Hundreds of Leeds residents have called on the government to help pay for fire safety measures like removing dangerous Grenfell-style flammable cladding, as they are faced with crushing bills to make their flats safe.
People who own flats in a dozen buildings in and around the city centre are already each paying up to £400 a month for 24-hour fire marshalls as an interim measure to avoid being evicted, after West Yorkshire Fire Service inspectors found their buildings were unsafe.
Multi-million pound work now urgently needs to be carried out across the buildings, some of which were not legal or safe when they were built, which could cost as much as £50,000 per household.
The owners of all Leeds buildings identified by the fire service have been given until tomorrow (Friday) to tell residents exactly what work needs to be carried out and how much it will cost them.
Residents have said the extra costs have already had an enormous personal impact, especially as they expect it to take years to sort out the problems and they are unable to sell up and move as it is now impossible to find a buyer, as banks are no longer approving mortgages on the buildings.
Konstantinos Stylianou, a solicitor lives in MacKenzie House in Leeds Dock, said the thought of years of upcoming bills has left him “stressed and anxious”.
Mr Stylianou, who lives alone and will be forced to foot the bill himself, said a survey carried out two years ago when he bought the property did not identify any problems.
He said: “What’s killing me is the uncertainty. We don’t yet know what work needs to be done or the cost. You can’t plan anything. I’m not sure if the government really understands how much this affects the planning of your life. It could go on for a whole decade.”
If residents refuse to pay, they will be forced to permanently evacuate their building.
The government has committed £200m funding to replace the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower, which caught fire in 2017 claiming 72 lives, though critics say this will not cover all the buildings that need to have cladding replaced. This also does not cover other fire safety issues that have arisen since the disaster, such as other flammable materials being used, like timber on balconies, which are now banned and need to be replaced.
In some cases, the problems have arisen as a result of changes in legislation since the buildings were built, in other cases, issues have been identified which should have never passed inspection.
Residents of St George’s Building in the city centre have discovered that it has never had adequate firebreaks, which stop a fire spreading over multiple floors, and therefore has never met fire safety regulations, even when it was built.
When Paul Taylor bought his flat in St George’s Building 13 years ago, he was shown a building certificate and given every guarantee that it was safe, as it had been cleared by inspectors.
“It’s outrageous. The system of examination is not fit for purpose,” he said.
After a visit from the fire service at the end of last year following The Cube fire in Bolton, residents were left paying £36,000 a month between 92 flats for a 24-hour fire marshall, known as a “waking watch”, in order to stay in their homes.
Those who live in buildings with a waking watch now worry they will be left in limbo paying for this for years because specialist companies which replace fire alarms and cladding are in such high demand across the country.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has been approached for a comment.