Guardian story: ‘It’s felt life-ruining’: flat owners face huge bills for new cladding

This story below has many parallels with the situation at Chelsea Bridge Wharf especially in terms of the escalating costs of round the clock fire warden patrols and problems with buying and selling…

….Residents of flats in Greater Manchester facing huge bills to replace flammable cladding have told of “anxiety so extreme I can’t function” and feel they are members of “generation stuck”.

A survey carried out by the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force found 53% of owner-occupiers in tower blocks had been hit with increased service charges after the Grenfell Tower fire.

One resident said their monthly charge had increased from £90 to £480 to cover cladding replacement, with another saying their management company had proposed the cost be added to their maintenance charge to the tune of £1,000 a month.

Many leaseholders are unable to sell their homes and move on because lenders will not offer mortgages, the research found. About 70% of residents said they were worried about a fire in their building and spoke of their increasing levels of anxiety, difficulty sleeping and feeling of being trapped.

In 2014, Matthew Hallsworth and Natasha Johansson bought a flat in Albion Works, a timber-clad block in the New Islington area of central Manchester. The couple, who married six months ago, said they had sought counselling after feeling “at the end of our tether”.

“Nobody seems to be thinking of our mental safety,” said Johansson on Friday. “The anxiety is so extreme I can’t function. We’ve constantly got this money hanging over our heads through no fault of our own. I go to work and can’t concentrate, I come home, look at these four walls and think: ‘Will they set on fire, will I be bankrupted?’ How can you relax in this flat, knowing it’s a fire risk? Right now the reality is I’m more of a danger to myself than a fire.”

Fire officials also found alarms could not be heard in the flats, only in the hallways. With the policy changed from “stay put” to “evacuate” following the Grenfell Tower disaster, the building managers, Residential Management Group (RMG), said fire wardens would patrol until a new fire alarm system was installed. The 24-hour “waking watch” involves five fire wardens patrolling the 182 flats of blocks D and E, costing residents £10,000 a week plus VAT. The 12-hour shifts are being covered by an extra service charge, yet to be levied, and the residents’ reserve fund.