Galliford Try in standoff over Birmingham building remediation

A high-rise apartment building remains covered with dangerous cladding as the involved parties argue over liability.

Birmingham’s Islington Gates apartment block remains covered in unsafe cladding, which was discovered after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, when 72 people died.

The 141-apartment block is not covered in aluminium composite material (ACM) – the material partly responsible for the rapid spread of the Grenfell fire – but in another type of cladding that has been deemed unsafe.

The block is eligible for the government’s £5.1bn Building Safety Fund (BSF) as it measures nine storeys at its highest point. Four-fifths of the funds needed to remediate the cladding have been secured through the fund.

However, the BBC reports that remediation work at the site has stalled, with all parties involved arguing that it is not their responsibility to fix the building.

Galliford Try, which acquired contractor Miller Construction – the firm that fitted the cladding – in 2014, has argued that it should not have to carry out the remediation works because it was not the developer. The contractor also argues that the cladding met regulations at the time it was fitted.

Under the terms of the Building Safety Act, the developer would ordinarily be liable for the defects. However, the developer in this case was Midlands and City Developments, which went into administration in 2010, making Islington Gates a so-called ‘orphan building’.

This means the companies liable for a building’s defects are no longer in operation to pay for the remediation work.

Brian Simpson, a director at leaseholder-run Islington Gates Management Company Limited, which runs the building, said surveys commissioned by his company found multiple other defects onsite, including missing fire breaks and incorrect materials used in places. That means the cost is set to go up, he added.

“We feel Galliford Try should take on the liability for the negligent works by Miller [Construction],” he told Construction News.

Simpson claimed the building did not comply with building standards at the time.

Also within the Building Safety Act is the government’s principle of a Building Safety Levy, which will be chargeable on all new residential buildings in England.

It is expected to raise up to an additional £3bn from developers over 10 years and will ensure no leaseholder in medium-rise buildings faces crippling bills, even in cases where their building’s developer could not be traced. The full effects of the act have not taken hold, with much of the secondary legislation still to come.

National Federation of Builders (NFB) head of housing and planning policy Rico Wojtulewicz told CN the government should have coughed up the money to remediate dangerous buildings immediately and then tried to locate the companies that completed the work in order to speed up the process.

“Had the government borrowed to remediate buildings immediately, started identifying who the polluters were and put legal processes for reimbursement in place, non-polluters such as leaseholders and the entire residential developer would not be expected to fund these works,” he said.

“The government’s approach is making a rod for everyone’s back,” Wojtulewicz added, pointing to rising material and labour costs as pressures that are already hitting the industry hard.

A spokesperson for Galliford Try said it was “fully in compliance with its legal obligations”.

“We fully appreciate and respect the concerns of leaseholders at Islington Gates,” they added. “We understand that the works undertaken for the developer of the project, MCD Developments, by Miller Construction (acquired by Galliford Try in 2014) were carried out in accordance with all of the requisite regulations in place at the time.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the Building Safety Act would “free leaseholders from unfair bills”.

“We have committed more than £5.1bn to fix unsafe cladding, and a further £5bn will be raised through our developer pledges and Building Safety Levy.”

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