Minister moots prosecution over Camden block problems

A government minister has asked a London council to consider intervening to carry out “urgent remediation work” on a potentially “dangerous” private block of flats and look into taking legal action against the company that signed it off. 

Building safety minister Lee Rowley has written to Camden Council leader Georgia Gould over the issues at the four-storey block on Agar Grove in Camden.  

In his letter, seen by Construction News, Rowley said leaseholders had told him “the building continues to deteriorate, with structural movement causing cracks in the exterior walls and sealing windows shut”. 

Last November, The Times reported that three residents of the new-build block had recorded 150 defects since they moved in. The development, containing seven flats, initially received planning permission in 2015. 

The developer was Prime Metro, which used contractor Cite Construction to build the block.

Rowley’s letter to Camden Council’s leader said: “I encourage your teams to consider whether the building has become dangerous, and whether there is a basis for you to intervene under sections 77 or 78 of the Building Act to carry out urgent remediation work.”

Government officials have also asked the council to assess if there is “sufficient evidence” to prosecute building control firm Salus Approved Inspectors for “knowingly or recklessly signing off the building”, Rowley wrote. 

The government would consider offering extra money to the council – on top of the £200,000 for building safety work already given – to tackle the case, Rowley wrote. But he added: “I should emphasise, however, that I would not expect any discussions on funding to delay enforcement action.” 

A government spokesperson added: “The situation faced by the innocent residents of Agar Grove is deplorable, and we are applying pressure to those involved to reach a just resolution.”

Rowley has also written to insurer Acasta, which reportedly insured certain warranty and latent defect policies at the block, to “make it clear to them we consider their behaviour unreasonable and we expect them to produce a plan to resolve the issue promptly”.

An Acasta spokesperson told The Mirror last Friday: “Acasta is fully engaged with and is discussing concerns raised regarding the property with all interested parties. We take these concerns very seriously and are committed to fulfilling any obligations under the relevant insurance policies.”

Camden Council said it was “urgently exploring” enforcement options. A spokesperson said: “Following changes made by central government, private building inspectors can sign off on new developments without approval from local authority building control. 

“This unfortunately creates situations like this as we have no powers over the decisions made by private inspectors. 

“We want to do all we can to support the leaseholders at 53 Agar Grove and we are urgently exploring what enforcement options are available to us.”

Reports have suggested some residents of the block paid up to £900,000 for their flats and fear they are now worthless. CN understands that housing secretary Michael Gove has agreed to meet the residents.

Stuart Power, a director at Salus Approved Inspectors, told CN it understood the “considerable frustration felt by Agar Grove flat owners as they look to have any existing defects repaired”.

But he added: “We remain confident of the role we took in assuring the build met all appropriate regulations at the time of construction, but this would not preclude future build problems from occurring which, in the ordinary course of events, new-build housing warranties should cover.”

“In order to assist the owners in their plight, we are willing to review the reports and comment on the aspects relating to Building Regulation compliance.

“The new-build warranty insurers, developers and subcontractors should work together to identify the cause of any defect and we will assist with this process where we can.  This should provide the occupiers with a fruitful pathway towards remedy.”

In a statement, the building’s developer Prime Metro said: “Prime Metro employed Cite Construction Ltd in good faith to build 53 Agar Grove and as a long-term investment retained three of the seven flats and the freehold.

“We are thus currently suffering the same issues as the other leaseholders. Salus, the government approved and delegated building control inspectors, signed off Cite’s works and we relied on their certificate that the construction by Cite was satisfactory before we even marketed the property and took over on completion.”

Cite Construction did not respond to two requests for comment from CN. Acasta has been contacted for comment.

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