expecting to be able to buy but suddenly faced the uncertainty of renting for a prolonged period. Fortunately, my mother was willing to lend us a deposit so that we could actually have a home and set roots. The management company for the Manchester flat, had proposed some initial works that were compliant with the fire safety recommendations. We paid the £900 for these and were of the understanding that this would draw a line under the issue and were in the progress of processing a sale last summer (2019). However, the government than released further guidance last August which caused that sale to fall through too! We are currently still waiting for certainty of guidance. I have been told that the anticipated costs for the first round of testing to comply with the latest guidance would be 30-40k in total. I am left renting out the flat and losing money as the income doesn’t cover the costs (plus the extra tax I have to pay on that income!). My mortgage provider is insisting I change to a buy-to-let mortgage with a 2k product fee, and limited options to change provider in the current circumstances, and I am likely going to lose the £11k in stamp duty I had to pay when buying down south (as it counts as a second home) as I see the prospect of selling the Manchester flat within the 3 year time frame increasingly unlikely. And that is before we consider if the leaseholders are going to end up paying more too. I am well aware that my situation is not as stark or grim as many, however the unforced uncertainty and constant financial worries are certainly a psychological drain and never far from my thoughts. It certainly impacts on our decision about starting a family as we have such financial uncertainty. It is especially frustrating when the NHS recruitment structure can enforce moving regions on you and there isn’t much you can do about it!

Julie’s Story

Imperial Point
Some of the Residents

Block Name: Imperial Point

Block Location: Media City, Salford Quays

Block Stats: 116 Flats

My Personal Story

My name is Julie Taylor and I am co-ordinating the campaign for Imperial Point leaseholders who have been informed the costs to replace insulation on our building will be passed down to leaseholders by the Landlord (Peel L&P). We have established a cladding task force consisting of 6 members with £1000 in funding from residents and we are working on a proactive media campaign to put pressure on the Landlord (Peel Holdings – L&P), the developer (Orbital) and the builders (Lease Lend) to pay for the remedial works as we bought our properties in good faith.

Peel Holdings and Emerson Service Management Company withheld the information from residents regarding the non-complaint cladding for over 16 months after they became aware of the situation. The cost estimate at the moment for the remedial cladding work is anything from £1.0 to 1.5 million to rectify the situation based on works assessed on similar buildings. The Water Gardens development is also planned to extend the commercial aspect of the Lowry Mall into more bars and restaurants. Ironic seeing this proposed development that is attached to Imperial Point will increase the footfall of the general public into building area that poses a fire risk.

We also had a near miss with a fire incident on the 4th floor of the building that could have been so much worse if residents had not acted quickly to extinguish the flames. The photo below is from the resident on the 3rd floor balcony below that raised the alarm.

I bought my first apartment in Imperial Point off plan in 2002 and bought a second apartment in 2012 for my parents to retire in. I am now 57 years of age and planned to retire at 60yrs, but this will now have to be put on hold if I have to pay for the cladding insulation to be replaced on our building. My Father (Derek Taylor – aged 84yrs) is having treatment for cancer and the additional weight of the financial stress is impacting greatly on his health. My parents came to Imperial Point to have a stress free life with easy apartment living (low maintenance) to find that they are now facing escalating service charge costs that will eat into their lifetime savings and fear that they live in a building that poses a fire risk. Meanwhile Peel Holdings, Orbital Developers and Lease Lend are making millions in profit each year but pass the coat down to leaseholders …. this is so unjust.

My neighbours are experiencing the same stress for different reasons……

Dr Natalie Cureton, has been offered her dream job with Cancer Research but is unable to relocate to the base herself in the South of England because her property now has zero value.

Mr and Mrs Michael and Meryl Parker – who shortly after retiring in 2000 took the momentous decision to move from the south coast to be near his family in the Northwest. Having only their pension income to rely on for the rest of their lives the financial advice they were given was to ensure they had plenty of equity in their chosen apartment. They were delighted with the plans for residing on the Quays in Imperial Point having put their faith in the prestigious marketing brochures selling the retirement lifestyle. Everything has been as good as it could be with the arrival of Media City, the facilities in walking distance and the transport links on the doorstep, with the exception of one major issue. They have now been told that Imperial Point has zero value and that lease holders have to pay for the developers and builders mistakes.  Michael and Meryl are now having sleepless nights about living in dangerous building, struggling to finance care costs for Meryl. They are dismayed that as the law stands their equity is at risk to offset much need care costs having worked all their lives to provide for their retirement. They are amazed the Landlord, developer and builder who are in business and making substantial profits are able to duck their moral responsibility to pay for the cladding remedial works.

Ian and Mariam Digger, who are newlyweds, working professionals who have suffered health scares recently and planned to take a well-earned earned gap year to travel the world and recuperate. They have worked very hard to realise their dream and have saved to do this. They have now had to put their travel dreams on hold due to the financial uncertainty they face to replace the non-complaint cladding insulation.

Mr Pedram and Mrs Solmaz Rohani – who have relocated from Iran to Imperial Point would love to have a baby but have to put their family plan on hold due to the financial uncertainty they face to replace the non-complaint cladding on the building. Their plans for a family have now been put on hold due to the circumstances they find themselves living in a building that is a fire risk and requires cladding replacement. They feel trapped as their property now has zero value, and the money they have saved to bring a baby into the world and saved to provide for its care and future education is being diverted to pay for the replacement of cladding that is being passed down to them by financially buoyant landlord, developer and builder who are worth billions. In addition, the government appears to be taking little action to represent leaseholders from this position which is hard to swallow having chosen the UK as their preferred country of residence.

