Uk News 'We were evacuated from our unsafe homes in the pandemic – we may never be able to move back' United Kingdom news
PremierLeague-News.Com - Along with almost 900 other residents, Ros Spearing was evacuated from the Paragon estate in west London due to fire safety issues
PremierLeague-News.Com - Breaking Sport Transfer News ! Ros Spearing, 60, hasn’t lived in her shared ownership flat since last October. This is not through choice. Along with almost 900 other residents, the charity worker was evacuated at short notice from the Paragon estate, a six-block development in Brentford, west London, due to fire safety concerns. Shared ownership involves paying a mortgage as well as rent. Ros bought 40 per cent of her flat in 2007 and is still paying both despite being unable to live there. Her landlord and Paragon’s freeholder, a large housing association called Notting Hill Genesis (NHG), initially placed her in a hotel for six weeks. Now she lives in privately rented accommodation in Hampshire which NHG is paying for. She is unsure of what the future holds.Uncertainty hangs over everything because Ros is one of millions of leasehold homeowners affected by the building safety crisis that has unraveled since the devastating Grenfell Tower fire of 2017. “It was a very big shock to have to leave our homes at six days’ notice in a pandemic. We still do not know when we will be settled again,” she tells i. “It has been extremely difficult and is causing us all extreme anxiety.”i's opinion newsletter: talking points from todayEmail address is invalidThank you for subscribing!Sorry, there was a problem with your subscription. Read More Shipping container Britain: Growing number of homeless families are being housed in container-style homes Paragon is a modular build. This construction method is regularly touted as future-facing: flats, or modules, are constructed off-site and then put together. Paragon was built by the developer Berkley in 2006. At the time, Berkley said it demonstrated “how the use of innovative design and construction techniques can enhance quality” in an era when new homes were urgently needed.However, Paragon is not the only modular development which has been identified as a fire risk. Last August, a modular hotel in the Shetlands was destroyed in a major fire. Paragon’s tallest block is 17 storeys tall, the smallest is four. Now, they sit empty but until last autumn the flats inside them were home to students and around 200 shared ownership leasehold homeowners.Ros had owned her affordable home for 13 years when she was given less than a week to pack it up. “It was very upsetting to lose my ‘forever’ family home like that,” she explains. “My daughter was devastated. She is at university and she always had somewhere to come back to. Not anymore.”Fire concerns had been looming over Paragon since safety checks ordered by the Government in the wake of Grenfell were made. The Grenfell Tower fire, which killed at least 72 people, was enabled by the highly combustible aluminum composite material (ACM) cladding encasing the building.In 2018, NHG removed cladding from Paragon because the way it had been fitted posed a fire risk: there was flammable polystyrene insulation behind it. But the development’s defects went deeper. The 2020 evacuation took place after a safety inspection revealed serious flaws, causing concerns about the estate’s construction.
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. None of this would be covered by the Government’s expanded Building Safety Fund which faces heavy criticism for leaving millions of owners of unsafe homes without adequate support because it can only be used to deal with certain types of unsafe cladding and not other fire safety issues.Ros says that residents have still not been told exactly what’s wrong. When the order to evacuate was given, a letter from NHG simply said that “engineers had raised significant fire safety and structural concerns” and advised that “the safest approach was to move everyone out”. Read More Millions could be left behind by Government’s cladding response because it doesn’t know how many are affected i understands that NHG, which has taken legal action against various parties involved in the construction of Paragon, is currently deciding whether to demolish the buildings or remediate them.Some of the leaseholders, meanwhile, have brought legal action against NHG for compensation and to get them to buy back their homes – which they cannot live in and may never be able to return to – for a fair sum. Settlement discussions are ongoing, but leaseholders say that NHG’s original offer put pressure on them to accept in a rush. This was because the figure offered went down if the buyback wasn’t completed by the end of March 2021.A spokesperson for NHG told i: “New advice from our fire and structural engineers in October 2020 suggested we could be putting residents’ safety at risk by allowing them to continue living on the Paragon site. Following that advice, we arranged to move everyone as quickly and smoothly as possible into alternative accommodation at our cost.“There have been several issues at Paragon in recent years, including the need to removing cladding due to concerns about how it had been fixed to the building, which was causing water leaks around the windows. Now that everyone is safely off site, we are completing further investigations to understand the exact nature of the various issues and how best to resolve them.”Ros says she has been living in limbo not since the evacuation, but since 2018. “The cladding was removed but nothing else was done. The scaffolding was left in place and we were living in the dark ever since. There was no natural light coming in and it was just a disaster,” she explains, adding that the cladding removal also caused a lack of insulation, which resulted in mould growth.“The more they inspected the building, the more problems they found,” Ros continues. “Even a few weeks before we were told to leave, NHG were telling us it was all going to be fixed.”NHG confirmed to i that “residents are unlikely to be able to return to Paragon for some time, if at all” and that it is working on a plan to buy back homes from leaseholders.Ros feels that she has experienced the very worst of shared ownership: being a both renter and not quite a homeowner with the power to effect proper change. “I did shared ownership because it’s what I could afford, but I’ve had such a bad experience. I wouldn’t do it again. You’ve bought a home but you’re not really in control over anything. All the time we were living in the darkness, I still had to pay our rent, but there was nothing we could do. Now, I can’t even live there.”Leaseholders who bought “affordable” shared ownership homes which have since been found to be unsafe and defective are caught between a rock and a hard place. They used government-backed affordability schemes because it’s all they could afford but, for that very reason, they are in a particularly difficult position when it comes to paying for somewhere else to live. This is where the housing crisis and the building safety crisis collide.A spokesperson for Berkley confirmed it handed the Paragon over to Notting Hill Genesis in 2006. Berkley declined to comment.Vicky Spratt is i’s Housing Correspondent
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