Flammable flats leaseholders 'could be trapped for three years'

West Hampstead Square

Residents at West Hampstead Square say they fear they could be trapped for years, as they await remedial works to flammable balconies and insultation. - Credit: Siorna Ashby / Lucas Cumiskey

Leaseholders whose flats failed fire safety inspections fear they will be “trapped” in the properties for another three years.

Developer Ballymore has written to residents of West Hampstead Square, saying works to replace flammable balconies and insulation are expected to take until 2024.

One leaseholder described their predicament as “a living hell”.

Inspectors have given the seven-block estate the worst possible fire safety rating – B2 – after its insulation was found to be combustible.

It was the second fire safety issue to be uncovered at the new-build estate, after a 2018 fire in one of the blocks revealed the balconies to be flammable as well.

A fire at the Orwell Building in West Hampstead Square.

In 2018, a fire engulfed the balconies of several flats an the Orwell Building in West Hampstead Square. - Credit: Archant

In a letter this month, Ballymore told residents: “A high-level programme of works has been produced. This currently forecasts completion in 2024... We understand that the project duration will come as disappointing news to leaseholders.”

One, Will Collier, said: “That’s six years after that fire and three years after our B2 rating had been released."


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Trapped?

Will, 29, bought 25% of his flat in the Milne building under a shared-ownership scheme.

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Teacher Julia Seal, 31, did the same.

“If I want to settle down and have a family, am I really going to do that in a one-bedroom flat, covered in scaffolding, where the insulation is being replaced?” she said.

“Three years is a long time. I want to sell. I want to move out. The prospect of being stuck here for another few years is quite horrendous.

“And what about the monies owed for the remedial works? Will there be a deficit on my flat? It’s all just very stressful.”

Teacher Julia Seale from West Hampstead Square

Teacher Julia Seal said she wanted to leave the development, but felt stuck and worried she would lose her investment. - Credit: Julia Seale

Residents fear they are trapped in their blocks.

The B2 rating means most banks will not approve mortgages on their properties, so they cannot sell up and leave now.

After the works are finished, they are worried the associated costs would leave them in negative equity.

Ballymore has applied for government funding to pay for remedial works.

But if the bid is unsuccessful, leaseholders have been warned that the charges will be passed to them through their service charges.

Based on similar cases, leaseholders believe the cost would likely be tens of thousands of pounds each.

They may be eligible for “low-interest loans”, announced by housing secretary Robert Jenrick last month.

The repayments would be capped at £50 per month but the loans would remain attached to the properties.

Will said the worst-hit would be shared-owners, who “must incur 100pc of the costs, despite owning as little as 25pc of their flats”.

“To qualify for shared-ownership, you must be within an income band, a key worker, a young family or have lived in the area for a significant amount of time,” he said.

“There are nurses, teachers and disabled owners in my block who are in a situation where they may lose their entire investment.

“There’s around 800 residents across the development who face the prospect of bankruptcy whilst being trapped in dangerous buildings we are unable to leave.”

West Hampstead Square

The seven-block West Hampstead Square development was completed in 2017. - Credit: Will Collier

“Guessing and hoping”

Ballymore said it hoped residents would be able to start selling their homes, if they want to, once a clear course of action has been agreed.

“Once the design phase is complete and the government grant is confirmed, it will be possible to confirm the expected value of works and the costs which may fall to the service charge and leaseholders,” a spokesperson said.

“We expect this information to provide sufficient information for the sale and conveyancing of apartments to proceed and for leaseholders to secure lending from the majority of mortgage providers where required.”

But Will said: “There is a lot of uncertainty and assumption in that statement. Firstly, this all relies on planning permission and tender of contract. How long will that take? It’s taken three years to even get to this point. 

“The government funding is not guaranteed. That could take a long time, nor do we know whether we even qualify.”

“Building works always overrun,” added Julia. “We have been waiting years after the fire on the balconies. That work hasn’t even started yet and it was years ago. Another three years just seems so far away.”

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