Ms Kym Dawson – I moved to Imperial Point 10 years ago when I came back to the UK from Germany to take up a position locally. I have thoroughly enjoyed living here and have greatly valued living in a dynamic and forward-looking area. However, circumstances change, and I wish to move my life back to the Continent and work abroad once again. The uncertain times thrust upon us by Brexit mean that I am keen to relocate whilst it is still relatively straightforward to do so but the inertia on the cladding situation – brought about by information being slow to drip down from the managing agents and indecision from the government – mean that I am unable to sell and am reluctant to start making plans to move abroad whilst the cladding situation remains unresolved. 

Leanne’s Story

Waking Watch in Action

Block Location: New Islington, Manchester

Block Stats: 60 flats, 6 floors

Block Issue: Timber Cladding, Timber Balcony, Ineffective Fire Alarm, Waking Watch

My Personal Story

I set myself a goal at age 25 that I would own my own property by 30. For 4 years I channelled all my energies into saving enough for a deposit to buy myself a city centre apartment. I spent months trying to find a place that I loved, and I instantly fell in love with Albion Works. After months of trying I finally got my offer accepted and I was unbelievably proud. 

I spent the first year making the flat my home and making some great memories in it. It was a dream come true! 

I remember watching the tragedy of Grenfell unfold thinking I cannot believe that in this day and age we are allowing fellow human beings to live in properties that are so highly unsafe. I thanked the lord that my property, which at the time felt like a safe haven, was keeping me safe. 

Fast forward to 2019 when we received an email about the fire safety issues in my building. At first the communication around the issue was so full of technical jargon that nobody really understood exactly what was going on. Leaving myself and my neighbours confused and anxious for what was to come. 

A year later the building has still not been touched and investigations are still going on. We are constantly being drip fed additional issues in the building that have now been deemed unsafe; Cladding, wooden walkways, balconies, compartmentation, and the fire alarms. A waking watch has now been implemented in our building. We are having to watch men walk around our buildings carrying air horns in case of a fire. 

I feel sick every time I receive an email from RMG. I worry if it is going to be another issue to add to the list of safety concerns or a huge lifechanging bill. Not only are we living in fear that our entire building is unsafe, we are also living in fear of the increasing costs that are going to come our way. The waking watch alone is costing £10K a week. I have been so sensible with money my whole life, and now I am potentially facing a lifetime of debt. It’s a sickening thought.

At a time when we all just want to get out of this unsafe building, we are all trapped. Our properties are valued at £0 and are completely unsellable. We are prisoners in our own unsafe homes. This issue has consumed our lives for the last year and with the increasing list of safety issues and the looming bill it looks like its going to continue to do so. 

We are helpless without the government’s backing. How has it come to this? 

Natasha’s Story

Photograph: Joel Goodman / The Guardian

My partner and I were first time buyers when we bought this flat five years ago. We worked so hard to get here and were so happy. However, in December, we found out the fire alarm wasn’t loud enough to be heard in the flats – which is incompatible with the new “Get Out” policy in place post-Grenfell. Each week, our management company is charging our block over £6000 plus VAT, and another block over £4000 plus VAT, to put in place a “waking watch”. They patrol the corridors and outside with air horns in case of a fire. This is costing us over £400 a month – and we’ve just found out that it will be continuing for another three months minimum. This is a crippling amount of money that we can’t afford to pay – it’s essentially quadrupling our service charge. In order to remove the waking watch we also have to pay for a fire alarm upgrade. The combined cost is a minimum of £2,500 which I’m forced to pay – but I do so in protest because I have no other option and will take legal action to claim it back. If the alarm system is not upgraded by the end of June this cost will increase and we also don’t yet know the costs of other potential work.

We are being told we have to pay for replacement wooden cladding, and possibly an upgrade to the wooden balconies. Again, no costs have been given. We can’t sell the house because of the fire issues – so we are trapped here. We are absolutely terrified. We are essentially imprisoned in a dangerous flat and writing a blank cheque for the privilege.

Every communication from our management company has been devoid of sympathy – only using management and financial language – treating us as cash cows rather than human beings with broken hearts. We’ve had barely any information – and it’s only through the Manchester fire and rescue service and the Cladiators do I finally feel like we are getting some support. 

I appreciate the focus on fire safety, but what I can’t understand is why nobody is taking our mental safety seriously – and the risk to our lives from mental health problems.

My mental health has significantly deteriorated. I’m absolutely shattered from the incessant worrying. It’s making me physically ill and I’ve had to seek medical treatment. We can’t make any plans for the future – we’ve just spent a huge chunk of our savings on our wedding and we were meant to be booking a honeymoon of a lifetime with the money we were given as wedding gifts – and now we are facing the real possibility that we will have to spend that money to keep us afloat. We were planning to move house and start a family in the next year or so – and now all our plans have been put on hold. We have no idea when it will end – it could be years. It’s torture. 

This situation is utter hell. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. We worked so hard to get this flat (given how many odds are stacked against young first time buyers), did everything right in our lives by getting good jobs and saving up – and we are being punished for something that wasn’t our fault and beyond our control. We bought these flats in good faith and had them checked over by lawyers. Why are the building owners and the developers getting away with this? This situation was completely unforeseeable for leaseholders and horrendously unfair. We need cross-party support on this to help us escape this nightmare. It’s honestly ruining our lives. I beg everyone to consider how they would feel in this position – and try and help raise awareness. 

%d bloggers like this: