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Centenary Plaza residents hit by £4k weekly bill for 24hr fire patrols after cladding fears

Birmingham Mail logo Birmingham Mail 19/12/2020 Jeanette Oldham

Birmingham's iconic Centenary Plaza has been forced to hire 24hr fire patrols due to potentially unsafe cladding - with residents paying the £4,000 per week bill.

An investigation into the Holiday Street building has also discovered an alleged insufficiency of fire breaks, while BUBBLE-WRAP was said to have been used in place of some insulation.

Private residents have now been told they must pay £4,000 per week for the new round-the-clock warden patrols. They also fear bills potentially running into millions for repairs and replacing unidentified cladding on the top three floors.

Those who bought properties at the luxury development, including many with children, fear they are living in apartments they cannot sell after receiving a bombshell report about the safety concerns.

It recommended the launch of the 'Waking Watch' fire patrols with residents at the 380 apartments sharing the bill. 

One said: "An initial fire report was done in October which came back inconclusive, so they had to do further tests.

"We were told at that stage that it was all quite positive and really they thought it would be minimal work that would need to be done.

"But last week an email came to say that it had completely failed and the cladding on the top of the building, they can't even determine what it is."

She claimed: "The builders left bubble wrap in the cavity wall and there's now a 'waking watch' at a cost of £3,900 plus VAT a week.

"We've been told we can't sell our flat at the moment. We don't know how long this repair work will take, I imagine it will be years.

"We know we're not the only person in this situation and I know there are many, many people in this situation in the country who will have children and are stuck.

"They must be living in fear of their children's safety because some of these buildings are not thought to be safe."

a large tall tower with a clock on the side of a building © Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live

Freehold Managers, based in London, currently own the freehold for the building while Mainstay are the property management firm. 

Mainstay said in a statement: "There has been much uncertainty for the many thousands of homeowners nationwide who are living in buildings affected by the new safety guidance.

"We are doing everything possible to support our residents at Centenary Plaza to seek funding to resolve the fire issues.”

Like other high rise buildings, a report was ordered into the construction of Centenary Plaza following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 which cost 72 lives.  The rapid spread of the blaze in London was blamed on the cladding used.

The Centenary Plaza probe, ordered by Mainstay, allegedly highlighted safety issues at the city centre site including:

*  The insulation installed behind some cladding panels 'would not be acceptable for use currently'

* The potential removal of unidentified metal  panels used on the top three floors of the building

* A change in the 'Stay Put' policy for those living on the top floors in case of fire - so they should leave the building immediately.

a large tall tower with a clock on the side of a building © Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live

Centenary Plaza was built around 20 years ago. The fire report was delivered to residents this week - leaving many reeling at the potential costs they are now facing.

"At the moment we don't know how serious things are," one said.

"They need to install fire breaks, apparently there's not enough fire breaks.

"We've always felt perfectly safe in this building. In some corridors there are three fire escapes, three stairways to get out.

"The report was very positive until page 11 when it seemed to say all of a sudden, 'Your building's not safe. The cavity walls, the fire breaks, the cladding, you need a waking watch'.

"We believe that the need for a waking watch suggests the building is not safe."

She added: "There are about 380 flats in the building which actually is a blessing because the cost of the wait and walk means it's only working out at the moment at about £50 a month (for each flat) which is feasible.

"But with it being such a massive building when the remedial costs come in, we're expecting them to be millions.

"Even with 380 flats it could work out at a £30,000 bill each, it's just not affordable.

"I'm just baffled as to why we're responsible for the costs. The building companies make so much money off these buildings, we bought it in good faith that the building was safe.

"The mortgage lenders loaned money on the building being safe, and then to be told that you can't get a mortgage on the building is absolutely horrendous.

"Currently, before all of this, we paid about £200 a month service charge. But obviously we're waiting to hear what the insurance premium will be now."

a palm tree in front of a store window © Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live

Residents had already seen insurance premiums rocket and now fear further price hikes.

"Most of the buildings in our situation have been told that they're uninsurable, but of course for a certain fee they're insurable," one said.

"The majority of people (in similar situations) have seen their insurance premiums go up 600 per cent so we're waiting to hear back on that.

"We've just been told to expect the costs in January so we've no idea of anything, they're not prepared to enter into any talks with us.

"We're just in limbo waiting for a bill to turn up in January. "There are people in our situation who have been hit with bills for £10,000 to £30,000."

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