'It's as if there needs to be another Grenfell tragedy for the government to take notice of us'
PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 January 2019
A couple of hundred metres behind Bromley North station there is a 10-storey block that would take eight minutes to be consumed by fire.
Young families, first-time buyers and retired people have put everything into getting a home in Northpoint, a converted office block in Sherman Road.
Those same young families, first-time buyers and retired people now face bankruptcy, homelessness and months of uncertainty because of the Grenfell-type cladding wrapped around their homes.
Leaseholders face bills upwards of £70k to make Northpoint safe – an unachievable figure for near enough all 57 flats – and the clock is ticking for the building to be brought up to scratch.
London Fire Brigade has put an enforcement notice on the building, meaning it has until April to fix internal issues such as fire doors and the alarm system or it can be condemned.
Residents, some of whom have been ill with stress, have faced months in limbo over who pays for the work.
Taylor Wimpey, the developer which sold the freehold in 2007, told this publication it has no responsibility or ownership for the building.
Citistead, the current freeholder, is holding back, putting responsibility with the government.
Inside Northpoint, lives are on hold.
Rachel Guy, 57, said: “I had my mother, my son and my daughter here on Christmas Day. You look around and for a moment it’s lovely, but then you just think – what if the fire alarm goes off?”
Mrs Guy, who downsized to Northpoint with her husband, said they were buying what they assumed would be their “forever home”.
It is now a source of constant anguish.
“My husband worked his whole life, did all the right things so we could enjoy our retirement together. What good has that done us?
“He’s had to come out of retirement because we need the money.
“The worst thing is the powerlessness of the situation. There’s no end in sight.”
Leaseholders have already paid out £8,000 for emergency repairs, but face total bills of £70,000 for cladding, internal work and the cost of a 24/7 waking watch – a requirement for buildings such as Northpoint.
Some residents, such as 31-year-old Luke Austin, have given up more than 1,000 hours and roped in relatives to take part in the patrol, in a desperate bid to keep agency costs down.
For many, living in Northpoint has become a full-time job.
“It’s all-encompassing. I’d rather be at work than here,” said university administrator Rituparna Saha, 43.
Her flat is about two metres from a fire exit that is wrapped in flammable cladding.
Mrs Saha and her husband saved for eight years to move to Bromley from Ealing.
Homes in Northpoint are almost worthless now, thought to be un-mortgageable.
“We bought this about three years ago when prices were peaking. Now, every day when we come home I feel that I am sitting in a death-trap.
“I don’t allow my parents to come and visit me because I don’t know if they will be able to evacuate in time.”
The Sahas gave up their Christmas Day to sit from 7am-7pm in Northpoint’s entrance, acting as the waking watch.
Graham Snewin, 67, now spends his retirement researching building regulations, and said he cannot concentrate on anything. ACM cladding was discovered on Northpoint in November 2017, and Mr Snewin said residents had received little help since.
“It’s almost as if there needs to be another tragedy for the government to take notice of us,” he said.
In an email, seen by this publication, Citistead said it is the government’s responsibility to pay for work as Northpoint once complied with national building regulations that “clearly failed”.
James Brokenshire, the communities secretary, announced in November a policy meaning local authorities can carry out work and recover costs from the freeholder.
Mr Brokenshire said: “I have repeatedly made clear that building owners and developers must replace dangerous ACM cladding and the costs must not be passed on to leaseholders.
“My message is clear – private building owners must pay for this work now or they should expect to pay more later.”
Bromley Council said it was raising the matter with the government.